Thursday, December 29, 2011

Saffron Butter Poached Shrimp

When I was in Minnesota this weekend for Christmas, I had the pleasure of spending some good quality time with Charlie's Aunt Nancy.  We were both chit chatting in the kitchen while preparing for the big holiday bash that evening.  

Boy does that woman love and appreciate food like I do.  I just loved talking with her and trying all of her goodies (crunchy chicken bites and super awesome crab cake posts to follow).  Both of her appetizers each night were the first to go.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Aunt Nancy had just completed some time at a cooking school and she got me thinking about saffron.  The idea of saffron butter poached shrimp popped in my head and just wouldn't leave.

Sort of like me.  At a party.  When everyone else has gone home.

Lucky for you this experiment turned out tasty.

What's cool about this dish is that it can be served as a super elegant first course, or a more casual tapas style snack.  I photographed it both ways so you can see what I mean.  It's all about the presentation.

Yes please.

I have never butter poached anything in my life, but it's really quite easy.  I'll walk you through it step by step.

Here are the ingredients:

Unsalted Butter
Hot Water
Kosher Salt (not pictured) 
Tarragon & Chives (not pictured/not so optional garnish)

Saffron is bizarre.  It has this wonderfully light aroma, almost sweet and floral/grassy.  What I love most about saffron is how the color just illuminates the dishes it comes in contact with.

To pull out that rich lemony orange color, pour the hot water over the saffron threads until it's nice and bright.  I let it sit for about 15 minutes.  Give it a little stir every five minutes or so.

So when you are butter poaching something, you want to cube your butter so it allows you to add a little at a time.

You can use whatever size shrimp you like.  When I serve shrimp as a first coarse or as an appetizer, I tend to use smaller, bite size shrimp with the tail and shell removed.  That way people can dive right in without wondering what to do with the tails.

I really love garlic, but I didn't want the garlic to compete with the saffron too much.  In order to give a nice, light garlicky flavor, I just smashed two cloves with the back of my knife and left them whole like this.  If you want more garlic flavor, chop it fine so it incorporates more completely into the sauce.  Also, depending on when you add the garlic will make a difference too.  If you add the garlic to the butter sauce towards the end, that will help keep the flavor mild.

Ok, so, once the saffron has infused the water, pour your water into a sauce pan that will be just big enough to hold the shrimp/butter, but gives you room to stir everything around.  I would recommend a 4 qt sauce pan for this.  I left most of the threads out, because I really just wanted the flavor and color of the saffron, not the threads.

Heat your saffron water up over medium heat.  Once it starts to barely simmer, add a pat of butter and whisk whisk whisk.  The trick to making a beautiful fluffy butter sauce is to emulsify the butter into the water.  Once you have one pat emulsified through, add two more pats and keep repeating.  You should be whisking the entire time.

I love using lemon zest when I can.  I wanted some bright citrus notes to the sauce so I zested some up.

Now try your sauce.  Mine needed some salt since I used unsalted butter, so I added a few pinches of sea salt.  Kosher salt will do just fine.

Add all of your shrimp to the sauce pan.

Keep stirring over medium heat until shrimp is fully cooked, about 8-12 minutes. 

I tried the shrimp and it needed some more acid.  The butter sauce lightens right up with a couple squeezes of lemon juice. 

I didn't even include the tarragon and chives in the ingredients shot because I thought this would be an optional garnish.  I could not have been more wrong.  The fresh tarragon and chives transformed the dish.  In fact, I will never make this dish again without these herbs.   Bright, savory, licoricey, and fresh, this was exactly what the dish needed.

The broth/sauce is unreal.  Dip some rustic, crunchy bread in or even top it with some shrimp.  Poaching the shrimp like this makes them so tender and sweet and adds this incredible flavor to the sauce.  Droolapalooza. 

If you want to serve them as an appetizer, pile them up in a large bowl and serve with toothpicks with some bread on the side.   

If you want to serve it as a first course instead, get a large bowl and pile a few pieces of shrimp in the middle.  Then, ladle the sauce around it and serve with a large piece of crostini.  Outstanding and so impressive!  We'd love to know what you think about this!  Stay hungry! 

Saffron Butter Poached Shrimp 
1 lb of Raw Shrimp
2 Pinches of Saffron
1 Stick of Unsalted Butter, Cut into 8 Cubes 
3 Tbs of Hot Water 
2 Cloves Garlic 
1 Lemon, zest and juice
2 Pinches Sea or Kosher Salt 
1 Tbs Fresh Tarragon, Finely Chopped 
1 Tbs Fresh Chives, Finely Chopped 

Pour hot water over saffron threads and steep for 15-20 minutes or so.  Pour water into a 4 quart sauce pan (or something equivalent) and heat over medium until it just begins to simmer.  Add first cube of butter and whisk continuously until butter is completely emulsified in the water.  Add two more cubes and repeat.  Keep repeating this process, whisking the entire time, until all of butter is emulsified.  Add kosher or sea salt.  If using regular butter, taste before seasoning with salt.  Smash garlic with back of your knife and add to the butter sauce along with zest from lemon, about a teaspoon or so.  Add shrimp to butter and gently stir over medium heat until shrimp is cooked through, about 8-12 minutes.  Gently squeeze the juice from lemon, about 1-2 tablespoons worth or until desired taste is achieved.  Finish shrimp with fresh tarragon and chives and serve with rustic, crusty bread.  Enjoy! 


  1. Sounds fantastic! Can't wait to try it. Thank You for sharing.

  2. Tried it for lunch today. Turn out fantastic. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  3. Wonderful! I'll be serving it at my next dinner party.


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