You shouldn’t be intimidated by things with names like “mandarin powder” and “aioli.” The former is nothing but orange zest and sugar and the latter basically a mayonnaise that’s traditionally made with garlic and without eggs, but now is commonly used to refer to any flavoured mayonnaise. So in this recipe for shrimp with mandarin powder and smoked chili aioli you have a raw egg yolk in play (use a fresh egg), a clove of garlic, and chipotle powder for kick.
You can find chipotle powder at Olives et Épices, Épices de Cru, or other specialty spice shops, or head to a Latin American grocery store and if you can’t find the powdered form just buy some chipotle chilis and crush them to a powder (without the seeds and stems) in a blender or spice grinder. I got my powder from the Mexican place in the bottom of the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. It’s very expensive there but I like the woman who owns it, and she has an interesting selection of imported Mexican and South American herbs and spices, and a healthy eating mentality that I respect.
If you don’t feel like scraping the white pith from mandarin oranges for half an hour, just grate the zest before oven-drying it (checking it VERY frequently so it doesn’t burn), or skip the mandarin orange powder altogether (but in that case you’d be really missing out). The sweetness of the powder combined with the salty-sweetness of the shrimp is to die for. And the lemony sourness of the aioli combined with the smoky heat make this a perfectly balanced quadruple threat of a taste combo. And when you have extra mandarin powder left over, you can sprinkle it on ice cream, in tea, add it to sweetened loaves (think cranberry-chocolate plus mandarin powder…), or even add some chopped parsley and a clove of garlic and make a sweetened gremolata for lamb, beef, or other red meat. It can really cut through a fatty, rich flavour.
Pair this dish with a fruity salad – nothing too salty – and the aioli can even do double-duty as salad dressing.
Please, please, please don’t buy farmed shrimp from Asia or South America. Most of the farming practices are absolutely awful and destroy the water, contaminating it for future generations with antibiotics and other drugs that make even the shrimp farmers sick. After just a few years they have to find new water for their farms because the ecosystem can’t support it anymore. And wild shrimp from these regions are often dredged, meaning boats are destroying the mangroves that protect the coasts from tsunamis and rising water levels. It basically destroys the economy of a region in just a few years but is a quick, make a bit of money-project for a handful of short-term thinking entrepreneurs. Like coral, they’re very valuable, and they’re far too easy to kill. The only shrimp you can buy in Montreal that I know are sustainable are nordic shrimp (aka “crevettes Matane”) and sometimes you get wild spot prawns from BC. But the local ones are delicious and probably have a much smaller carbon footprint than those coming from out west.
Nordic shrimp are very small, and most fishmongers carry them, either fresh in season, frozen year-round, or thawed. Mine were pre-shelled and thawed from Poissonerie Atwater. I really don’t like that place – it’s too expensive and I rarely have workers helping me who can tell me where things came from and how they were caught. Most importantly, the quality is so-so, not to mention that just about everything there ISN’T sustainable. I guess most of their clientele doesn’t care, and I won’t get into a rant here about the responsibility of both the fishmonger and the customer to be aware of what they’re selling and buying respectively.
If you can find Nordic shrimp with the shells on, great! You can make stock! But you’ll have more work to do shelling the shrimp (leave the tails on as a way to pick them up and dip them in aioli). If you find them pre-shelled, all you need to do is sauté them for 1-2 minutes in a skillet with a tiny bit of high-heat oil (e.g. sunflower or vegetable).
The recipe for Nordic Shrimp with Mandarin Orange Powder and Smoked Chili Aioli is adapted from Becky Selengut’s “Good Fish” (Please buy this book. Every recipe is a keeper, and she gives a good selection from weekday breezes to weekend feasts, all using sustainable seafood. She’s also hilarious, and her intros alone are worth the price of the cookbook. but it’d be a shame to not make more of her incredible recipes). These are the ingredients, but I can’t give the recipe for copyright reasons.
For the mandarin powder:
Zest of mandarin oranges (or tangerines, or regular oranges if that’s all you can find, but use fewer of the latter, and probably a little more sugar), grated
For the aioli:
egg yolk (if you don’t want to use a raw egg you can leave it out. It just won’t be as creamy)
lemon juice (I like a little more than Selengut, so I adjusted to taste)
clove of garlic, minced
olive oil or sunflower oil (Selengut recommends not using extra-virgin because it can make the aioli bitter, but as long as your extra-virgin isn’t bitter, your won’t be either. I also support the use of sunflower oil since it’s local and I couldn’t taste the nutty flavour thanks to the wonderfully overwhelming smoked chipotle and a little extra lemon. You’ll also have leftover mayo, so plan for a two days of sandwiches and to share because 1/2 cup of olive oil in two days – the length of time I’ll eat raw egg yolk – all to yourself is a bit too much, even if you’re Greek)*
Freshly ground pepper to taste
mandarin orange juice from zested mandarins above
olive oil (extra-virgin is just fine here. Also sunflower oil)
For the shrimp:
2 lbs nordic shrimp (this is a LOT of they’re pre-shelled. You can cut back, but you won’t mind the extra…)
1 tbsp high-heat oil (sunflower or vegetable)
Selengut says to peel the mandarins (tangerines, in her case, but mandarins are what the store had at the time I made the recipe), then remove the white pith. I did the removing part with a spoon and it was a nightmare. The skins fell apart. Maybe tangerine peels are more sturdy than mandarin peels, or maybe I’m just an incompetent pith remover, but next time I’ll just grate the mandarins and place the zest on a parchment lined baking sheet. They’ll burn more easily this way, but I’ll check them regularly in the oven until they’re dry and crisp. I was scared to burn them anyway, so I ended up taking them out a little early. This just meant that when they cooled they were a bit harder to grind with the sugar, but I didn’t mind a chunky “powder.” It was still lovely and pungent, and it made for larger bites of bitter-sweet mandarin, which wasn’t a bad thing.
The aioli is easy once you’ve located chipotle powder. I’ll admit I made this recipe explicitly because I happened to already have chipotle powder. I’d been waiting for a reason to use it for awhile. I’d prefer if you called me “unique” rather than “weird,” thanks.
All the ingredients are blended up quickly and then the olive oil is drizzled in. Adjust to taste with more lemon or salt or chipotle. Put it in a bowl, then into the fridge. Done.
The marinade is also simple. You could cook the shrimp exactly as they are and they’d be great, but the sweetness from the juice is addictive. It’s just an orange reduction – you boil down the juice until you have about 2 tbsp of intensely flavoured liquid. Let it cool, combine with the other ingredients and stir into a big bowl of the raw, peeled shrimp. You can leave the tails on since you’ll be dipping them later and this makes the whole thing less messy. But my tails were already off, so my guests had to use a spoon to serve themselves. No way I was deveining 2 lbs of shrimp after all that mandarin de-pithing. 20 minutes of marinating later and I sautéed those salty-sweet treats on high heat for a few minutes (I would have drained the marinade so they browned better if I really cared about browning, but I didn’t. You can also grill them if they’re big enough to not fall through the grates, or you have a grill basket for your BBQ. 1 minute per side.
Now the fun part – take a shrimp, dip it in the aioli, and then into the mandarin powder. Ah! Heaven! I couldn’t believe how good this was!
It’s also amazing without the aioli. Just with the mandarin powder. DO NOT skip the powder. It’s okay just dipping in the aioli, but there’s so much more flavour in the powder. Combined, they’re incredible. Buy this book!
*On the second day I stil had about 1/4 cup of aioli, and I also had a sous vide machine…so I froze the aioli, then vacuum-sealed it in food-grad plastic, and put it in a 62.5 C water-bath for 3 hours to pasteurize it without changing the texture. It was now safe to eat again for a few more days! Hurray!