Shrimp: Everything You Need to Know But Didn't Have Time to Ask
Shrimp -- that ritzy food with the common touch -- has been through more metamorphoses than a moth. How else could it have become the second most popular seafood (after canned tuna) in America?
Yet shrimp remains high on party-food lists. Or, as the saying goes, "The buffet line stops here."
Aquaculture changed everything. Then deveining methods changed everything again. Now, most farmed, frozen, deveined, cooked or raw shrimp originates in Thailand and China. This moderately priced product with little waste has become a regular with home cooks.
We know its taste, or lack thereof. Luckily, local markets offer wild-caught Carolina shrimp that actually taste like shrimp.
Cooking makes a difference. Sensible seafood guru/cookbook author/commentator Mark Bittman crusades against overcooking shrimp, regardless of method. Fear of eating something "raw" may be a factor, since shrimp cook in a flash, then deteriorate.
With New Year's Eve looming and Valentine's Day soon after, this might help:
n Buy big. Extra large/jumbo shrimp, even at higher prices, are the better value. Prep (shelling, deveining if necessary) takes less time. Three jumbo shrimp look nicer on the plate than a dozen little ones.
n For best flavor, buy raw shrimp in the shells. Shells protect from freezer burn. Frozen cooked shrimp can be mushy and tasteless.
n To preserve texture do not refreeze shrimp. When thawed shrimp are sold at the service counter, ask for the same product frozen.
n Wild-caught east coast shrimp are rarely sold deveined. The vein is the digestive track, not the "bowels." A shrimp with no visible vein has not eaten for several days. Deveining gizmos aren't necessary. In most cases deveining can be accomplished by cutting a small slit at the head end. Grasp exposed vein with your fingers and tug gently. The vein will slide out, leaving shrimp intact. If vein breaks, enlarge the slit and pull or rinse out vein. The orange mush beside some shrimp veins is harmless roe (eggs).
n Shrimp will keep a better shape if cooked with tails on.
n Don't discard shrimp shells and tails. Cover with water, simmer with a few slices of onion and celery. Strain liquid, use to cook shrimp for a more intense flavor. Or save for seafood soup.
n Basic cooking method for cold shrimp: If not using broth from shells, simmer a cut-up onion and celery rib with leaves for 10 minutes. Cool broth. Place shelled, deveined shrimp in liquid to cover -- don't crowd. Bring to a light boil over medium-high heat. Count to 10 slowly, remove pot from burner. Let shrimp sit in hot broth for about three minutes. Drain off broth. Cool broth and shrimp separately. Then, pour cool broth back over shrimp, cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight. Shrimp will absorb a lovely flavor from the stock.
n Fool the eye: Cook extra-large shrimp as above for salads or soups. When cool, slice horizontally. Six shrimp will look like 12. Line up these sliced shrimp on a mini-baguette; cover with sauce and a romaine leaf for an elegant sandwich. Add sliced shrimp to very hot soup and let sit for a few minutes rather than cooking them further.
n Contrary to the Australian shrimp-on-the-barbee concept, grilling/broiling isn't the best method unless heat can be kept moderate. High heat turns the delicate crustaceans into pencil erasers.
n Worth the extra step: Stir-fry shrimp first. Remove from skillet, cover and keep warm. When vegetables are done, return shrimp to the pan and heat briefly.
n Watch for sales on refrigerated canned or pasteurized crab meat, any sort. Cook a pound of shelled, deveined shrimp very lightly. Pulse crab and shrimp in processor. Add chopped parsley and scallions, a spoonful of horseradish and an egg white. Form into patties, dredge in breadcrumbs (optional), saut in butter for fabulous seaburgers.
n Pasta perfecto -- and so simple: Saut shrimp and chopped garlic in butter. When shrimp are barely white, remove skillet from heat, pour in cup dry white wine, return to heat, simmer gently 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and white pepper, toss with cooked angel hair pasta and minced parsley. Optional: Add 2 to 4 tablespoons cream to shrimp and wine, heat gently. Do not boil.
n Branch out with sauces. No prepared cocktail sauce (some are too spicy, others too sweet or gluey) compares to homemade: Heinz chili sauce, enough prepared horseradish for bite and fresh lemon juice. Base other sauces on premium-quality fruit salsa, also green or red pepper relish mixed with an equal amount of mayonnaise and a splash of lemon or lime juice. Guacamole makes a sensational cocktail-party shrimp dip, as does low-fat ranch dip.
n The ultimate garnish: Thread a jumbo shrimp between two grape tomatoes on a wooden skewer. Stick in a Bloody Mary or V-8 juice. Place one or two large shrimp atop a portion of salmon or other fish. Float a shrimp in tomato bisque. Smear crab spread on small crackers; top each with a tiny shrimp. Marinate lightly cooked shrimp overnight in brine left in dill pickle jar. Toss with spinach or Caesar salad.
The only blip is cholesterol. Low-calorie, low-fat shrimp are moderately high in cholesterol. Studies differ. One reports that shrimp raises "bad" cholesterol slightly while raising "good" cholesterol levels.
Lay off the turf, dig into the surf -- and break even.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com
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