fish, williamsburg cookbook

To butter shrimps

Last weekend it felt like summer. 80 degrees, not too humid (so, more of an ideal summer than a real one), sunny. I spent Saturday afternoon setting up my tomato and pea plants outside, in a sheltered spot with plenty of sun. Josh and I took our time at the farmers’ market, grilled some corn quesadillas, had a long, lazy lunch at our favorite bakery on Sunday. I almost believed that school was actually over, that we had nothing more pressing than figuring out what to eat for dinner.

Of course, then reality set in. Those last few weeks of school are always so agonizing, don’t you think? Summer’s just within reach–except it’s a little too far away.
So maybe it was masochistic of me to cook shrimp for Sunday dinner. Shrimp always reminds me of summer–really, any seafood does–and while I was making it, I definitely forgot that the next day would bring teaching, not sleeping in. The kitchen was a little too hot from the stove, so I wore a tank top and jeans, sipping ice water as I worked. Physically it felt like summer…dinner tasted like summer….so why is it still only May?
These are the questions Josh and I ask each other, at least three times a day now.
In the meantime, I torture myself exquisitely with shrimp.

There’s actually very little butter in this recipe, despite what the name suggests. The sunny hue comes from beaten egg yolks, which set in thin swirls to make a sort of egg-drop soup studded with shrimp. Thanks to the vagueness of colonial recipes, I’m not sure if that’s what the soup should have looked like, or if it should have taken on a thicker consistency like avgolemono. Either way, it’s rich and delicious and ridiculously easy to make.

I was surprised that the colonial Virginians ate shrimp, but after doing a bit of research it made sense. John Smith, recorder of the earliest European explorations in Virginia, wrote a lot about how the rivers and waters teemed with fish,

lying so thicke with their heads above the water, as for the want of nets we attempted to catch them with our frying pans.”

The frying pan bit is, well, ridiculous, but it says a lot about the availability of fish that they even tried to catch them that way. It’s no wonder that colonists touted Virginia as a veritable Eden of abundance. And in his list of fish the colonists recognized, Smith lists “shrimps” along with sturgeon and oysters. So the colonists were eating shrimp right from the beginning.

Now, of course, shrimp are much more dear–I shudder to recall how much these cost. It’s sobering to think about how much fishing has changed since the 17th century. But these were worth it. For just a few hours, it really felt like summer.

Buttered Shrimp
(adapted from The Williamsburg Cookbook)
1 1/3 – 1 1/2 lbs shrimp, deveined
1 1/3 cup white wine, divided
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp nutmeg
4 egg yolks
lemon slices for garnish

Rinse the shrimp and place in a large pot, along with 1 cup white wine, the butter, and nutmeg. Cook over medium-high heat until liquid boils and the shrimp is starting to turn pink (the butter should be melted–this is the colonial way to tell if the timing’s right). Now beat the egg yolks together with the last 1/3 cup white wine, and pour into the pot. Give the liquid a good stir and cook for a few minutes longer, until the shrimp is pink and the liquid has thickened slightly. Ladle the soup and shrimp into bowls, and garnish with slices of lemon.


1 thought on “To butter shrimps”

  1. Looks awesome! I felt the same way over the weekend… it was Sunday night and I thought, “Do I seriously have to go to school tomorrow??!!!” The injustice of it all!!



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