This dish works best as an hors d’oeuvre, but it could be a light lunch too. It’s incredibly beautiful to look at and it can be made ahead in stages, so it’s perfect for entertaining. The shrimp are essentially confited, which in French cooking means that they are poached and temporarily preserved in fat. Here the fat is olive oil, so the dish stays nice and light. The advantage of poaching in fat as opposed to water is that it keeps food juicy and tender. You might be surprised to know that meat contains at least 60 percent water, and seafood has even more because it lives in water. When you poach chicken or fish in water, osmosis causes the water inside the food to leave the food and enter the poaching water. But when you poach the food in something more viscous, like oil, fewer juices escape from the meat or fish. That’s one reason why confiting creates extremely juicy, flavorful, and tender food. The best part is that you can refrigerate the food in the poaching oil for a few days before using it. For a party, you could poach these shrimp on Friday and serve them on Saturday. Just let the shrimp come to room temperature before you assemble the dish. And once you feel comfortable with the oil-poaching technique, go ahead and confit some vegetables, meat, or anything else that you think would benefit from retaining its juiciness after cooking.
Enough for 4 as an appetizer
Shrimp – 12 large (U30)
Olive oil – about 1 ½ cups
Watermelon radish – 1, sliced into thin rounds on a mandoline
Cucumber- 1 peeled, seeded, and cut into ¼-inch dice, about ½ cup
Celery – 1 stalk, strings removed and cut into ¼-inch dice, about ½ cup
Capers – 1 teaspoon
Herb oil – 2 tablespoons
Espelette pepper – just a pinch
Fresh baby basil leaves
1. Peel and devein the shrimp, if necessary; otherwise leave them uncut, as in the picture.
2. Heat the oil in a 1½-quart saucepan over medium-high heat to 180°F. Cut the heat down to medium but maintain the 180ºF temperature of the oil. Pat the shrimp dry, add to the oil, and stir to coat evenly with oil. The temperature of the oil will drop to about 100°F; gently bring the temperature of the oil back to 150°F and cook the shrimp just until they begin to curl and lose their translucence, about 5 minutes. Watch them closely so they don’t overcook; you want the shrimp tender but just cooked through. Line a plate with paper towels and use tongs to transfer the shrimp to the plate to drain. Refrigerate until cold.
3. Set the radish slices on a cutting board and, using your smallest round cutter, preferably ¾ inch, punch the slices into uniform rounds. In a small bowl, mix the radish rounds, cucumbers, celery, and capers with 1 tablespoon of the herb oil, tossing to combine.
4. Mound 3 shrimp in the center of each serving plate and sprinkle with salt and Espelette pepper. Spoon a little of the cucumber mixture on top of the shrimp, drizzle with some of the remaining herb oil, and garnish with basil leaves.