Shrympes-art - 10/10/01
Shrympes by Lady Constance de Larose. This is the documentation that she submitted at a Kingdom Arts and Sciences contest.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
This is the documentation presented by Lady Constance de Larose at a Kingdom
Arts and Sciences Contest.
Presented by: Constance de Larose
I chose this recipe because I like shrimp. Also because shrimp is one of the few foods that I have always been able to eat. I have a condition known as Crohn's disease and, when it goes into a flare up, the foods that my body can tolerate become few and far between. Shrimp has, so far, always been one of those foods. However, it can get boring when that is all you eat. So I went hunting for some medieval preparations of this particular fish. Also, my first attempt at making beer was disastrous insofar as producing anything potable but did produce a rather fine malt vinegar. So I was also looking for a recipe where such a vinegar could be used to the best advantage.
I was only able to find one period recipe for this dish in all of the reference materials I had available. I suspect that this is a sign not that the dish was seldom prepared or eaten but rather that it's preparation is so simple as to be unnecessary for inclusion in books of instruction.
From Harleian MS. 4016 (c. 1450) (1)
"Shrympes. Take Shrympes, and seth hem in water and a litull salt, and lete hem boile ones or a litull more. And serue hem for the colde: and no maner sauce but vinegre."
First I purchased a pound of shrimp. I considered traveling to the coast to catch shrimp myself but decided that this would be carrying the authenticity thing too far. Besides, I doubt that cooks in period caught or killed all of their own food either. Something had to be sold at the markets.
I then learned the joy of removing the shells and that ugly vein down the back and belly of the shrimp. The first batch I tried I did not know about removing the vein and it produced an ugly color in the shrimp and the water and a flavor I would not care to try again. Once the shrimp were cleaned and deveined they were ready to be boiled.
The recipe calls for salt but it does not specify the type of salt nor the amount. I decided to try it with three different types of unprocessed salt and two types of modern processed salt in varying amounts to find out which produced the best flavor, color, and texture. The modern processed salts that I tried were table salt and crystallized rock salt. The three unprocessed (without chemical treatments or additives) salts that I tried were rock salt, sea salt, and inland brine pool salt.
I purchased four of the five salts, however, in the case of the inland brine pool salt I took advantage of the natural inland brine pool nearby (the Great Salt Lake) and decided to make this salt in the same way in which they would have done so in period.(2) I went out to the Salt Lake and took a gallon of water from the lake and brought it home. I then strained the water through muslin several times to remove as much dirt and debris as possible. I then boiled the remaining salt water until it was almost evaporated and a sort of grayish mush was left in the bottom of the pot. This mush I spread on a clean dry muslin cloth as thinly as possible and place in the sun to dry. When it had dried (took about 6 hours) I scraped the salt off of the muslin.
I now had the 5 types of salt to run my experiment.
In order to keep as much similarity as possible, I worked each time with 4 cups of water and 1/4 pound of shrimp. I quickly discovered that 20 medium uncooked shrimp is almost always 1/4 pound.
I also learned, through trial and error, that 1 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 4 cups of water gives a uniformly bland result in the taste of the shrimp while 2 tablespoons gives the shrimp an overly salted taste which covers the taste of the shrimp. However, the effects of the different types of salt on the texture and appearance of the shrimp is most obvious and even visible when you use 2 tablespoons of salt.
The shrimp presented here today have been cooked in 4 cups of water with the addition of 1 tablespoon of salt. While the differences between the different salts are not as dramatic at these proportions, the taste is more palatable and is, I believe, closest to what the medieval preparation would be.
The best appearance result (esp. at the 2 tbsp level) was achieved using the modern processed rock salt with modern table salt running a close second. However, these two salts leave a faint metallic aftertaste that was not present in the shrimp cooked with the more medieval salts. Although this aftertaste is less noticeable at the 1 tbsp level it is there nonetheless thought the sprinkling with vinegar, lemon, or dipping in a sauce covers it adequately. This may account for the fact that most people in modern times do not like to eat shrimp without some kind of sauce or, at the very least, a wedge of lemon.
The three ancient methods of preparing salt (rock, sea, and brine) produce a salt which does not leave an unpleasant aftertaste and which enhances the flavor of the shrimp. In fact, I found that I preferred very little if any vinegar on the shrimp prepared in this manner as the delicate flavor of the shrimp has no need for covering. Again, the rock salt produced the best of the three flavors with the brine a close second and sea salt a rather distant third. The three medieval salts did produce a more desiccated product at the two tablespoon level, indicating the absence of the modern preservatives present in modern prepared salt. The higher level again gave a much saltier taste but even at this level, the taste of the shrimp prepared with the ancient salts was appreciably superior to the taste of the shrimp cooked in modern salts.
This was a challenging and most enjoyable project. In the future, when I cook shrimp, I can assure you that I will personally find it worth my while to seek out the unprocessed rock salt even though it is more difficult to find.
Final Redacted Recipe:
1/4 lb. shrimp (about 20 medium) peeled and deveined
4 Cups Water
1 T. Salt (unprocessed rock salt preferred)
Place the water, salt, and shrimp in a medium pot. Slowly bring the water to a full boil. Remove from heat and drain the water from the shrimp. Completely cool the shrimp. Serve over crushed ice with malt vinegar as optional sauce.
Austin, Thomas "Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books"
Oxford University Press, London 1888
Renfrow, Cindy "Take a Thousand Eggs or More" Volume One
Cindy Renfrow, USA isbn 0962859818 1991
(1) Austin, Thomas. "Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books", Oxford University Press London, 1888 page 103
(2) Renfrow, Cindy. "Take a Thousand Eggs or More, Vol.1", Cindy Renfrow, USA ISBN0962859818 page 60
Copyright 2001 by Debbie Snyder, 4744 W. Crestmoor Ct, West Jordan, Ut 84088.
<LadyPDC at aol.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related
publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.