When I think of shrimp I automatically think of Bubba from Forrest Gump: “Anyway, like I was sayin’, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich…”
But here’s a warning: knowing that more than half the world’s supply of seafood comes from aquaculture (including shrimp), cheap & abundant supplies have come at a huge price. Mismanagement of environmental and social impacts of aquaculture include destruction of habitat, depletion of wild stock caught for feed, disruption to the natural food chain and, obviously, the threat to food security. Always make sure you know the provenance of any type of seafood. If it’s not made available on demand, move to the next supermarket.
As I said in the intro, chances are that when you buy your pound of shrimp, it’s from a farm. Shrimp farming traces its origins to Southeast Asia where for centuries farmers raised incidental crops of wild shrimp in tidal fishponds. Modern shrimp farming was born in the 1930s when Motosaku Fujinaga, a graduate of Tokyo University, succeeded in spawning the kuruma shrimp. But since Japan has a cool climate and a rugged coast it somewhat mitigated against wholesale shrimp farming. Then something called luck happened (from Wiki):
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established a lab in Galveston, Texas, to investigate the red tides that were killing large populations of commercially valuable marine life. These investigations led to the development of techniques for culturing marine phytoplankton. In 1958, when the lab began investigating larval shrimp rearing, it used marine phytoplankton to feed the larval stages of shrimp—and the famed “Galveston Hatchery Technology” was born.
So, as they say in OZ, throw another shrimp on the barbie? (Note that in OZ they’re called prawns, but the Aussie tourist board insisted on calling them shrimp to maximize the US market. To this day, Paul Hogan remains baffled!)
From my Larousse Gastronomique I note that “the word shrimp derives from Middle English shrimpe, meaning “pygmy” or the crustacean itself. Shrimp harvesting was known as early as the seventeenth century in Louisiana, whos bayou inhabitants used seine nets up to two thousand feet in circumference. Only after 1917 did mechanized boats utilize trawl nets to catch shrimp.”
From Waverley Root’s book:
“There have always been customers for shrimp ready to fall upon them whenever and wherever they could be delivered. In the ancient Mediterranean world, where fishing was on an artisanal scale and almost everybody lived close to the water, the Greeks preferred the larger types of shrimp even to lobster, and cooked them wrapped in fig leaves. The Romans made the finest grade of all their all-purpose sauce, liquamen, from shrimps. When Apicius heard that there were particularly large, luscious ones in Libya, he chartered a ship to sample them on the spot himself, but he was so much disappointed by the first ones brought to him aboard ship that he sailed home without ever setting food on shore.”
Potted Shrimp English Style:
this is the easiest of all the seafood recipes I’ve posted so far, so you’re in luck if pressed for time! For 6 servings you will need:
200 grams (roughly 8 ounces) of salted butter, 1 pound of peeled brown shrimp, 1/2 tablespoon ground mace, 1/2 tablespoon of cayenne pepper, 1 bay leaf, 1 tablespoon of finely chopped chives, 2 garlic cloves finely minced, lemon wedges & rustic bread to go with this splendid dish. Cooking should not take any more than 5 minutes. All you have to do is to melt the butter into a saucepan, add the garlic, bay leaf, cayenne & mace, stir in the shrimp and the chives, cook for 2 minutes et voila. Place the shrimps into individual ramekins, press down firmly on each, pour butter over each one and refrigerate for 1 hour or so. Serve with thick slices of bread & lemon wedges. A good drink with this would be a good Riesling or Traminer.
Red Shrimp Curry Thai STyle:
Apart from simply grilling shrimps, another great way to accommodate them is to make a red curry, Thai style (not too hot or you’d lose the shrimp’s flavor). Purchase a tub of Thai red curry paste in your supermarket. What you don’t use will freeze well. In fact if you end up with say a half pound of it, divide into a few parcels, date them and freeze. For 4 to 6 persons you will need:
2 pounds of fresh shrimp, skin on, 2 tablespoons of curry paste, 1 medium-sized tins of clam juice (unless you have some shellfish stock in the freezer), 2 cans of coconut milk, 2 red onions, chopped up, 6 garlic cloves, minced, 1 large eggplant, cut up in biggish chunks, 1 bunch of cilantro, juice of 2 limes, 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, salt & pepper to taste. Knowing me, I would include a few Thai green chilies into this, depending on the strength of the paste.
I much prefer to buy shrimp with shell on, as you can use them as such: peel & devein all shrimps, place the skins on a baking dish and bake in a moderate oven for 20 to 30 minutes with just a little olive oil added. When pink, turn off oven, pour a glass of white wine and a pint of water and let rest for 10 minutes or so. Sieve and cool. You have a mini shellfish stock. Add on a few vegetable trimmings, cook further for 20 minutes and you now have a better stock which you can use to a greater advantage in this curry. Or freeze for later use.
In a cooking pot, pour the sesame oil, then add the garlic, onions and the cut up eggplant, stir and cook for a minute, then add the curry paste, mix well and pour the coconut milk and the clam juice (or the shellfish stock), bring to a slow boil, reduce heat and cook for 20 minutes or till you can coat the back of a spoon with it. If it’s too thin, add a glassful of cream.
Add the shrimp the curry sauce. Cook only for 2 minutes or until shrimps are opaque in center. Stir in the chopped cilantro and the lime juice (and the THai chilies if desired). Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. This is great with scented jasmine Thai rice. If you like greens into your curry, add chopped some bok choy prior to the shrimps.
Shrimp & Green Papaya Salad Vietnamese Style:
If you can ever get your hands on a fresh green papaya then the following salad is for you. A wonderful summer treat and a crowd pleaser. Fresh shrimps (in the shell, use as above) are needed in this salad.
For 4 to 6 persons you will need 1 and a half pound of shrimps, a green papaya, 2 avocados, juice of 2 limes, 2 garlic cloves finely minced, 1 table spoon of nam plah (Asian fish sauce), a knob of Wasabi, 4 tablespoons of toasted sesame oil, 1 tablespoon of crushed black pepper and a handful of fresh mint leaves.
First plunge the shrimp into salted boiling water and cook for no more than 90 seconds (depending on size of course). Drain and rinse under cold tap, this will stop the shrimp from cooking further and will remain firm. Shell the shrimp and place in a bowl. De-seed the green papaya and cut in a julienne form. Arrange the avocados as you like in the salad. Chop up mint leaves and set aside. Make the dressing as follows: in a bowl place the wasabi and using a little whisk, pour in the nam plah and the lime juice. Mix well and slowly pour the sesame oil, add the crushed pepper and pour over the shrimp. Serve over a bed of greens and sprinkle the chopped mint over it.
Sour Shrimp Ceviche:
Now that summer is on its way here’s a quick recipe for shrimp ceviche using a shot (or two) of Absolut vodka (or the vodka of your choice) Again I emphasize the importance of getting fresh shrimp. For 4 to 6 servings you will need 1 pound of peeled & de-veined shrimps (if you were able to buy them with shell on, you now know what to do with them), the juice of 2 grapefruits, a shot of vodka, a dash of raspberry vinegar (if not a dash of balsamic will do), 1 fresh mango, peeled and diced, 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped up, 1 serrano chili, seeded and finely diced, 2 tablespoons of chopped flat parsley, salt & pepper to taste.
Slice all the shrimps in small cubes and put in a bowl. Add the grapefruit juice and the vodka and let rest for a few minutes. Then add the mango, bell pepper, chili, & flat parsley. Pour the vinegar over it and mix well. Season with salt & pepper. Refrigerate in individual pots for a couple of hours and serve with lots of tortilla chips. Extra points if you’re able to procure yourself with blue corn chips! This goes well with shots of really chilled vodka.
Now that you have read the recipes, if you’d like to know more about ethically caught or farmed seafood, read a book titled “Bottomfeeder” by Taras Grescoe which explains much about the vanishing species from our oceans and before you buy your seafood check this site site, the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium.