It’s Hard Out Here For A Shrimp

When I was in the Bay Area last weekend, I had one free evening that wasn’t taken up hanging out with my cousin and his lovely family and their friends (one of whom is a famous metal drummer with a movie star wife). I spent that evening with Derrick and his lovely wife Melissa, which included a special cameo from Sean without his no doubt lovely husband. I knew the eating was going to be good not only because they quite obviously know their food but because they both separately suggested that we meet at the same place: Contigo, an excellent tapas place in Noe valley.

There was other good food on the trip, but I sort of had tapas on the brain once I got home. And even though I try to eat as locally as possible–as much for the inspiration that limitations engender as for the rightness of it–from time to time I cook whatever I want, using food from anywhere. So this night was me wallowing in the not-yet-available flavors of tomatoes and peppers, using seafood from far away.

To begin, I bought these big sustainably-caught shrimp and a hunk of yellowfin tuna that looked decent and brought them home. Step two was assessing the contents of the fridge and determining exactly what flavorsome fate would befall each species. I found a container of yellow pear tomatoes, and since the yellow ones are low-acid, I figured they’d make a good jam. So I halved them and threw them in a pan with olive oil and sweated garlic, raising the heat a little so they’d soften. Once bubbling, I added some salt, a splash of sherry vinegar, a big pinch each of pimentón and Espelette pepper, and stripped a sprig of time into the pan. I lowered the heat and let it thicken.

I shelled the shrimp and put the shells in a saucepan with water, onion, and a sliced radish and let it simmer until thoroughly flavored by the shells. Then I strained it and added saffron and let it reduce. The shrimp got skewered to prevent curling and rubbed with salt, pepper, and dried sudachi zest, then set aside while the jam and sauce reduced and got where they needed to go. I cooked the shrimp pretty hard in the pan, added a splash of the shrimp-saffron reduction to the jam, and served both on grilled bread with more thyme and Espelette on top. Not the worst appetizer ever made.

Next up, the tuna. Not sushi grade, not even sushi-adjacent, It needed cooking. Before I got to that, I steamed some sweet potato and mashed it with milk, salt, and olive oil. I melted some butter with yellow curry powder and then added the rest of the shrimp reduction and reduced it all further. I rubbed the tuna with salt and pepper and seared it all over until well-crusted, then quickly sautéed asparagus with oregano leaves in the same pan, followed by a big bunch of spinach I picked shortly before.

So: spuds and spinach on plate, forming complementary halves of a roughly circular shape, topped with fish and surrounded with a moat of bright yellow sauce bestrewn with asparagus and oregano. The obligatory (for this time of year) garnish was chive flowers, which actually echoed the purply pink of the fish pretty nicely. The wine was also pink. Stay tuned for a possible rosé post if I can get my act together. In its way, this plate reminded me of a half-assed version of something out of Charlie Trotter’s seafood cookbook from about the mid-nineties; he was big on putting the piece of meat centered atop some secondary thing and then surrounding it with various exotic shrapnel and bathing it all in some unctuous emulsion. His were the first fancy cookbooks I ever had, since it was in Chicago that I had my brief stint as a private chef 15 years ago. I had that model in my head while I made it, anyway. Saffron and fish with vegetables of the highest freshness make for a compellingly Iberian profile, though the curry note made it something slightly other. In any case, it was a seasonally appropriate dinner, if not sourced particularly rigorously.

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  1. June 5

    Who’s the metal drummer?

  2. Peter
    June 6

    David: Let’s just say that if he went back to school, it would be to get his Master’s of Puppets.

    IB: I do hope your tonsils heal soon.

  3. June 6

    That’s who I thought he might be.

  4. Yum! Your shrimp appetizer looks fantastic. I can’t wait to make some of that tomato jam once the tomatoes are ready in the garden. Thanks for the delicious inspiration. 🙂

  5. Peter
    June 8

    Any time. It’ll be even better once they’re homegrown.

  6. June 13

    love the headline, and the straight shrimp. it’s that kind of attention to detail that I appreciate. “Yellow curry powder”? West Indian style? more specific please.

  7. Peter
    June 13

    To be honest, I’m not sure. The local health food store has two blends of curry powder plus garam masala that I use when I’m too lazy to grind my own. This one is called either “yellow” or “lemon.” It’s heavy on the turmeric, and not as hot as the redder one which has lots of cayenne.

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