Maine Shrimp Chowder with Crispy Pancetta and Chives

 

There are few things I look forward to about New England winters, but the arrival of tiny Maine shrimp at our markets is one of them. They start showing up around January, and as they are local(ish), sustainable, inexpensive and downright delicious, I can never seem to resist bringing some home. Their flavor is sweet and delicate, so I don’t like to do too much to them, and they require a minimal amount of cooking since they’re so small (some people actually eat them raw, but I have yet to go there). Peeling these little guys is the hardest part of working with them, but their shells come off fairly easily, and they make a tasty broth for use in a shrimp risotto, or in this light chowder.

What you will need

1 pound Maine shrimp, peeled, shells (and heads, if you have them) reserved

5 cups water

Kosher or fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon double-concentrated tomato paste (from a tube)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 ounce pancetta

1 medium leek, white and pale green parts only, cut into very thin half-moons

1/4 cup fennel bulb, finely diced

1/4 cup celery, thinly sliced

2 cups waxy potato, like Nicola or Yukon Gold, cut into ½ inch cubes

1/2 cup half and half

freshly cracked pepper

snipped fresh chives for garnish

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