Worth speeding for

I'll admit that I speed. Not in residential areas or past schools, and never, ever in busy parking lots, but I push my Subaru a good 5 or more miles over the speed limit almost everywhere else. I am That Person. Last Thursday evening I drove a little faster than usual. It was CSF pick up day, and I had very little time to make it to Carrboro to get my share. They close shop at 6 p.m., and if you don't make it, you're out of luck.

Pedal to the metal (slight exaggeration) on Highway 54, I pulled into the Carrboro Plaza parking lot just in time. A gray tent sheltered a handful of people and a huge ice chest from the blazing sun. My share of fresh shrimp and scallops were tucked inside, driven up that day from Down East by the fisherman of Core Sound Seafood.

Yes, Down East North Carolina is a real place. It's the state's beautiful Coastal Plain region, made of up 13 communities that share one high school and one hospital. The seafood is amazing, and I jumped at the chance to support this great organization. They set aside one dollar for every pound of seafood sold to a special assistance fund. The fund provides financial help on an as needed basis to commercial fishing families. Pretty cool, huh?

I shared milky white sea scallops with my friend Beth Friday evening, but set the shrimp aside for another time. They were gorgeous, medium-sized shrimp that smelled clean, almost sweet, and not at all fishy. I can make many shrimp dishes without glancing at a cookbook, but I was eager to break from my standard repertoire. I wanted something light that didn't require a lot of oven time, as temperatures continued reach the upper 90s.

I rummaged through cookbooks, the pantry, and the refrigerator, and found a can of coconut milk purchased ages ago. Almost an entire bunch of cilantro lurked in the fridge's produce drawer, along with a serrano chile and a lime. I took cumin seeds from the spice shelf, my ancient Cuisinart from its hiding place, and made cilantro-coconut chutney as detailed in The New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider. It was perfect — a light recipe that used ingredients I had on hand. I made minor adjustments to suit my taste (more cumin seed, less chile, and I used unsweetened shredded coconut).

The sauce is wonderfully refreshing. The powerful flavor of cilantro is offset by coconut milk, the lime juice adds zest, and the chile pepper gives a bit of heat. Be sure to make the sauce before starting the shrimp — shrimp cook very quickly.

Down East Shrimp with Cilantro-Coconut Chutney
Adapted from The New Way to Cook
Serves 4

Cilantro-Coconut Chutney:
1 bunch cilantro, washed, large stems removed
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted
1 serrano chile pepper, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut

Combine washed and dried cilantro (large stems removed) in the bowl of a food processor with toasted cumin seeds, serrano, and salt. Pulse on and off until the mixture is coarsely chopped. Add a pinch of sugar, coconut milk, and lime juice, and process again. Taste for seasoning, adjust as necessary, and set aside for dipping.

Poached Shrimp:
2 quarts water
large pinch kosher salt
1 lemon, cut into slices
1 bay leaf
1 onion, quartered
several parsley sprigs

1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, shells on

Bring the water and all ingredients except shrimp to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-high and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and shut off the heat. The shellfish will turn bright pink and curl when cooked through. This will take about 5 minutes. Drain, pat dry, and serve alongside the cilantro-coconut chutney.

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