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potted shrimp

I first ate potted shrimp when I used to visit a boyfriend who was studing in Morecambe.  We ate them served on toast sat by an open fire and they were delicious.  Buttery and sweet with a hint of spicy aftertaste.  They always remind me of winter and Morecambe.   Like the boyfriend, potted shrimps seem to be a dim and distant memory!  The recipe has gone out of fashion which is a shame if not a scandal.

Years ago I lived in Norwich and each lunchtime I would visit  Norwich market which had a wonderful shellfish stall.  The shellfish would be stacked into huge piles separated by wooden dividers.  There was always a long queue. The shellfish were sold by the pint or ½ pint and usually by a team of women who would use a pewter tankard to measure the amounts out before emptying them onto a sheet of paper, which would be wrapped and handed over to the customer before turning to the next person in the queue – all at greased lightening speed. There was no time to ask any questions.   I was always tempted by the sweetness of the 2 inch browny pink shrimp but opted for the prawns – I was too impatient to sit and peel the shrimps.  Maybe the massive decline in their sales over the decades is because we just don’t want to sit and do fiddly little jobs like peeling shrimps anymore?  It’s all about fast food.

What I didn’t know then was the skill and hard work that went into catching them.  The two main sources of shrimp come from  Morecambe Bay and Kings Lynn off the Norfolk coast.

In Morecambe the brown shrimp in years gone by were fished by horse and cart, in bitter conditions of winds and freezing temperatures.  The horses would go out as far as 2 miles, with the water coming right up to their necks.  The last of the horse and cart was seen around the 1950s, along with the Nobbies.  A Nobby is a small wooden 32ft fishing boat which dates back to the 1840s, they were fast and designed for the shallow waters of Morecambe.  Sadly now these too have nearly died out. Today the shrimps are caught with nets attached to a rope on a trailer behind tractors. These scrape along the sand disturbing the shrimp who then jump up and are swept up into the mesh bag.  It is a dangerous job as the tractors can sink in the sand and there are the tides to contend with.

Morecambe Bay is the most beautiful sight – when the tide is out it leaves a vast area of golden sand broken up by  little channels of seawater.  These sands are treacherous and have taken many lives over the years because when the tide turns it is said to come in faster than a galloping horse. The fishermen who do this job need expert knowledge of the shifting quicksand and tidal patterns.  There is a fantastic short film which shows the men going out with the horses, taken around the 1950’s.   It really does give a glimpse of how hard the work was for a Morecambe Bay shrimper.

Sadly, only three companies shrimp in Morecambe Bay now whereas there used to be thirty.

The most popular way to eat brown shrimps is Potted Shrimp.  A traditional British recipe and much loved but hardly ever eaten now.  Tossed in spiced butter and potted, and then covered with clarified butter to preserve it.  Potting with clarified butter is a method that has been used for centuries, dating back to Tudor times.  Very simple but effective.

Potted Shrimps

Serves Two

Ingredients

90gms peeled brown shrimps

1 oz butter

pinch of cayenne pepper

pinch of mace

pinch of white pepper

Worcestershire sauce a few drops

Clarified butter (see below)

Method

In a pan melt 1 oz of  butter do not allow to brown.   Take the pan off the head and add the spices.  Taste and adjust.  Put back onto a low heat for a minute so that the spices have a chance to infuse the butter.  Remove from the heat and stir in the prawns making sure they are well coated with the spiced butter.

Divide the shrimp mixture into two small ramekins pressing down with the back of a spoon to compact the shrimps.  Now gently pour over with clarified butter, covering the shrimps with an extra 1/4 inch layer.  This is the preservative factor.  Put into the fridge and allow to set.

Clarified Butter

Ingredients

2 oz unsalted butter

Muslin for straining

Method

Put 2 oz of unsalted butter into a pan and slowly heat.  Allow it to come to a gentle bubble making sure not to burn it.  Patches of white clouds will appear.  Carefully spoon this off.  You don’t need to be too precise as the next step is to pour the melted butter through a sieve lined with a couple of layers of muslin into a jug.

The clarified butter will keep in the fridge for a couple of months and can be used for other dishes.

Clarified butter

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