Friday, March 9, 2007

Shrimp with Avocado Salsa

It was early in the day and I knew my parents were headed to BWI that evening to stay in one of the hotels near the airport the night before their early-morning flight to Florida. Knowing there's nowhere decent to eat dinner near BWI, I called them that morning and asked if they wanted to drive 45 minutes out of their way to come have some dinner here at Chez French Laundry at Home before heading to the hotel. It took about 2 minutes of deliberations on their end before they said they'd be here that afternoon. I knew I could easily reconstruct a semblance of the Parm-Reg Custard dish as a first course, then serve the Shrimp with Avocado Salsa, followed by the Carnaroli Risotto (stay tuned for that post!). Three small courses would be perfect before having to head to the hotel for a good night's sleep before boarding the plane at the butt-crack of dawn.

You've already read about the Parm-Reg custards, so let's talk about the Shrimp with Avocado Salsa, shall we?

The first thing I did was prepare the court bouillon in which to cook the shrimp. Court bouillon (a quick stock) is an acidic poaching liquid flavored with vegetables and herbs. It's designed to quickly poach fish and shellfish. Here's the mise en place:

I had to make a bouquet garni for this, which consisted of thyme, parsley and bay leaves tied up in the outer leaves of a leek:

I am a big dork because I love making bouquet garni. It's soooo pretty and green and smells so nice. And I love to speak French (even though I am far from fluent), so I enjoyed being able to say the words "bouquet garni" when I was describing this dish to a friend over the phone while I was doing the prep work. I also began describing all the other ingredients with a half-French/half-English translation, which was really hilarious in that inside-baseball kind of way, but you had to be there, especially when I called shrimp "cravats" (neckties) instead of "crevettes." I"m sure you're doubled over with laughter just reading about it. (cue eye rolling) Dude, I"ll have you know Lorne Michaels is like totally knocking down my door to get me to audition for SNL, but I'm all "Lorne, I am far too funny for your darling little sketch program, please stop bothering me. Gah."

Anyway.... to start the bouillon, I mixed the liquid, vegetables and bouquet garni together in a medium-size stock pot:

After it came to a boil, I reduced it to a simmer, then added the wine, lemon and vinegar:

When the bouillon came back up to a simmer, I added the shrimp (the one laying on top looks like he could be called Nigel, doesn't he?):

The shrimp simmered in the bouillon for only a minute, then I removed them from the pot, put them in a bowl, and covered them with about half of the bouillon:

The shrimp cooled in the liquid and after about 20 minutes of sitting on the counter, I put the whole bowl in the fridge to chill further until I was ready to serve it. You know, this whole court bouillon process required a decent amount of work (and ingredients) and I'm not entirely convinced it made a bit of difference in how the shrimp tasted when they were finished cooking. Actually, I've had shrimp taste better using different (and much easier poaching liquids). It did make my fridge smell really good, though. But again, I'm not convinced it was worth it, or that I'd do it that way again.

Next up was the Avocado Salsa. Here's the mise en place:

This was incredibly easy and I can think of about ten different things I'd serve this with. Or, I could just make it, put it in a bowl and eat it with a spoon -- it's that good. I just mixed the cucumber, onion and olive oil, then tossed in the avocado and stirred gently, then seasoned it with a little salt and pepper.

The plating of this canapé was so simple. First, you start with some forks:

Then, you peel the shrimp and place one on the tip of each fork, with a spoonful of the Avocado Salsa just behind it:

These were pretty good, but not something I'd go through the trouble with the court bouillon to make again. In fact, I was so annoyed with it by the time I was done, I skipped making the tomato diamonds as an additional garnish for the salsa. I just couldn't be bothered. I might look for another way to do the shrimp, but the Avocado Salsa I would make time and time again. It's light and delicious and the red onion wasn't overpowering at all. All the ingredients worked well together. Mom, Dad, and I enjoyed it, and we had a few extra servings so I called the neighbors to come over for a taste, which they were more than happy to do. I think the shrimp needed a tad more seasoning, but it wasn't terrible. It just wasn't a homerun in terms of preferences when thinking about all the other canapés I've made thus far from the French Laundry Cookbook.

Up Next: Carnaroli Risotto with Shaved White Truffles from Alba

Brands Used:
All-Clad Coppercore cookware
Seafood and produce from Whole Foods
White serving platter from SurLaTable
Forks from my maternal grandparents, Gordon and Lena Seitz

Music to Cook By: Yaz, Upstairs at Eric's
(and the song "Goodbye, Seventies" was in my head for hours afterward. Damn you, Alison Moyet. Damn. You.)


Anonymous said...

DG, I'm your newest fan. I love your enthusiasm and your willingness to dive head first into this endeavour. Bravo!

I'm sorry to hear the shrimp weren't a resounding success. I'm prone to believe what you said about them, too. It's very hard to infuse a lot of flavour into something cooked so briefly.

I can't wait to see your risotto. My wife and I are both risotto and truffle addicts.

Anonymous said...


I don't know if it would work with this recipe, but we frequently make the court bouillon recipe from The Professional Chef (7th ed) around the house and freeze it for later use. It's a lot of work/ingredients, but we make it in big enough batches once every few months that it's really not that much of a hassle.

I too have been working a few of the French Laundry recipes... very fun and fun to see what you're doing here :)

Anonymous said...

You know, I always wonder about those sort of elaborate chef type of preparations like court bouillion and how much they're really adding.

And wait, you were listening to Yaz? There's a blast from my past.

Jaye Joseph said...

Upstairs at Eric's! What a great album, I haven't listened to that in years. You also reminded me that I've been jonesing for some Love and Rockets.

Between inspiring me to cook like this and reminding me of some music I've been meaning to get, I'm going to go broke from reading your blog.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear that the creation of the poaching liquid didn't have a big payoff in your opinion. But now you know. Thanks for posting such hints for those who also will try many of the recipes.

I'm eager to read your risotto post because I'm going to make it this weekend, too. I can't find the rice that Keller recommends, so I'm using arborio. I hope it's yummy.

Keep on cookin'!

Elizabeth Zaffarano said...

Hi DG,
I have a comment from an earlier post...where did you get your tamis? I am having a devil of a time finding one that's stainless steel. The ones I do find don't look like yours (the screen is in the middle) and cost a mint!

pdxblogmommy said...

Now that I know I'm not allergic, I'd like to come over and taste your next batch with the Avocado Salsa. Though I DO demand tomato diamonds.

You can, uh, skip the Parm-Reg Custards though...

Carol Blymire said...

Elizabeth, I bought my tamis for about $10 from It might have ended up being between $15-18 with shipping. I love, love, love it. Also, you could look at Asian grocery stores/markets. Hope that helps.

Todd, thanks for the heads up on the Prof. Chef. A friend of mine just sent me the 8th ed. and I've been looking for a reason to crack it open, and the court bouillon might be a good start.

Rob, Julie and Jaye -- glad you're enjoying the blog. It's good to see you.

Anonymous said...

I got my stainless steel tamis at Sur La Table.

On a related topic, I got the DVD of the CBS segment about Keller and French Laundry. Overall, it was disappointing; it was only 12 minutes, inadequeate to convey what makes Keller and FL special. Ruhlman's books 2 and 3 offer ever so much more insight. But from the DVD I did learn that the wait staff are trained by a ballet instructor so that all their movements are choreographed and identical. One day, I'm gonna get there, I am to experience FL myself. Enough with this vicarious stuff.