Our prawns may not have come dressed in elegant long claws, but they had excellent taste.
I expected the shrimp would taste very fresh, and they definitely did. On the other hand, I expected that, because of the circumstances of their origin, they might lack the complicated flavors of shrimp harvested in the wild. I was wrong; these jumbo Hudson Valley shrimp from Eco Shrimp Garden in the Union Square Greenmarket were intense, and absolutely delicious. The recipe itself was a major player, in spite of, or because of its very elegant simplicity.
For almost 20 years, or ever since I first opened my first, and the original River Cafe cookbook, ‘Rogers Gray Italian Country Cookbook’, I had only been able to dream of assembling one particular recipe I had found there, ‘Mazzancole ai Ferri‘, or, ‘Grilled Langoustine with Fennel and Chile Sauce’ (I was even dazzled by the photograph on the facing page, although it was a black and white image). At first the obstacle was that I had no idea where I was going to find Langoustine in New York City, and even when they began to appear in upscale fish shops years later, I couldn’t bring myself to pay the price, which was always something like $35 a pound.
Enter Hudson Valley shrimp, or rather, Eco Shrimp Garden. Two weeks ago I began to realize that with a little tweaking of the recipe, I might be able to reproduce the Rogers and Gray dish without destroying our food budget. At the Greenmarket on Friday I picked up ten rather large, translucent, and very beautiful, whole ‘Pacific White’ jumbo shrimp. They had spent their entire lives in an indoor saltwater facility near the Hudson River, in Newburgh, New York. On the previous Friday I had learned about the process which had brought them there, had wondered at the ingenuity and the industry of its authors, and was impressed with the clean minimalism of their presentation in the market.
The shrimp almost looked as if they were still alive and possibly only in shock at the change in their environment. They had been taken out of their tank early that morning, and of course, they had not been frozen. Only later at home, while weighing the cooking possibilities, and after I had opened the blue-dust-jacketed book to page 204 and the simple recipe which had eluded me for so long did I notice that the major ingredient was described as, “5 to 6 medium langoustines or large shrimp [my italics] per person”.
Mazzancolle ai Feri at home? I was on it.
- ten large, fresh, whole Pacific White jumbo shrimp from ECO Shrimp Garden in Newburgh, New York, purchased in the Greenmarket, grilled for two or three minutes on each side in a pan over a very hot flame, and served with a superb – and superbly simple – sauce composed of chopped fennel stems and fennel fronds, from Norwich Meadows Farm; parts of one tiny red and and one tiny yellow hot pepper from Roots to River Farm (found at the Saturday Chelsea’s Down to Earth Farmers Market on 23rd St.), chopped, after the seeds and membranes were removed; and some lemon juice, all of these ingredients mixed, left alone for 10 minutes or so before adding enough olive oil to make the mix spreadable, then salt and pepper, the grilled shrimp then drizzled with a little lemon juice and arranged with the sauce on two plates, lemon quarters on the side
- one medium fennel bulb from Norwich Meadows Farm, the core removed, cut into 8 wedges, tossed in a bowl with olive oil; three crushed garlic cloves from Norwich Meadows Farm; a handful of thyme sprigs from Phillips Farm; part of one dried peperoncino, crushed; salt; and pepper, then spread onto a ceramic oven pan, roasted at 425º, turning once, at which time a handful of pitted and halved Gaeta olives were tossed onto the pan
- multi-colored small bell peppers from Berried Treasures Farm, halved or quartered, seeds and membranes removed, sautéed over a high flame until slightly carmelized, finished in the pan with the addition of oregano leaves from Rise & Root Farm in the Union Square Greenmarket (Saturday was their last day there until spring) and balsamic vinegar
- the wine was an Italian (Sicily) white, Colle del Mandorlo bianco Terre Siciliane 2013 from Feudo Montini, purchased from Appellation Wine and Spirits
- the music was ‘Music at the Habsburg Court‘, works of Johann Heinrich Schmelzer and Johann Joseph Fux, Nikolaus Harnoncourt & Concentus musicus Wien