Experiment #5: Shrimp Mold

Trigger warning: savory gelatin.

When we first attempted to explain this blog to our friends, they kept saying the same thing: “Like Julie & Julia, right?”

We were coy in our responses then, but we’re finally ready to admit it. Yes. What we’re doing is exactly like Julie & Julia—except we feel confident Judith Jones will never invite herself over for dinner.

Much like Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the 1982 Congressional Club Cook Book is chock full of meaty aspics and aspirational gelatin molds. If you’ve never made an aspic, you were either born after 1960 or have a functioning tongue and eyes. They’re traditionally made from collagen-heavy animal stock—but this is the 1980s, so we're mixing up a forklift of ketchup with some shelf-stable packets of Knox Gelatine [sic][sick] instead.

Knox®: Grinding up Ponies Sending up Culinary Red Flags since 1889.

This week’s recipe—the appetizingly named SHRIMP MOLD—comes to us care of Mrs. Franki Fann Roberts, wife to our first sitting senator from the cookbook

That’s right: we’re eating like Pat Roberts (R-I’m the Matter with KS), a 36-year senator famous for representing a state he finds too repulsive to live in.

Franki’s blood sacrifice shrimp mold is awesome in the true sense of the word: it is a fearsome thing to behold. It quivers. It shivers. It…glistens.

Sheen level: Martin 

Let us set aside for now the absurdity of forming shellfish into the shape of what is clearly a rainbow trout with spina bifida. 

This shimmering marriage of tomato sog and Tiny Shrimp™ is exactly the kind of red-blooded American artifact you might expect to emanate from a state that hasn’t had a Democratic senator since 1939.

Charles Patrick "Pat" Roberts was born in Topeka in 1936 and attended K-State, where he majored in journalism. After graduating, he wrote copy in Arizona for a few years before moving to his permanent home in Alexandria, VA. Roberts met his wife, Franki Fann, when she was a staffer in Sen. Strom Thurmond's office, where they presumably bonded over the shining promise of segregation. 

Over the course of his long political career—Roberts served in the House of Representatives from 1981 to 1997 before making the leap to the Senate—the senator has sponsored 526 pieces of legislation, only eight of which ever became law (three of those eight simply named local buildings and courthouses). 

Roberts currently serves as Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, a responsibility he takes so seriously that he missed two-thirds of the committee's meetings from 2000 to 2014. 
 
From L to R: Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Shrimp Mold (R-TX), Franki Fann Roberts

If you squint, Pat Roberts looks a little like Sir Patrick Stewart, if Sir Patrick Stewart had been pummeled repeatedly with a meat tenderizer and left to bake until his muscles atrophied under a cloudless Arizona sun.

Tom and I are perilously close to being Shrimp Mold Constituents, but even our national readers are likely familiar with Roberts for his famed foot-in-mouth syndrome. In March, Roberts (devoted husband father to two daughters) took heat for his glib comments on women's health care.

"I wouldn't want to lose my mammograms," he snarled when reporter Alice Ollstein asked him about scrapping Essential Health Benefits from the aborted American Health Care Act.

The good news: you won’t NEED mammography after following Franki’s recipe, as the shrimp mold doubles as a practice dummy for at-home breast exams. Palpate those fins! Hunt for tiny, briny shrimp lumps in a jiggle-dense tomato blob! This dish is exactly the texture of that fake silicone boob from your 7th grade health class.

Participation Trophy: Pat (sort of!) believes in climate change! In 2010, he told a group of oil industry patriots:

"There's no question there's some global warming, but I'm not sure what it means. A lot of this is condescending elitism."

That ringing endorsement for Mother Earth may explain why Franki insisted on using Sustainably Engineered Farmed? Canned Tiny Shrimp™ in this recipe.


Step 1. Assemble the accused


Nothing like a can of Chicken of the Sea™ brand tiny shrimp to spur the appetite.

We’re getting fairly well practiced in sniffing out a recipe’s success based on its ingredients. We’d never purchased a can of tiny shrimp before, but we (naively) assumed it couldn’t be any worse than the freeze-dried commas at the bottom of a pack of shrimp-flavored Maruchan Ramen. 

Plus, there’s a lot we like here—horseradish! Tabasco! Worcestershire!—but the quantities are so scant as to be useless. This shrimp mold is where flavor goes to die, drowned in a glurpy ocean of vaguely sweet red.


Step 2. Mix your ketchup and slightly onionier ketchup

Look at those handsome flecks of undissolved gelatin. Liz's childhood Furby used to make a lascivious, sarcastic-sounding "YUM" noise when she pressed its plastic tongue. That's the soundtrack you should imagine throughout.

Franki has your back. She makes sure to specify that you should heat your gelatin and tomato purees in the top of a double boiler, not the bottom like a big maroon.

The bulk of this mold comes from the ketchup and the “chili sauce,” which is a condiment with which we were previously unfamiliar. We expected cocktail sauce, until we looked at the ingredients. It’s…basically just ketchup with a little vinegar, dehydrated onion, and garlic powder.

“So why not use chili sauce for the whole thing?” you ask. “Why use ketchup at all?”

GOOD LORD. DO YOU WANT TO PERISH FROM ZESTINESS?!?!


Step 3: Punish your onion 

There are two tablespoons of grated onion and its attendant bog water for the entire fish mold. Vegetal points = no.

Confession: neither of us had ever grated an onion before. There was something uncomfortably intimate about scraping half a yellow onion along the hungry holes of a box grater until it dissolved into a slushy alium mousse. We kept apologizing to the root end.

We then learned why we've never grated an onion before. The flavor is not discernably sharper, and it has the weepy texture of shaved ice that’s cured for too long in the cupholder of a summer-warmed minivan.

Also pictured: horseradish, Worcestershire, and lemon juice. You should probably just mix this into a Bloody Mary instead of continuing with the mold.


Step 4: Add your Certified Tiny™ shrimp

Nothing captures the frizzy contours of a tiny shramp quite like a sickly LED spot light.

Canned Tiny Shrimp have a dirty, mealy, alien texture befitting their nubby appearance. For whatever reason, Franki specifies you should mix these in last. We suspect it’s to prevent you from abandoning the recipe early: as soon as they’re coated with the ketchup soup, they look alarmingly like caterpillar larvae.


Step 5: Grease your fish mold

The recipe calls for a “fish mold,” which left us temporarily scratching our heads. If you’ve never seen one of these before, it’s exactly what it sounds like.

Liz’s mother tells us there was a time when all newlyweds could count on receiving a copper-colored fish mold for their nuptials. While we no longer live in that benighted age, thrift stores and antique malls are LOUSY with these guys. 

Our version came from River Market Antiques, which is basically a four-story fish mold warehouse. They had tiny fish (baby’s first fish mold!). They had giant fish. They had enormous ceramic molds shaped like mutant sewer lobsters.

dat phallic snout tho

These molds are always sold as “copper”—and sure, there’s a distinct pinkish tinge—but we have our suspicions about the metallurgy. 

The mold is thinner than Roberts’ sideburns, its inside is the color of burnished aluminum, and its outside is stamped with the word “COPPAR,” evoking the Legally Distinct spellings of mechanically separated chicken WYNGZ.

Aluminum sheen level: Charlie
  
I know what you’re thinking: real photography pros shoot in portrait.

As soon as you pour your hot grub paste into the mold, cover with plastic wrap and fridge “until set.” We didn’t want to take any chances in the structural integrity department, so we chilled overnight. But we suspect this was overkill.

This mold is firm.

Step 6. Garnish with a vegetal

BEHOLD. 

We’re plating this atop raw collard greens for that 1980s neon-green vibrancy. And a halo of Ritz crackers, as befitting a fish of import.

This is simultaneously the most impressive and least appetizing dish we’ve made thus far. 

The shrimp-maggots hang suspended within the cold gelatin, like prehistoric insects trapped in amber. The fins feather across the plate with the fine-boned texture of a Shrinky Dink®. The nose…we’re not going to talk about the nose.

Flavor-wise, this just tastes like ketchup flecked with shrimp-pockets of soily brine. It might be slightly more palatable were you to triple the amounts of Worcestershire, horseradish, and Tabasco called for, but there’s still the problem of the texture.

Cross-section from the court-ordered autopsy

We had a hard time summoning the courage to lift the be-gelatined crackers to our mouths. 

The texture of this unsettling reverse-homunculus is a paradox. It’s too firm to scoop with crackers, which crumble into butterdust at every attempt. But when you finally get a spoonful, it slides into your mouth like an oyster before collapsing into a mealy, mushy, spreadable paste. 

Liz recorded Tom’s first bite, which sums it up pretty well:


We did not go back for seconds, yet we couldn’t bring ourselves to throw it away. This mold is really a pretty good analogue for Pat Roberts’ career. It sat around in our fridge forever, but was ultimately pretty useless. By the time we were ready to toss it, we could barely bring ourselves to look it in its creepy eye divot.



This is The Blob. This is The Thing from Beneath the Sink. This is a harlequin baby in edible form (don’t Google that).

REE REE REE REE

But man, is this thing solid.

We're reminded of a (100% real) radio ad Sen. Roberts' own campaign paid for during his last contested election.

"Pat Roberts isn't perfect," a husky female voice purred. "But at least I know where he stands."

Franki Roberts' shrimp mold isn't perfect. But hey—it stands. 

Shrimp Mold
By Mrs. (Franki) Pat Roberts
Adapted from the 1982 Congressional Club Cookbook

1 cup chili sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons grated onion
1 teaspoon Worcestershire
1 teaspoon horseradish
3 tablespoons lemon juice
4 drops Tabasco
2 5 oz cans tiny shrimp
2 cans Hamm's

Mix chili sauce, ketchup, and gelatin in top of double boiler. Heat until gelatin is dissolved. Blend with the remaining ingredients. Add the shrimp last. Pour into greased fish mold or other mold which will hold about 3 1/2 cups. Chill until set. Drink Hamm's until brave enough to sample, then serve with crackers on bed of lettuce. 

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