Saturday, May 2, 2009

Butter poached shrimp, new potatoes and pearl onions

It should tell you how far awry my cooking went today that none of those four ingredients were in the recipe I was making. Also, that recipe was for ice cream.

The original idea here was to a) use the last of the CSA celery and b) make a new ice cream flavor since I hadn't in a while. Put those two together and you get, first, celery ice cream--which might work as a component in a savory dish--second, celery and peanut butter ice cream--a natural sweet pairing that is interesting but presents textural issues--and third, celery-infused peanut butter ice cream with raisins--an ice cream version of ants on a log (ants in a bog maybe?).

Peanut butter ice cream recipes aren't hard to find, but how to infuse the celery flavor? I don't want to cook it as I want the raw flavor so I can't use the usual infusion method. But I figure celery is mostly water; if I run it through the food processor it should break down into mush easily enough. And with supermarket celery I think it would have worked. CSA celery is different though, much more dense. I processed it with a little milk and just got a bowlful of celery shards.

Plan B: add all the milk and cream and process the celery until everything turns green and it's fairly smooth. Strain out the big chunks and there you go. I give it a few pulses and things are indeed turning green, but there's not a lot of celery flavor getting into the liquid. I figure a couple minutes processing should get everything good and combined and add in the celery leaves for good measure. But when I check the progress I find the tiny bits of celery encased in a mass of creamy gunk--I've churned the cream into butter. I thought making butter was supposed to be a lot harder than that. The cream was ultrapasturized; Isn't that supposed to stop it from separating quite so easily?

So, the ice cream is ruined. I fish the solids out of what I suppose is now celery-colored skim milk and ponder what to do with them. Nobody wants celery-flavored butter so I'm going to have to get them apart. I can do something like distilation. Just like water and alcohol boil at different temperatures allowing their separation, butter and celery melt at different temperatures and that should let me separate them.

I want to use gentle heat so I put it in a double boiler. It works, sort of, but a lot of the milk solids are stuck to the celery and aren't going anywhere. In that case, I may as well skip the gentle heat, simmer it for a while and try to clarify it. When you simmer plain butter, the milk solids turn brown and sink to the bottom leaving clarified butter on top; maybe these milk solids will be able to drag the celery down with them. I simmer for ten minutes and I can start to see some clarification around the edges, but no browning. Close enough, I scoop it into a cheesecloth-lined strainer and squeeze out the liquids.

Here's the result.

Still not quite clear, but at least it isn't green. It does taste of celery so, hey, at least I finally managed to infuse some flavor. While it hardened in the refrigerator I considered what to do with it and came up with butter poaching. Looking at what I've got around the house to poach, I first thought of salmon, which isn't bad with celery, but I only found one proper butter-poached salmon recipe on the web and lots of butter-poached shellfish, so I'm going to go with the wisdom of crowds on this one.

I melted the butter back down, added a blorp of white wine, the juice of half a lemon, salt, pepper and a good pinch of a Parisian herb blend, mixed well to emulsify and brought it to a bare simmer and backed off the heat a little to keep the cooking to a poach. In went the smallest of my CSA red potatoes, the larger ones quartered to match the smallest in size. They simmered (as the heat crept up on me) for 10 minutes before I added the still-mostly-frozen onions. Twenty more minutes of semi-simmering got them done and then I dropped the heat down a little more before adding, still in their shells, the three shrimp I had left in the house. They only needed three minutes poaching. Everyone out of the pool and kept warm while I turned up the heat and cooked down the liquid into a sauce for four more minutes. I finished off the sauce with some capers and poured it over top.

Not bad at all. A hint of celery comes through in the sauce and works with its tart and rich flavors. The potatoes are creamy, the onions squish like they should and the shrimp are done just right and, with the lemon and butter sauce, are plenty tasty. All in all, a pretty good salvage job for a failed ice cream.


Russell Hews Everett said...

Haha, nice save!

But seriously, Celery Ice Cream?


Maybe a sorbet or shave ice of some kind though...

My wife is making some honey/lavender ice cream tonight. I could see lavender butter poached shrimp...

billjac said...

Celery gelato is popular in Italy, or so I read. But now that you mention it, sorbet would have been the way to go had I thought of it. Blend the celery with a couple bottles of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda and a little vodka, cool, churn and there you go.

Honey/lavender sounds pretty good. Lavender butter shrimp I'm less sure about. I've been avoiding floral flavors since my first misadventure with lavender extract. Maybe it's time to pull it out of the back of the spice cabinet and try again.