Poached Shrimp with Easy Lemon Aioli
If there was a poster child for easy, elegant entertaining, this would be it.
by Erin Henderson
Do you remember the first time you made something that really wowed? A dish that was so impressive and met with such enthusiasm it has stayed in your repertoire ever since?
This is one of mine.
I was in my late 20's, working downtown Toronto as a news reporter and very much influenced by the intoxicatingly cosmopolitan lives of the Sex and the City ladies (the original – which aired Fridays at midnight, and I never missed an episode. There was no such thing as on demand back in those dark days.)
Anyway, a friend of a friend invited me to her condo for a sophisticated bridal shower. I offered to make shrimp, because, well, that's what sophisticates do.
Shelling out a good chunk of change on my newly professional salary for sustainable seafood, I sweated over a steaming pot of water in my tiny kitchen, wondering how to know when shrimp are fully cooked and worried about giving the whole bridal party salmonella.
Well, my worry was for naught, as not only did the group remain upright and dignified, there was not a shrimp tail left. Anxiety abated, I tucked the recipe away for future use, and 20 years later, it’s still in heavy rotation.
Of course, I’ve updated and edited along the way, and here are some ideas that I think make this great dish all the better:
- Use the freshest and best quality shrimp you can. The frozen stuff that’s caked with ice at the grocery store will result in tasteless, or worse, freezer burnt, shrimp.
- Give the poaching liquid ample time to steep and infuse with flavour. Go do your hair or steam your party dress while this happens.
- Put your spices in a cheesecloth for easy removal. The first few times I made this, I let the spices roll free in the water, and then spent and extra 30 minutes painstakingly removing each spice stuck to each shrimp.
- Err on the side of underdone; as soon as you see the pink, remove from the poaching liquid and get the shrimp into an ice bath to keep them bright, plump, and juicy. No rubbery shrimp here!
- The aioli is fabulous to always keep on hand as an all-around workhorse condiment – ia dip for chips or French fries, as a spread on turkey burgers, or with crudité.
Poached Shrimp with Easy Lemon Aioli
Poaching shrimp in a flavourful wine broth and swapping out the standard ketchup-laden red sauce for a tangy aioli gives a stylish spin to the ubiquitous shrimp cocktail ring.
As for the poaching liquid, you can use whatever you’ve got handy: celery, carrots, garlic, onion, leek, fennel, peppercorn, parsley…whatever you like and in whatever combination. Just be sure to give your broth plenty of time to steep so the flavours really come together to infuse the shrimp with lots of flavour.
Estimate about four or five medium shrimp, and a tablespoon of sauce, per person.
Serves: 8-10 as part of a larger buffet
Chef level: easy
- 1lb, 31-35 shrimp, raw and preferably peel on (it keeps them tender and flavourful)
- 2 cups dry white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc
- 1 onion, halved
- 1 celery rib, halved lengthwise
- 1 carrot halved length wise
- 1 lemon, halved
- 2-3 large, dried bay leaves
- Tbsp whole peppercorns
- Tbsp fennel seeds
- Tbsp coriander seeds
- A few sprigs fresh parsely
- Small handful salt
- Tie the herbs into a cheesecloth (this will make it easier to remove later).
- Into a large pot add 2 litres of water, the white wine, squeeze the juice from the lemon haves and add them in, too.
- Add the all the vegetables and the bundle of herbs.
- Allow the water to come to a boil, add salt and reduce heat to a simmer, bubbling gently for 20-30 minutes until all the flavours start to infuse into the water.
- When ready, bring the pot back to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of water and ice.
- Add the shrimp, cooking until just pink.
- Immediately remove the shrimp and plunge into the ice bath to stop the cooking.
- Drain and peel the shrimp (leaving on the tails as little handles) and serve with aioli.
Easy Lemon Aioli
Aioli is simply a lemon garlic mayonnaise. For the rushed, ditch whipping the eggs and oil (who will it really impress, anyway?) as this is just as good with quality, store-bought mayo.
I’m not partial to raw garlic in my food – especially at a social affair where I may be looking to impress. So, to get the garlic flavour without its knock-out punch to my breath, I use my salad dressing hack: I steep a cut clove of garlic in the lemon juice for 15 minutes or so and then remove it. All flavour, no fire.
When serving with shrimp I like a little wink of horseradish as a nod to the classic cocktail sauce. I think the tease of heat works well, but feel free to omit, if you’re not feeling the vibe.
Makes: ½ cup
Chef level: easy
- ½ c good quality mayonnaise
- 1 tsp Dijon
- 1 tsp garlic oil
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- Juice of half a lemon
- Zest of half a lemon
- S+P to taste
- 1 tsp horseradish, optional
- Into a bowl, stir all ingredients together, adjusting seasoning to your taste. Serve.
This is likely being served with some nod to celebration, whether it's New Year's Eve or backyard graduation party. Bubbles are always a good idea for any festive occassion, and brut champagne (or a less expensive traditional method dry sparkling wine) pick up the bright notes of the lemon. And the racy acidity in the fizz help mop up the rich fat of the aioli.