Merry shrimpmas, all you prawn lovers. It's your lucky season. Party trays are loaded with the prized crustaceans at this time of year.
In fact, most of the shrimp sold annually is served in December.
It's a tradition for party-goers to eat most of the shrimp on a buffet in the first 15 minutes of a party. When we asked a couple of pros how they foil the shrimp hogs, caterer Susan Lancione, of Akron, Ohio, had a confession to make: "There are always going to be that type of people, and I'm one of them," she said.
Chef David Russo, no shrimp hog himself, had some practical advice. To make shrimp last longer at a party, he says set it out in shifts, and set out two bowls at a time -- one in one room and one in another. Not only will the shrimp last longer, but having two food setups encourages guests to move about and mingle.
One of Ms. Lancione's most popular shrimp hors d'oeuvres resulted from a mistake, she says. She came across a recipe for shrimp and feta cheese phyllo bundles, and decided that for ease she'd pile the mixture in ready-made miniature phyllo tart shells. She remembered on her way to the party she was supposed to heat them. But she served them cold, to such acclaim that that's how she has served them ever since.
Shrimp, whether plain or fancy, is only as good as its cooking method. Both Ms. Lancione and Mr. Russo warn against overcooking, the most common way to ruin shrimp.
Shrimp should be cooked by plunging into boiling water just until the shrimp are pink and the flesh no longer translucent. The time will depend on the size of the shrimp, and how many you're cooking.
A couple handfuls of medium shrimp will cook in seconds. The water won't even return to a boil before the shrimp are done.
For a party, Mr. Russo offers this rule of thumb: Three pounds of large shrimp plunged into 2 gallons of boiling water will cook in about 3 minutes -- again, not long enough for the water to return to a boil.
To see if the shrimp are done, fish one out with a slotted spoon. If the meat sticking out the end is milky-white with no translucent spots, it's done. If the meat has started to shrink and curl, it's overdone.
Mr. Russo boils shrimp in seasoned water, to add even more flavor. For a delicate remoulade, he uses pickling spice and a thin slice of lemon and onion. For robust hors d'oeuvres, he replaces the pickling spice with cayenne.
Small to medium shrimp may be cooked with the shells either on or off. Large shrimp should be shelled and the dark vein removed before cooking. To remove the vein, make a shallow cut lengthwise down the outside curve of the shrimp, and flick out the vein with the tip of a paring knife under cold running water.
When buying shrimp, buy ones that are solidly frozen. They will most likely taste fresher than shrimp that has been thawed and displayed in a seafood case.
Here's Mr. Russo's basic boiled shrimp recipe, along with his recipe for traditional cocktail sauce, shrimp remoulade and shrimp with Avocado-Corn Salsa. Ms. Lancione provided her recipes for Jade Sauce and Feta Shrimp Tartlets.
2 gallons water
1 thin slice of lemon
1 thin slice of onion
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1/4 cup salt
3 pounds large shrimp
Combine all ingredients except shrimp in a large kettle. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 to 10 minutes. Add shrimp and cook 3 minutes (it won't quite return to a boil). Remove from heat and add 2 cups cold water. Let stand 5 minutes. Drain.
Holiday Shrimp With Avocado-Corn Salsa
6 fresh plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon seeded, minced fresh jalapeno
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
3 tablespoons chopped bell pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 Bermuda onion
4 frozen ears of corn
1 ripe avocado
3 pounds large shrimp (16 to 20 per pound), peeled and Creole-boiled
Remove stem scar from tomatoes and cut in half horizontally. Squeeze out seeds. Cut into about 1/4 -inch dice. Combine in a bowl with jalapeno, garlic, juices, bell pepper, cilantro, salt and pepper. Mix well.
Cut onion into paper-thin half-slices; add to salsa. Blanch corn for 2 minutes in boiling water; cut kernels from cob and add to salsa. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Just before serving, cut avocado in half and twist apart. With a spoon, pry meat away from skin. Cut into cubes and add with shrimp to salsa, mixing gently. Serve on a platter with a spoon.
Serves about 20
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup prepared horseradish
1/2 cup peeled, seeded tomatoes
1/2 cup minced celery
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
2 teaspoon. paprika
1/2 lemon, peeled, seeded, sliced thin
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 green onion, sliced thin
1 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds medium or large shrimp, cooked
shredded iceberg lettuce
chopped green onion, red bell pepper slivers for garnish