Fresh shellfish can be pricey so I like to get as much bang for my buck as possible. One of the easiest ways to extend the value of shellfish is to make a stock from the heads and shells. Once the stock has been made, it can be stored for later use and can be used in many different dishes. The unique flavor of shellfish can turn a mediocre dish into something exotic.
Making stock can be as simple as boiling the heads and shells in water and then straining the solids and reserving the liquid. Spices, herbs or vegetables can be added to give the stock extra depth of flavor.
I plan on making some seafood pasta dishes so I made stock from shrimp and crawfish shells. I bought one pound each of crawfish and shrimp. One pound of crawfish results in a paltry amount of crawfish meat and the majority is shells and heads. Shrimp produces a little more meat but you’d be lucky to get half a pound of cooked shrimp from a pound of whole, raw shrimp.
So, with that in mind, I made crawfish butter and shrimp butter. The flavorful compound butter can be stored in the refrigerator for several days, or in the freezer for months.
1 lb fresh shrimp (these were Gulf shrimp)
1 lb steamed crawfish (crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs…whatever you wish to call them)
½ cup unsalted butter, divided in half
Directions for the shrimp:
Remove the heads from the shrimp. This can be done by gripping the head and pulling away from the rest of the body. If you are squeamish about this sort of thing, get over it. It becomes an automatic process after a few decapitations. Toss the heads into a bowl and set aside.
Peel and devein the shrimp. Rinse the shrimp under cold water and store in an airtight container. Add the shells to the bowl containing the heads.
Put the heads and shells into a skillet. Cover with water and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring and pressing the shells occasionally.
Strain the solids and discard. Pour the stock into a container and refrigerate or freeze, if desired.
Directions for the crawfish:
Unless you go gigging for crawfish, which is to say, catching your own live crawfish, you will either get them freshly steamed and seasoned or refrigerated, after they were seasoned. Either way, they are probably going to be seasoned with Cajun spices, and that’s a very good thing.
I prefer to eat steamed crawfish while they are still hot, but this time I only snacked on one and used the rest for an Etouffee.
Remove the heads from the crawfish and peel the shells. Reserve the meat.
Add the heads and shells to a skillet and cover with water. Simmer for 30 minutes and strain the solids. Discard the solids.
Save the stock in the refrigerator, or freeze.
Making compound Butter
If you want to make compound butter with shrimp stock or crawfish stock, simmer the sauces further. Simmer at high heat and whisk constantly. Reduce the sauce until nearly all of the moisture is gone.
I reduced the shrimp stock down to about 3 tablespoons and I reduced the crawfish stock down to about ¼ cup.
Turn the heat off and add ¼ cup butter. Whisk to incorporate. Pour the butter into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate. Once the compound butter solidifies, turn it out on some plastic wrap. Fold the wrap over the butter. I like to add extra layer of plastic wrap to get a good seal. Refrigerate or freeze until needed.