I first tasted potted shrimp years ago at a cocktail party in New Orleans, where it was served on saltine crackers with a big belt of bourbon on the rocks. What could be wrong? Southerners know how to start a party.
That New Orleans version was full of allspice and more butter than shrimp, which is essentially what "potting" is: preserving in butter. In this north-of-the-Mason-Dixon version, shrimp is chopped and then slowly cooked with a generous amount of butter, orange peel, brandy, minced red pepper and a bit of spicy heat. It makes a rough spread to smear on toast or crackers.
You could also stir it into hot grits, as they do in the South, or toss it with hot pasta for a quick dinner.
Cook-to-Cook: Unless you're lucky enough to live near coastal waters, 99.9 percent of the shrimp you can buy will have been frozen. Which is OK, since shrimp freezes well and thaws quickly. Step 1 of the recipe walks you through a first-rate technique to get the most from your frozen shrimp. You can use this technique in any recipe that calls for cooked shrimp.
One more thing: It is always better to buy shrimp with its shell on. It provides some protection in the freezing process, and the shells add a lot of flavor when they thaw.
1. Squeeze the juice of the lemon halves into a medium-size saucepan. Then add the squeezed rinds and fill the saucepan three-fourths full with generously salted water. (It should taste like the sea.) Bring to a boil and drop the frozen shrimp into the water, cover and remove from the heat. After a minute, begin to check for doneness by cutting into one of the larger pieces. The shrimp should be nicely pink and cooked all the way through. Drain. Cool and peel the shrimp, then roughly chop them into smallish bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
Shrimp can be stored unpeeled and covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.
2. In a 12-inch sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter begins to bubble, stir in the red bell pepper. Generously salt and pepper and continue to gently cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the brandy, return to a simmer and cook for 30 seconds to cook off some of the alcohol. Stir in the orange zest, Aleppo pepper, sugar and the reserved chopped shrimp and any of their juices. Continue to gently simmer until the majority of the liquid has been absorbed, but the shrimp mixture is still very moist. Remove from the heat and allow to cool 10 minutes.
3. Pack the shrimp into a medium-size glass jar with a lid and store covered in the refrigerator.
Serve at room temperature or warm slightly and serve on crispy toast, crackers or fresh bread. Keeps 1 week refrigerated.
Wine pairing: If you don't go for bourbon, look for a slightly off-dry Riesling. Most from New Zealand will fit the bill.
"My mother taught me that food was fuel," says writer Elissa Altman. "That food was dangerous. That food was the enemy." As Altman's mother grows older, Altman is finding it difficult to get her to eat.