Sometimes you get a lucky break. Sometimes there are those days when the stars align perfectly, and you get that gentle rub of luck that you so rightly deserve. A few days ago was such a day for me, because shrimp were on sale at Whole Foods. I took that as sign of virtue, and decided it would be only appropriate to make one of my favorite shrimp dishes, which just so happens to come out of the pages of Nopi. Everybody is a winner here, people.
One of the reasons this shrimp dish is so delicious comes from the rich broth that is produced from the inclusion of Pernod, vegetable broth and a little (ok, 5 Tbsp) of butter. When I first read the recipe I was skeptical, because it calls for fennel, Pernod AND tarragon, which I assumed would be an anise-overkill. Sometimes there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to ingredients that are trickling with the taste of licorice. Hence, I wasn’t convinced, because I thought I was going to be slapped in the face with a licorice-esque broth, dotted with licorice herb, with the occasional crunch of a licorice vegetable. I learned a few things from this recipe. One: too much anise-flavor isn’t too much and Two: I should probably stop challenging Ottolenghi.
- 16 tiger or king prawns (about 21 ounces), shells removed and deveined, heads and tails left on
- 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
- 1 large clove garlic, crushed
- Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 4 1/4 ounces feta, broken into 1/2-inch chunks
- 1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 4 baby fennel bulbs or 1 large bulb, trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1/5-inch slices
- 3/4 cup Pernod
- 2/3 cup vegetable stock
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3/4 ounce tarragon, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon sumac, to serve
- The dish begins with marinating the shrimp in a mixture of olive oil, lemon zest, about a tablespoon of thyme leaves and a clove of smashed garlic. The recipe recommends marinating the shrimp overnight if you have time, but I gave them about an hour and a half because I have a shameful amount of impatience.
- One of the other bits of prep you can do it making the marinated feta, which is feta cheese sprinkled with red pepper flakes, dried oregano and olive oil. Once you make the marinated feta, you can pop it back in the fridge until you need it. Here’s a quick tip: make sure to buy high quality feta. I personally prefer sheep’s milk feta that is sitting in water (a lá Whole Foods). Try to avoid the stuff vacuum sealed so tightly that it looks like it’s soul was stolen and forgotten back in the factory, because it’s aggressively salty and relatively unappetizing. Be boujee about your cheese choices, people.
- The first step is to sear the shrimp, maybe for about two minutes, until they are cooked through. Next, cook down your sliced fennel for about six or seven minutes until it is tender, and splash in the Pernod to de glaze the pan. Next, add the vegetable stock and let everything simmer before mixing in your bit (or 5 Tbsp. Whatever) of butter to smooth out the sauce and make it richer.
The last step is to add the shrimp back into the sauce to reheat them and incorporate their flavors into all of that loveliness you’ve just created.
Consensus: the fennel, tarragon and Pernod actually work perfectly together and do not at all overpower the delicate flavor of the shrimp. I was actually impressed as to how robustly the shrimp were able to stand up to how many other flavors were in the dish. The marinated feta added a welcome creaminess, plus a little bit of spice from the red pepper flakes.
In short, it’s one of the greatest uses of shrimp you ever will eat. It’ll even taste good when the shrimp are full price.