20 March 2010

No-Fail Dinner Party #2 - Shrimp

Another chapter in the dinner party options playbook.

This time we're working with frutti di mare, "the fruits of the sea".  Shrimp, as well as other shellfish, are a favorite at our table as they work well for an informal gathering (think Shrimp/Crab Boil) or can dress up for a more elegant crowd (think Lobster Thermador).  For the purposes of this no-fail discussion, we'll focus on shrimp, and offer other shellfish references whenever possible.

As a dinner party option, if you plan to serve shrimp or shellfish it's a good idea to let your guests know your gameplan to avoid any last-minute problems with food allergies.

While the general preference with fish is always fresh - fresh - fresh, working with shrimp you will almost always be purchasing frozen as shrimp is harvested, cleaned and flash frozen before ever reaching the shore or your local fish market. A few seafood preparation tips to keep in mind courtesy of Whole Foods Market.

  • Separate raw seafood from other groceries in your cart, shopping bag and refrigerator or freezer.
  • All seafood should be refrigerated or frozen as soon as possible after it is purchased.
  • As a general rule, refrigerated seafood should be used within two days. Live crabs and lobsters should be cooked the same day.
  • Seafood should be marinated in the refrigerator, not on the counter at room temperature. Discard the marinade after use, as it may contain food-borne bacteria. Do not put it on any other foods unless they will be cooked.
  • When cutting raw seafood at home, give that wooden cutting board the old heave-ho and instead choose a plastic one, which is less likely to harbor illness-inducing bacteria.
  • Wash all cutting boards and utensils with hot, soapy water before and after they come in contact with raw seafood. Make sure all seafood is fully cooked at the proper temperature.

It's easy to select your shrimp with an eye towards sustainability.  With over 300 varieties worldwide, it's been well-publicized that there are significant problems both with wild-caught and farmed options.  Monterey Bay Aquarium offers the following recommendations of eco-friendly varieties to help avoid those options that contribute to over-farming and other harmful practices.
  • U.S. Freshwater Prawns, farmed (also known as Giant River Prawn, Malaysian Prawn)
  • U.S./Canadian Northern Shrimp, wild-caught (also known as salad shrimp, cocktail shrimp, ebi)
  • U.S. Pink Shrimp, wild-caught (also known as Ocean Shrimp, salad shrimp)
  • U.S. Rock Shrimp, wild-caught
  • U.S. Pacific White Shrimp, closed systems/inland ponds
Don't get confused by the "count" noted on the labels or packaging.  If the label reads 21/25, this refers to the number of individual pieces per 1 lb.  The larger the number, the small the size of each shrimp.  The smaller the number, such as U/8, indicates much larger shrimp more appropriate to an entree.  The count is much more dependable than any other reference to "Jumbo" or "Colossal", which we tend to ignore.

Portion-wise, we plan on 1/3 to 1/2 pound cooked shrimp per person.  Keep in mind that 1lb of raw unshelled shrimp cooks down to approximately 1/2 lb of prepared shrimp.

Also take care to notice if they are pre-cooked, and if they are fully shelled, or tail-on, or shell intact.  If you are shopping at a fishmarket, they may also have heads intact. Depending on the which recipe you are using, and what time investment you can make, there can be a big difference in preparation.

Start with shrimp that have been rinsed well under cold water.  Clean shrimp, devein as necessary. Dry thoroughly before cooking.

We prefer to use raw shrimp in the shell, and no smaller than the 21/25 count (Jumbo).  Easy grilling involves either skewering the shrimp (leaving space between each piece) or a grill basket.  If you have the time, consider butterflying the shrimp by slicing lengthwise along the underbelly from the head to the tail, but leaving the tail intact.  Open like a book and press firmly down to flatten slightly.  Simply toss with olive oil, salt & pepper and grill.  Beware! They only need a minute or 2 on each side.

Make it your own!  With basic grilled shrimp, you can style up with any dipping sauces you'd like from asian nuoc cham to a New Orleans influenced remoulade.  Alternatively, create or use a marinade of your choice to introduce some flavor style before grilling.

For easy preparation, plan to use either the raw fully shelled or tail-on, and between 36/40 to 16/20 count (Medium/Large to Extra Jumbo).

Sautéed Shrimp with Buttery Balsamic Vinegar Sauce (courtesy of Fine Cooking)
A Savvy Host Recipe RAVE!!

Make it your own!  The basic saute involves some butter or oil and the shrimp.  From there, you can work with garlic, or hot chiles, or smoky paprika, or asian fish sauce & ginger to create a sauce to suit your dinner party plan.  Serving a crowd?  Use pasta as a base for your sauteed shrimp, increase the quantity of sauce and stretch your entertaining dollar.  Linguine, farfalle, or fettucine work well ~ ravioli is a delicious add ~ also consider soba noodles!

In true coastal tradition, you should plan to use raw unshelled shrimp, no smaller than 21/25 (Jumbo).  

We find that the some traditions are just meant to be, so we rely on Old Bay's version of a true shrimp boil...just grab the newspapers and roll up your sleeves.  And if you don't know about Old Bay seasoning, find out more about this tried & true favorite seasoning...and recipe RAVE!

To maintain the moisture content of the shrimp, we prefer using raw unshelled shrimp, no smaller than 31/35 (Large).  Typically, this preparation involves cooking the shrimp for 20-30 minutes in a very hot oven (400 degrees) and a baking sheet or tray.

Make it your own!  As with grilling, the options are limitless in terms of the dipping sauces or flavors to add to your roasted shrimp.  Lemon-thyme Olive Oil dipping for a lighter appeal, or a spicy BBQ sauce for a southern style.

If you have time or inclination, you can brine the shrimp before grilling or roasting.  What's Cooking America offers brining tips, and other useful shrimp facts, in All About Shrimp.

NO COOK options...
Bloody Mary Shrimp - at your local supermarket, purchase the prepared cocktail shrimp ring (in the seafood section).  At home, mix tomato juice, vodka, lemon juice, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco to your personal Bloody Mary taste.  Toss prepared cocktail shrimp in Bloody Mary blend and let sit for 15 minutes.  Serve in lettuce cup or over 1/2 avocado.

Shrimp Pizza - again, using the prepared cocktail shrimp ring from your local market.  Also purchase a prepared, uncooked pizza or flatbread.  We're fans of American Flatbread (available at Whole Foods in the freezer section) and use either the Tomato Sauce & 3 Cheese or the Ionian Awakening.  Either chop the shrimp or add them whole to the pizza topping, and follow the cooking instructions.

Mock Steamed Shrimp - grab a frozen bag of the fully cooked shrimp, preferably tail-on, from the market.  Add some cocktail sauce, Old Bay Seasoning, lemons and prepared horseradish to your cart.  Bring a pot of water filled halfway to a low boil.  Rinse the frozen shrimp in a metal colander until they separate, and then place the colander into the pot (but not into the water).  Sprinkle Old Bay on the shrimp and steam for 7-10 minutes.  Toss shrimp with more Old Bay and return the colander to the pot, but remove the pot from the heat. Leave standing while prepping a serving bowl, cutting lemon wedges, and "doctoring" the cocktail sauce with horseradish to taste.


Renee Fontes said...

Found your blog,really nice!
I like all the options and ideas. Thank you.

the savvy host said...

Renee ~ so glad you found us ~ and appreciate your kind words! Thank you!

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