Food #8: Potted shrimp

Southport potted shrimp in butter

There are some items on my list of Foods To Try Before You Die that you might be able to term ‘extravagant’. If for example I decided now was the time to taste golden Iranian almas caviar, the rarest and finest sturgeon eggs on the planet, it would cost me approximately £1,200. That princely sum would buy me a whopping 50g of the stuff.

If I decided I wanted to get a bottle of Rémy Martin Louis XIII Cognac instead, I’d need to go back to my savings account and pull out a further £150. While you’re busy working out how much money you’d be pouring down your throat every time you have a snifter,* think about how far that £1,350 would get me in the world of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

With some bottles I wouldn’t even be able to afford a glass!

Then of course there’s the ortolan bunting, which I might be even less likely to try than the caviar or the DRC. How much that would cost, I have no idea, because it’s a protected species and I believe it’s illegal to catch, kill and sell it. I’d need to have a dodgy contact in France and be prepared to hide my shame from God to try that one.**

It’s perhaps a little bit over the top.

But at the other end of The List, a mile away from the lavish showbiz lifestyle that the above-mentioned items enjoy, lies the humble potted shrimp; a food that you might be able to term ‘how the hell have you never eaten it before?’. £1,350 would buy me about 1,000 small tubs from my local fishmongers.

Southport potted shrimp in butter

It took just one taste to tell me that, relatively, it’s a helluva bargain.

I never really thought it’d be possible to improve on your bog-standard buttered toast. Jam, marmalade and even honey are all worthy additional spreads that I sometimes use to inject variety into my life, but they just make the toast different, not better. Marmite does nothing for me, chocolate spread is vile. Peanut butter looks like shit and smells like a yeast infection, and tastes like a combination of the two.

But somehow these little squidgy morsels of preserved shellfish,*** together with a healthy dose of mace, managed to succeed where all other toast toppers have failed. It took the already perfect buttery toast to new heights.

Southport potted shrimp in butter

It was subtly done. The brown shrimp added a flavour of fish, as you’d expect, but the spice kept it in check and provided balance; there was never any danger of either component dominating the dish.

The meaty texture was a little more overt – its prawn-like consistency the ideal complement to the crisp toast – but even that wasn’t overly prominent. The whole thing was at one with the butter; I didn’t feel as if any additions had been made. It was like this was the way the butter had always been and always should be.

Southport potted shrimp on toast

It was rather wonderful and very moreish. My wife and I quickly ran through one tub and ran to defrost another. Our new toaster was used more times in the space of an hour than in the entire rest of its existence. The jar of foie gras de canard entier we bought for £21 on the same shopping trip sat forgotten on the side.

The whole thing was just joyous; food to put a big smile on your face. Nothing fancy, nothing pretentious, just good honest grub – cheap, delicious and diet-altering. Jam won’t get a look in ever again.

It’s still early days in my journey through The List. Already, I’ve had some incredible experiences, some disappointing ones, and others that fall somewhere in between. Given their respective costs, it’s probably not surprising that each was more interesting in terms of taste and appearance than the dish I’ve been talking about here.

But, as they say, often the simple things in life are the best. When it comes down to pure pleasure, potted shrimp’s right up there with the very finest.

Verdict: Highest possible recommendation

NEXT UP: Confit de canard


*Very roughly, if you pour conservatively, you’d be talking about £75 per drink of cognac.

**If you can stomach Jeremy Clarkson, this video will explain all things ortolan:

***The shrimp was from Southport, I should point out (although you can probably see that from the pictures). I’d obviously been hoping for the Morecambe Bay variety, but I can’t imagine there’s much difference between the two (if there is, let me know!). My thinking is, as long as it’s from the good old North West, it doesn’t really matter.

Posted on November 16, 2011, in Foods To Try Before You Die and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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