For me, many things culinary are an experiment. I often order food I have never tasted before when I see it on a menu and I regularly cook things I have never previously prepared. (Most often, without really using a specific recipe.) I like to try cooking with exotic and unknown ingredients. So, it was no big deal that when I put up a couple of jars of preserved lemons I really had no idea what I was doing! (If you want to know how I made them, have a look here.) Nevermind that I had never cooked with preserved lemons before. Nevermind that I had only eaten a couple of dishes containing them on a few occasions. Nevermind that I didn’t really know anyone else who had cooked with them (outside of the few restaurants where I had experienced them). And, nevermind that I had never tasted them “naked” in order to really know exactly what they are! I just knew they were going to be fun to play with.
I had to wait a month for the fermentation process to work its magic on my lemons but OMG was it worth the wait. During that month, I did my research and read plenty of recipes calling for preserved lemons. I learned quite a bit about how to prepare the lemons for use. Some people utilize the resultant juice and pulp, as well as the rind. Many, if not all, separate the rind from the pulp. Most just use the rind – shredded, chopped or minced. All recipes instruct the cook to rinse the lemons lightly before chopping, etc., to get rid of some of the saltiness and “goop” (though mine don’t seem so salty). Quantities called for vary – from heavy to light – depending on how “lemony” one wants their end result to be. Many, many of the recipes I found were of a Moroccan or North African origin or at least heavily influenced by the cuisine of those areas. Preserved lemons seem especially favored in various tagines (a kind of stew that is cooked in a special kind of vessel) though I have mostly had them as part of a broth or sauce in restaurants.
Once the lemons were ready, I couldn’t wait to cook with them. I wasn’t going to let a little thing like having no idea about what I was doing stop me, was I? Now I don’t have a tagine vessel and frankly, these stews don’t really float my cooking boat so I decided to go in the direction of the broth. With all this sous vide stuff going on in my kitchen, sometimes as my friend Josh has been known to say, I just have to walk over to the stove and turn on the burner! A tasty broth with seafood, fish or crustaceans can be truly easy and satisfying to concoct and it takes no time at all – right there on top of the stove.
I went to the freezer and pulled out some wonderful giant prawns I like to keep around. I tossed those babies (previously portioned out and sealed up with my Food Saver). I put about ten to a package and then when I want to use them all I do is toss the package into a bowl of tepid water for about 15-20 minutes to thaw them. Then they get shelled and made ready for what I am cooking, which takes all of about 5 minutes. Often times, I use the shells as a basis for a sauce but I did not do that this time. Once peeled and cleaned, I set the shrimp aside on a paper towel.
I also took out a pint of rich chicken stock (made from the stewing hens I buy from Farrar Out Farms): this is an important staple in my kitchen. I thawed that stock quickly in the microwave (no, not in the plastic it was frozen in). The stock went to the stove in an uncovered, 4 quart stock pot, over a medium heat.
Meanwhile, I opened a can of San Marzano tomatoes (these are found at my local italian grocery store) scooped out about a pint of these and dumped them into a colander set in a bowl to drain the liquid. The reason for doing this is so that I can pick over the tomatoes to remove the core and any little bits of left over skin. Using my favorite kitchen tool, the immersion blender, I pureed the tomatoes with the liquid. and then strained it through my handy, dandy chinoise into the sauce pot with the stock. The mush that is left over in the chinoise has some pulp and lots of seeds. The resultant liquid is rich and velvety smooth.
To the pot I added a ton of finely chopped, preserved lemon rind and the pulp from the lemons that I had picked over and pushed through a medium sieve (leaving the seeds and membrane behind). Then I let my fingers do the walking through my spice cabinet where I found and added 1/4 tsp cayenne, 1/8 tsp white pepper, 1 heaping tbs of special indian curry powder (use the curry you like), and a tbs of fresh yellow mustard powder. I didn’t add any salt because I wanted to wait to taste the soup after the lemon had cooked into it for a while. With preserved lemons, you have to be careful about salt, especially when you are using the lemon juice from the jar that you did your preserving in. I hit this mixture with the immersion blender again, just to smooth out the lemon and to mix the spices in thoroughly.
Next, I brought the liquid just barely to a boil while stirring and let it simmer for about ten minutes to marry the spices to the broth. Amazingly, there was no froth or foam to worry about – the broth stayed a wonderful velvety texture because of all the straining and blending. I had previously done. When I tasted it, I found that I did not need to add more salt.
Just before I was ready to serve up my creation, I tossed the waiting shrimp into the soup, turned up the fire a bit and stirred until they were no longer translucent – this took all of about two or three minutes. I had chopped up some fresh cilantro for a garnish and was ready to dish up our meal in my favorite wide lipped bowls. Dinner was a lemony, spicy, amazingly flavorful shrimp stew. With some buttered up, toasted ciabatta to soak up the sauce, Bob and I were completely satisfied. This dish is definitely good enough for company. As a matter of fact, if it was served to me in a restaurant I would return to order it again! I am certain it will work well with a variety of fish or seafood.
Here is a little thing to take note of if you are on a diet: this was a completely healthy, low-calorie meal. The only fat was from the butter I put on the bread (about a tablespoon for 4 nice chunks of ciabatta) and that which naturally occurs in the shrimp. If I were not perpetually on a diet, I would have added some cold chunks of butter to the sauce just before serving to thicken and enrich the soup but, in truth, I did not miss it at all. If you are one of those naturally thin people who never has to worry, I would encourage you to go ahead and add the butter.