Maine shrimp are back in season. Small, sweet and tender, they’re a winter treat available from trucks parked alongside the road as well as from more high-end outlets. You don’t find them often outside the state—though they’ve been spotted at fancy fish mongers in Boston, New York, and Washington.
But to really understand what Maine shrimp are all about, you have to make a trip to this blustery winter coast and sample them in situ.
Swedish-Maine shrimp is based on a recipe from Amanda Hallowell, chef at Nebo Lodge on North Haven, but it originates with the family of Chellie Pingree, Maine’s 1st District Congresswoman and the owner of Nebo. It’s a classic Swedish recipe but I like to add an energetic punch of horseradish and chili to the original. The trick here is not to overcook the shrimp which are so tender they really only need a minute, max, in the boiling water—don’t even wait for it to come back to the boil. (Of course, if you have to use humongous shrimp from other seas, you will adjust the timing accordingly.) I use a fruity extra-virgin with this, one without pronounced pungent flavors (a California oil perhaps?), to balance the brininess of the shrimp.
Make this today for Christmas Eve sampling with a glass of bubbly—or save it for New Year’s.
(And put Nebo on your list of places to visit next summer. It’s a comfortably old-fashioned New England inn, reachable by ferry from Rockland, and co-managed by Chef Amanda and Hannah Pingree, Chellie’s daughter who is also, continuing family traditions at least until January 1st, Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. Their website is www.nebolodge.com.)
To make an appetizer for 6 or 8 people you’ll need:
2 pounds raw, peeled Maine shrimp
1/2 cup finely chopped celery tops
1/4 cup pickling spices, wrapped in a cheesecloth and tied
Sea salt to taste
1 medium red onion, very thinly sliced
6 bay leaves
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably more fruity than pungent
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped capers
1 teaspoon grated horseradish
2 teaspoons celery seed
Pinch of red chili flake or a dash of Tabasco
Set the peeled shrimp in a colander in the sink to drain.
Have ready a basin filled with ice in which the colander will fit—this is for chilling the shrimp once they’re cooked.
Combine the celery, pickling spices and a tablespoon of salt in a large pot with about 10 cups of water. Set over medium heat and bring to a boil. Cover the pan, lower the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes or so to really flavor the water, then drop the shrimp in and leave for just one minute—not a second longer. (The water will not come back to the boil.) Drain the shrimp in the colander and set the colander in the basin of ice to chill as quickly as possible, piling ice on top of the shrimp. Discard the bag of pickling spices.
While the shrimp is chilling, make the marinade, combining the oil, vinegar, capers, horseradish, and celery seed. Add a big pinch of chili flakes (I like Aleppo pepper here) or a dash of Tabasco and more salt, if necessary.
Layer the cooled shrimp in a bowl with the onions and bay leaves. Cover with the marinade, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let stand for a day or so, refrigerating if necessary.
Serve these as they are for cocktails, or pile them with buttery lettuce leaves and a few sherds of celery for a simple lunchtime salad.