Shrimp is a great protein to work with. It’s naturally low in fat, easy to handle, and has a sweetness that even people who aren’t fish fanatics enjoy. While it can be a bit expensive, there are ways to allay the cost. For example, purchasing it unpeeled and peeling it yourself is cheaper than purchasing it peeled and deveined.
Most of the shrimp you find in the grocery store is pre-frozen. It holds up well to flash freezing, and I’ve found that often the difference between the bags in the freezer section and the shrimp at the fish counter is they’ve thawed it for you. Once thawed, you need to use it pretty quickly. That’s why I buy the bags and thaw them myself when I’m ready.
Preparing to cook shrimp is easy. Take the bag out of the freezer, leave it sealed, and place it in a sink of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the shrimp is thawed. Next, pull the shrimp out of the bag and give it a quick rinse to remove any remaining ice crystals. Let it drain in a colander for a few minutes, and then peel and devein it. There is a small vein that runs along the back of each shrimp. Just slit the membrane above the vein with a sharp knife, pull it out, and rinse it away.
Shrimp has an affinity for garlic. The bite of the garlic blends beautifully with the sweet, salty flesh of the shrimp. For a quick meal, heat a little olive oil in a pan, toss in the shrimp for a few minutes until they pink, and then toss in garlic for about 30 seconds. Taste for seasoning, and add salt if necessary.
I have several favorite ways to prepare shrimp.
First, I really like grilling it on sugarcane skewers. You can purchase sugar cane swizzle sticks online at Melissa’s Produce and cut them into small skewers. Grilling the shrimp on the sugarcane enhances the sweetness, and only takes a few moments over a hot, oiled grill. As soon as the shrimp turns pink, I glaze them with a rum based glaze containing equal parts rum and sugar, a little dijon mustard, some cinnamon, a dash of vinegar, and turn or two of fresh cracked pepper. I simmer those ingredients together until syrupy and taste for seasoning. Once brushed on the shrimp, I allow it contact with the heat for just about a minute a side.
Baked scampi makes an amazing blend of flavors between shrimp, garlic, and citrus. I marinate my shrimp for a few minutes at room temperature in a mixture of white wine and olive oil at a 2:3 ratio with a little black pepper. While the shrimp marinates, I combine softened butter; bread crumbs (I prefer panko); minced garlic, shallot, parsley and rosemary; lemon zest, and an egg yolk into a crumbly topping. I spread the topping on the shrimp in a baking dish and bake it at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes until the shrimp pinks. Then, I blast it under the broiler for a minute or two to make the topping crunchy. This is delicious served on angel hair pasta.
If you like Mexican flavors, I make shrimp mojo de ajo with mushrooms. To create the mojo de ajo, place a saucepan with 1 to 2 cups of extra virgin olive oil on the stove top on the lowest temperature you can get it. I actually make the heat even less direct by placing a ring of rolled foil between the bottom of the pan and the burner. Add several cloves of chopped garlic (about one head per cup of oil), and allow it to simmer (but never boil) on the stovetop for an hour or longer. This gently cooks the garlic, making it extremely sweet and flavors the oil. Add a pinch of chipotle for a hit of spice. Saute quartered button mushrooms on the stovetop until they begin to brown and then add the shrimp. Once shrimp begins to pink, add the garlic and olive oil mix to finish cooking. Add a squeeze of lime juice. I serve this with tortillas, rice, pico de gallo, guacamole, and sour cream so people can build their own burritos. Making homemade guacamole is easy. Chop two soft avocados and add one minced jalapeno (no seeds), 1/2 minced red onion, a few tablespoons of chopped cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice, a pinch of salt, and a minced clove of garlic (or put through the garlic press). Stir, keeping some avocado chunks in the mix, and taste for seasoning.
Wines for shrimp: Shrimp has an affinity for crisp, mineral whites. I really like a good German Riesling with all of these recipes, because the acidity holds up well to the spices and sweetness of the shrimp. Try a Kabinett Riesling, or for something a little sweeter, try a Spatlese.