Have you ever eaten a shrimp head? Personally, they’re not my thing, though I have been known to knock up a shrimp head stock now and again.
In fact I don’t just use shrimp heads but the heads and shells of any crustaceans. Lobster, crab, prawns, and crayfish shells all make flavoursome, umami-packed stocks.
In some Asian countries, the humble shrimp head that we often throw in the trash is considered a bit of a delicacy. Fried till crispy and eaten as a snack. Or just split in half and the juices sucked out….. which I’ve tried and can report the flavour as a little bitter. Stick to the sweet-tasting tail meat I say.
That doesn’t mean that you should bin those shrimp heads though. And don’t throw them just because you don’t have a use for them right away, pop them in the freezer for another day.
The price of crustaceans like lobster, crab, and shrimp are at an all-time high because of overfishing and responsible cooks should extract every last drop of flavour.
With that in mind here’s 5 ways to use up those shrimp heads, lobster shells, crab carcasses, or whatever crustacean shells you’re left with after dinner.
It doesn’t matter what the recipe says, or what species of fish you happen to be cooking, whether its whole or cut into fillets, or if your baking, pan-frying, or poaching. When it comes to cooking fish I’ve got a golden rule…..
Whatever you do….don’t overcook it.
I like to eat my salmon pink and It hasn’t killed me. The japanese have been eating raw fish for centuries and it hasn’t done them any harm. As long as your fish is perfectly fresh then you can eat it when it’s a little underdone, it’s so succulent and delicious with the center translucent and just cooked.
It’s definitely better than if you’d overcooked it and your fish is dry, has an unpleasant texture, and lacks flavour. Any time your cooking fish don’t worry if you took if off early, you can always cook it a little more but once it’s overcooked all you can do is serve it to your cat.
Fish is the ultimate fast food. Cooking times are measured in minutes. There’s no long drawn out cooking to soften tough fibers or a need to rest it like meat. Throw a pan on the heat add a knob of butter and heat it till its foaming, fry your fish for a couple of minutes and finish it with some freshly chopped herbs and a squeeze of lemon and you have a supper fit for a king cooked in minutes.
Before you put your fish anywhere near the heat you’ve got to buy and prepare it. I’ve written a post about the beat way to find the freshest fish possible, you can read it here. I’m also not going to go into detail about how to gut, fillet, and scale fish. Get your fish monger to do this donkey work. He can do a far better job in a lot less time than you can do at home.
To cook the perfect piece of fish it will help to know what heat does to its delicate flesh.
Anyone who’s ever learned how to make sauce vierge will know that the use of the word sauce in its title is perhaps a little misleading. Sweet tomatoes, fragrant coriander seed, and freshly chopped soft herbs, all mingled together with fruity extra virgin olive oil is definitely something I’d call a dressing.
For me the word sauce conjures up images of rich, silky, indulgent liquids made with large amounts of cream and butter. Sauce vierge on the other hand is something a lot lighter, better for you, and ultimately very tasty.
It’s little wonder that it’s a sauce I come back to again and again. It’s a classic companion for any type of white fish, shellfish, and even works well with pasta. Any leftovers make a great dressing for potato salad too.
Sauce vierge translates as virgin sauce. Maybe the name comes from the use of virgin olive oil in the recipe, I’m not sure. It was made popular by the french chef Michel Guérard, one of the founders of nouvelle cuisine. A recipe for it first appeared in his book La Grande Cuisine minceur. Its since gone on to become a modern classic
If it does, then it’s suffering from the dreaded split! It’s curdled, cracked, separated, broken. But don’t throw it out, it can be rescued…but a bit more on that later.
Making hollandaise sauce is supposed to strike fear into the heart of the novice/amature cook, it has a reputation for being temperamental or difficult to make. Even now I can still remember the first couple of times I made hollandaise. Cooking the egg yolks ever so carefully over simmering water, then slowly adding the clarified butter.
These days, having made a couple of thousand liters at this stage its a sauce I can put together in about 5 minutes if I have the ingredients to hand.
It’s so versatile and can accompany so many dishes that It should be in every cook’s repertoire. You can make a classic version for fish or to go with your eggs Benedict for breakfast. Maybe add tarragon or mint for a sauce to go with beef, chicken or lamb. Or be a bit more adventurous and spice it up with chillies, mustard, tabasco or wasabi. You’re really only limited by your own imagination.
Every cook should know how to make a good fish stock, its quick, easy and free. Well almost. The only cost is the price of a few vegetables, a glass of white wine, and a half hour of your time.
If you’ve ever wondered why the sauces in top restaurants always taste just a little better than what you cook at home the fact that they make their own stock probably plays a part. That and the use of large amounts of butter, salt and cream. Us restaurant chefs are trained to be a bit heavy-handed with these ingredients.
Making some stocks is like looking after a child, they require constant love and attention. You’ve got to roast the bones and make sure the don’t burn. Chop and roast the vegetables. Bring everything to the boil and simmer in gently for eight hours skimming off any impurities all the time. And even then you’re not finished, because it need to be strained and reduced.
When I’m cooking a piece of fresh fish for my dinner I like to imagine it was swimming around in the briny sea that very morning, or at least within the last 24 hours. So you can imagine my disappointment when I opened up some mackerel I’d just bought at the supermarket to find some fillets that were a bit smelly, dry and a little past their best.
I’d failed to follow the advice I’m about to give you here. Not only that, but i’d gotten a bit bamboozled at the fish counter.