Prawns, fennel, sweet pepper and passion. Hmm. Lots of possibilities for this Paper Chef challenge. Luckily I shopped for the seafood before a giant winter storm shut us in. One of my passions is to seek and use the freshest, most local, and hopefully organic ingredients. With nothing called a prawn in our markets, I was lucky to find first-of-the-season tiny Maine pink shrimp that were never frozen. While Maine’s not exactly around the corner, it’s a lot closer than Vietnam, which is where some of the other shrimp were harvested. I was also lucky to find fresh scallops from Barnegat Light on the Jersey shore, some 40 miles away. I already had a sweet bell pepper and a large bulb of fennel, both organic but not too local I’m sure. So I was set to cook when the snow hit.
Another passion, or maybe just an obsession, is to utilize all ingredients to their fullest, cutting down waste. I just can’t imagine shelling shrimp and tossing the shells, or cutting off the woody fennel stalks and discarding them. I sometimes stockpile shrimp shells in the freezer until I have enough for a stock. Same with vegetable trimmings in the refrigerator, though you have to be careful not to create a cool heap of compost in the process. Because the shrimp were so tiny, I had a high volume of shells, which made a flavorful stock. Since I was using fennel in the final dish, I added the stems to the pot along with the usual aromatics.
I braised the fennel separately because I wanted to infuse it with lemon juice, but you could just add it in with the onions and peppers, treating it like celery in a chicken pot pie. BTW, this is a great way to cook fennel in general.
Finally, what I care about most when I cook for family and friends, is to make something that they’ll enjoy. For my family, chicken pot pie is a favorite meal, so I thought that, while I might have made a shrimp and fennel chowder, or a thinly sliced fennel and pepper salad with prawns in a passion fruit dressing (sounds good, eh), a comforting pot pie on a blustery day is just the dish to hit the spot.
Seafood Pot Pie with Fennel and Peppers (one 8” pie)
2 tbsp butter
1 onion, cut in small dice
1 yellow bell pepper cut into ½” pieces
¼-1/3 cup flour
¼ cup white wine
1+ cup shrimp stock (see below, or bottled clam juice)
½ fennel bulb, optionally braised in lemon juice and stock (see below)
½ lb tiny shrimp or larger shrimp cut up
3-6 scallops, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 tbsp heavy cream (optional)
1 tbsp or more chopped fennel fronds
Salt and pepper
Flaky pie dough (or frozen puff pastry sheet)
Melt the butter in a shallow pan over low heat and sauté the onions and peppers for about 5 minutes. Add flour, stirring to incorporate it and let it cook slowly for about 5 minutes to eliminate the taste of raw flour. Add the white wine, turning up the heat a little and whisk or stir vigorously to avoid lumps in the flour. Start incorporating the stock, continuing to stir to avoid lumps. Cook slowly for about 10 minutes. The mixture should seem really thick since the pepper and fennel juices will water it down when the pie is baking.
Turn off heat, add the pre-made fennel and the scallops and shrimp. Pour into the pie plate that you will use for baking and when cool, adjust seasonings and add the chopped fennel fronds. Top with a piecrust, slit in a few places so that the steam escapes. Bake 45-60 minutes in the middle of the oven, with a baking sheet below in case it overflows. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Shrimp stock (1 scant quart, used 1/3-1/2 of this in the pot pie)
Shells from 1 lb shrimp, or more, rinsed
Olive oil, very small amount
1 carrot, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
3-4 stalks fennel, diced (optional)
A few fennel seeds (optional)
Approximately 2 quarts water
Sauté the shrimp shells in a little oil until they are opaque (other types will turn pink; the ones I used started out pink). Add the vegetables and stir to coat. Add peppercorns and fennel see, if using. Add water just to cover and simmer, partially covered for about 45 minutes. If the mixture seems watery, cook it for another 15 minutes. If you are not using the stock right away, cool it quickly and refrigerate.
Lemony Braised Fennel (used half of this in the pot pie)
I bulb fennel
Juice of one lemon
Chicken stock or water
Salt to taste
Trim the bulb, cut it in half vertically, core it and make thin vertical slices. Reserve the fronds and the stalks for another use (or if the stalks are not too woody, slice them and include them with the slices). Heat a little olive oil in a deep pot, add the fennel slices and sauté for 5-6 minutes, allowing the slices to brown a little. Add the lemon juice, reduce the heat and let the fennel stew for a few minutes, until the lemon is absorbed or cooked down. Add the stock or water, barely covering the fennel and braise, partially covered until cooked to the consistency you like. (Note, because I was mixing it with the potpie filling, I didn’t cook it fully.) This took about 10 minutes to cook.