The Shrimp Paste with Gin

WHEN I TOLD SAVANNAH FOOD EXPERT DAMON LEE Fowler that I was putting a little gin in my shrimp paste, he simply frowned. When I told Charleston’s major authority on Lowcountry cookery, “Hoppin’ John” Martin Taylor, he raged, “Have you gone stark raving mad?” Heaven knows what either would say if I shared my conviction that shrimp paste might be traced back to English potted shrimps! In any case, on tea tables, at formal buffets and cocktail parties, and even for breakfast, shrimp paste has to be one of the most distinctive and sublime regional creations ever devised. The spread, made locally with tiny, sweet inlet shrimp, has been around for centuries, and while it does lend itself to different seasonings, modern versions that include everything from cream cheese to mayonnaise to canned soups should be outlawed. Serve the paste on benne (sesame) crackers or toast points.

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11⁄2 pounds fresh shrimp 1⁄2 lemon 3 tablespoons gin 1 tablespoon minced scallions (white parts only) 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 1⁄4 teaspoon dry mustard 1⁄8 teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg Pinch of cayenne pepper 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste Chopped fresh parsley leaves Place the shrimp and lemon in a large saucepan with enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, let stand for 1 minute, and drain. When the shrimp are cool enough to handle, peel, devein, and cut them in half. In a blender or food processor, combine the boiled shrimp, gin, scallion, lemon juice, mustard, mace (or nutmeg), and cayenne and process just long enough to chop the shrimp coarsely. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl, add the butter and salt and pepper, and mix with a wooden spoon till the shrimp mixture and butter are well blended. Pack the mixture into a crock, cover with plastic wrap, and chill at least 2 hours. When ready to serve, sprinkle chopped parsley over the top.

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