Who here shares a rooted enthusiasm for heads raise their hands (… what?). To an undiscriminating extend on varieties, I love all types of heads (… what did I say?…), duck, fish, chicken, whatever. Not that there’d be a fight but I seize it from the table at every encounter, nose-up thinking I am the only person in the party who knows what. I’m a head-snob. And on behave of myself, I’m filing a complaint towards America where under-informed citizens don’t appreciate heads, or serve enough of them (I think I hear agreement of some sort…). I go quietly fury especially when I see shrimps heads being discarded on their plates, thinking they must be CRAZY passing that intense creamy foie-gras of-the-sea that’s just one loud sucking away. Tsk tsk tsk… unworthy of a good head.
I even landed myself a job for those. I remember with strange clarity about an interview I had 15 years ago, at a Vancouver Japanese restaurant for my first part-time gig. On my way out, I spotted a gigantic plate of shrimp heads as part of the staff meal-offering and cheered on the inside “good Christian-owner donated the best part to the crew!”. I dedicated 3 weeks to that job. Turned out my illuded notion of what a job was, died much faster than my enthusiasm for shrimp heads. So previously on Lady and Pups, it was as much about the faux lobster rolls as what was excluded. Larger purpose awaited them. Normally, a good shrimp head doesn’t need any fansies to impress, just a good pan-frying in olive oil, minced garlic and whatnots. Suck away baby, suck away. But if you are a bit of a virgin at doing shrimp heads, though open-minded with a healthy appetite for curiosity, here’s where you’d start.
For beginners, this soup (basically a bisque) offers an indirect engagement for you and truly, is phenomenal. The first time I made it on a whim thinking it could be a good idea and turned out I was wrong. It was great. If you love Thai-foods, the dish tom yum goong soup shouldn’t be unfamiliar, a vastly-varied hot and sour broth typically flavoured with tons of Southeast Asian aromatics and yes, shrimps. If your logic goes anyway like mine, you’d imagine that the addition of pureed tomatoes adding a thick and luscious body to this classic staple (and it does). And on a steamy and irritating summer night when the thought of a bowl of anything warm makes you want to cannonballing into a pool, the extra spiciness and sourness of this soup that you mop up with a slice of bread, proves surprisingly welcoming and addicting as a replacement for dinner. Heads up. This is going to be a new favorite.
Servings: 2 ~ 4
If you don’t have leftover shrimp heads/shells, you can still apply serious shrimp flavours by using Thai shrimp fat/paste, which can be commonly found online or Asian grocery stores. This is DIFFERENT from the salty, stinky shrimp paste used to season many Southeast Asian dishes. Sometimes the bottle is labeled “shrimp fat”. It’s a secret weapon to keep in your fridge as it adds intense flavours to your seafood dishes.
I am using coconut cream instead of coconut milk for its thicker and creamier texture. If you can only find coconut milk (as it is more common), leave out “1 cup of water” and add 1 cup of coconut milk (instead of 1/2 cup of coconut cream) to the mix.
- 6 large shrimp heads, or equivalent amount of shrimp shells, or 2 tbsp of Thai shrimp fat/paste
- 5 (65 g) lemongrass, finely diced
- 7 (30 g) slices of ginger (use Southeast Asian galangal if available)
- 3 ~ 4 shallots, diced
- 5 kafir lime leaves, torn by hand
- 2 ~ 3 red Thai chilis, diced
- Pinch of ground black pepper
- 2 cans (800 g) of peeled tomato
- 1 cup of water
- 1/2 cup of coconut cream
- 1/4 cup of lime juice
- 3 1/2 tbsp of fish sauce
- 1 tsp of sugar
- Kafir lime leaf oil:
- 4 kafir lime leaves
- 1/8 tsp of sea salt
- 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
- 3 ~ 4 tbsp of coconut cream to finish
- 1 loaf of rustic bread
Puree the canned tomato in a blender until very smooth. Set aside. With shrimp heads/shells, cut them into small pieces with a kitchen scissor.
Heat up 1 tbsp of olive oil in a soup-pot over medium-high heat and saute the heads/shells (or 2 tbsp of Thai shrimp fat/paste) until they turn orange and fragrant, approx 2 min. Add the diced lemongrass, ginger, shallots, kafir lime leaves, red chilis, black pepper, pureed tomato, water, coconut cream, lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. Turn the heat down to simmer and cook for 30 ~ 40 min, until the liquid has reduced by 1 cup (approx 1/5 of the liquid should have evaporated). Turn off the heat and strain the soup through a sieve. Press down with a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as you can. Discard the scraps. Adjust the seasoning with more fish sauce if needed.
To make the kafir lime leaf oil: While the soup is simmering, torn the soft leafy-parts of the kafir lime leaves from the tough central rib. Discard the ribs. Ground the leaves and sea salt with a stone-mortar (or mince extremely fine by hand with a knife), then add the extra virgin olive oil and mix evenly together. Set aside.
Add to each serving with 1/2 tsp of the kafir lime leaf oil, and 1 tbsp more of coconut cream. Serve with rustic bread and a wedge of lime.