Fresh, saucy, not too pricey: shrimp makes an easy meal

May 08, 1994|By Faye Levy | Faye Levy,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

The price of shrimp has come down in recent years, so now this delectable shellfish can appear on our tables more often. For busy cooks, shrimp should be a favorite choice, as it is one of the fastest-cooking foods. Shrimp are easier to shell than most shellfish, and they are less temperamental in the pan than many fish, as they don't fall apart when stirred.

Freshly cooked shrimp have far better flavor and texture than shrimp that you buy already cooked. An easy technique that I use is to cook shrimp directly in a sauce. It's faster and simpler than the classic way of cooking them in seasoned water, draining them and making a separate sauce. Besides, the shrimp gain flavor from the sauce as they cook. They are done when the outer surface of their flesh turns pink and the inside becomes white.

This method is perfect for low-fat cooking as long as you prepare a light sauce, like a tomato sauce or a stock- or wine-based sauce. Shrimp marry well with spicy or delicate flavors, so I flavor the sauces with herbs or spices to suit my mood. I prefer basil, cilantro, garlic, thyme, cumin, saffron and red pepper flakes because they quickly lend a lively taste to the sauce without long simmering.

Sauced shrimp is delicious served over rice, couscous, orzo or fine noodles. You don't even have to worry about reducing the sauce to thicken it as it will be absorbed by the rice or pasta anyway.

At the store you will notice that shrimp may be labeled with a number, such as 31/35; this means 31 to 35 shrimp make one pound and is a more precise indication of size than "medium" or "large." The higher the number, the smaller the shrimp. I find about 30 per pound, often called "large," is a convenient size -- large enough so there are not too many shrimp to peel but more moderately priced than "jumbo."

Quick shrimp in spicy tomato sauce

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 large garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2 (14 1/2 -ounce) cans diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved

1/2 cup juice from canned tomatoes

salt, freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried leaf thyme

1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

1 pound large shrimp (30 to 35), shelled and deveined

3 tablespoons shredded fresh basil

Heat oil in large saute pan. Add garlic and saute 1 minute over low heat. Stir in cumin, then tomatoes and 1/2 cup juice. Add salt and pepper to taste, thyme and hot red pepper flakes. Bring to simmer. Cover and cook over low heat 5 minutes. If sauce is too thick, add 2 to 3 tablespoons juice from tomatoes.

Stir in shrimp and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve sprinkled with basil.

Shrimp in red pepper -saffron sauce

Makes 2 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large sweet red pepper, cut into 1/2 -inch dice

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup bottled clam juice or homemade or frozen fish stock

1/8 teaspoon saffron threads

1 1/2 teaspoons potato starch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

1/2 pound large shrimp (30 to 35 per pound), shelled and deveined

salt, freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped green onion

Heat oil in medium saute pan. Add sweet red pepper and saute 5 minutes over medium heat. Add wine, clam juice and saffron. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer 5 minutes over low heat. Stir potato starch mixture to blend. Add to sauce, stirring constantly. Bring to simmer, stirring.

Stir in shrimp. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer over low heat until shrimp change color, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir green onion into sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Faye Levy is the author of "Sensational Pasta" (HP Books) and "La Cuisine Du Poisson" (Flammarion, Paris).

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