November 7, 2011
fumet de gambas au curry
(curried-flavored shrimp broth)
As a society we tend to remember where we were when major events happen that effect all of us. We know where we were when the World Trade Center came down, or if old enough, when JFK, RFK, or MLK were shot. Parents remember when their children took their first step or said their first word. Individuals remember their first kiss, the first time they got drunk, the first time they had sex, the first they had sex where they could remember the name of their partner, etc. One of the firsts I remember is the first time I had fumet de poisson, clear fish broth.
As I wrote the following year: “I had the good fortune in 1997 to make numerous trips to Europe. One of the benefits was to be able to take a week off in October to visit the Hostellerie de Vieux Moulin in Bouilland, France — the home of Chef Jean‑Pierre Silva. For a fat‑filled week, myself and my fellow travellers ate, ate, and then ate some more. Along the way, we also had the opportunity to improve our cooking skills under Jean‑Pierre’s direction.” That week is long past, and Chef Silva is no longer in the kitchen at the Hostellerie de Vieux Moulin. But I still have my memories of the week.
One of those memories was that each night, Chef Silva’s amuse‑bouche was a demitasse filled with fumet de poisson. (In French, fumet literally means “aroma,” not soup.) Initially, I didn’t like the taste, but as the week wore on, it got better and better. But now, I am more likely to encounter fumet as an ingredient in a dish, rather than a dish unto itself. The base for many fish soups is a fumet. So is the case for sauces intended to go with fish.
Given some washed bones from a non‑oily white fish, some left over white wine, a few pieces of onion, and some herbs, a tasty fumet can be whipped up in half an hour. I’ve been known to add different vegetables, change up the herbs, and even leave out the wine. I often don’t have fish bones, so I start with well‑cleaned fish coarsely chopped into chunks with a cleaver. I buy the cheapest non‑oily fish available the day I’m making the fumet, which for me is usually tilapia. I never know what will be on sale until I go to shop. Once the ingredients are gathered, a 30‑minute simmer produces the fumet. I may sweat the solids briefly in shrimp butter, which adds another element of flavor, or I may ignore this step altogether.
So when I decided to create an amuse‑bouche based on fumet, I thought back to Chef Silva, but I also though about a recipe I posted sometime around 2005. The recipe had the name gambas en nage au curry, and is different in scope, scale, and presentation. An amuse‑bouche needs to be a strong flavor hit whereas a soup designed to be served as a first course can be more pleasantly understated in flavor and attack.
Determining the quantity of ingredients to use is a matter of how many guests you plan to serve and how much fumet you plan to serve each guest. In my case, I use shot glasses that hold about 60 ml (14 c) each. I plan to serve each guest a single shrimp as a garnish with the soup. I’ll buy an extra shrimp for each two guests so I can pick the best looking ones for service. The shells from those shrimp and the whole unselected candidates will get coarsely chopped and cooked with the vegetables.
To start, I peel and devein the shrimp. I like to leave the meat from the uropods and telson attached and the back uncut. Therefore, after careful peeling, I remove the vein by inserting a fine skewer or toothpick across the abdomen. With care, a single insertion, about 3 mm (18 in) deep, between where the second and third segments once were, will remove the vein in a single piece. The peeled tails are set aside until the fumet is almost finished.
The fumet is started by melting a little butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Besides the extra shrimp meat and shells, I add an assortment of vegetables. Shredded white or yellow onion and finely shredded fresh ginger are mandatory. Depending on what’s on hand, I’ll also add finely shredded carrot, finely shredded celery, finely shredded leek, finely shredded pepper, or any other vegetable I choose to finely shred. The total amount of solids will be approximately equivalent to the liquids. I let the solids sweat for a few minutes. I may or may not give them a light sprinkling of salt to aid in the sweating.
I’ll start with about 50 percent more liquid than I want to serve to allow for evaporation and clinging. The liquid with be a one‑to‑one combination of dry white wine and water. When the vegetables have sweat sufficiently, I’ll toss in some curry powder. I use a very hot curry so half a teaspoon is usually sufficient for every two servings. You’ll have to use your own judgment as to the proper amount depending on the curry powder you are using and your personal taste. Once the curry powder is mixed in, I add the liquid and bring the whole mass to a simmer. Usually about 20 minutes is sufficient to produce a tasty fumet.
While the fumet is simmering, a decision has to be made: Will the fumet be served warm or at room temperature? If serving the fumet at room temperature, the presentation shrimp should be cooked briefly now in the hot fumet. And I mean briefly, just until the color changes from gray to pink. No longer. The shrimp should also take on color from the curry. Once cooked, the shrimp are drained on a piece of paper towel and set on a plate in the refrigerator until needed for service.
When the fumet is done, I strain it through a fine‑mesh chinois and then through a piece of unbleached muslin. You could use a spare kitchen towel. Whatever cloth you use will be permanently stained. The time it takes to pass through the cloth is a function of how tight the weave is. Muslin is pretty fine so the straining my take overnight. Other towrls may take less time. The fumet is being strained to clarify it, but the best you can obtain with this method is a cloudy clarification without further steps. You can do a true clarification with protein or agar, but be aware that you may need more liquid initially to make up for that lost in the clarification.
I like to cut various item as garnish for the soup. The pieces should be diced very small, about 1 mm (125 in) per side. They should be things that can be seen in the fumet, such as orange peel, peeled green pepper, radish, etc. They are added to the fumet in the serving glasses or bowls without cooking.
If the fumet is to be served warm, it is reheated just prior to service, and the raw shrimp cooked in the hot liquid. In either case, now is the time to taste the fumet and add salt. Once seasoned to your satisfaction, divide the fumet between the serving glasses or bowls. Sprinkle some of the garnish onto of the surface of the fumet, and balance a cooked shrimp on the edge of the glass or bowl.

© 2011 Peter Hertzmann. All rights reserved.