Shrimp Tales

Chefs offer their twists on preparing the versatile crustaceans

August 25, 1999|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff

Don't throw that shrimp on the barbie! Don't toss it in water roiling with Old Bay! And, don't, please, hack it into small bits and stir it with mayonnaise and celery so you can slather it on bread!

Shrimp is one of the most delicious morsels to emerge from the sea, and it deserves better treatment. Or at least it deserves to be served in new ways that show off its delicate flavor and amazing versatility.

"I think shrimp is a very important part of living on the coast," says Cindy Wolf, chef-owner, with her husband, Tony Foreman, of Charleston in the East Harbor. "I love shrimp. It's so good and so sweet."

Wolf is well-known for her shrimp with grits, a dish she notes may make some people wary -- until they taste it. "If people are not familiar with grits, we bring them a little taste, and they usually say, 'These are great.' "

She sautes the shrimp with minced andouille sausage and tasso (spicy Cajun sausage and smoked ham), deglazes with white wine, swirls in some pieces of cold butter to make a sauce, and pours the whole thing over creamy grits made with milk and butter.

She also likes to rub shrimp with olive oil, maybe a little bit of seasoning, and then grill and serve them over a sauce of roasted corn.

Shrimp are crustaceans -- meaning they have an outer shell -- that thrive in salt water. They are found from Greenland to Ecuador, from Maine to Thailand. Although frozen shellfish keep fairly well, the best are the freshest ones, which preferably are caught in nearby waters.

"One thing I think people don't realize is that there's a lot of variation in the flavor of shrimp," says James Peterson, a chef, cooking teacher and cookbook author based in Brooklyn, N.Y. "It comes from all over the world, Asia, Japan. I'm a fan of Gulf [of Mexico] shrimp, if you can find them."

Like Wolf, who serves shrimp with their heads on, Peterson wants people to learn to cook shrimp with the heads intact. "When I was in Italy, I kept trying to figure out why Italian shrimp tasted so much better," he says. "And I realized it was because they grill them with the heads on."

Wolf says, "There's a lot of flavor in the heads. Of course, if people don't want to take them off, we take them off in the kitchen."

Peterson suggests that, even if you don't want the heads appearing on your plate, you should at least use them to make stock. "They make this orange, flavorful broth that really tastes of shrimp." The reserved shells also make wonderful stock.

Sometimes using shrimp instead of the expected ingredient in a dish can provide a tasty surprise. Edward Rogers, chef at La Tesso Tana and the Ashley Inn in Mount Vernon, serves Shrimp Parmesan, which uses seafood instead of veal or chicken. The dish is so popular, Rogers says, that if the restaurant is expecting a crowd, it may not put it on the menu because the kitchen staff can't keep up with the orders.

"We do a lot of shrimp," Rogers says.

While many people order shrimp in restaurants, they may not serve them as much at home because of the price ($5-$15 per pound, depending on size) and because shrimp have to be peeled and deveined. However, caterer Jerry Edwards of Chef's Expressions says an economical way to use shrimp is in appetizers.

One of his favorite hors d'oeuvres is marinated, grilled shrimp served over a little scoop of polenta or couscous in a martini glass -- with champagne sauce. It makes an elegant presentation. "There are so many cool martini glasses out there these days," Edwards says.

Chef Spike Gjerde says he also tends to serve shrimp as appetizers rather than as entrees. Gjerde, with his brother, Charlie, runs a string of local restaurants, including Spike & Charlie's in Mount Vernon, Atlantic in Canton and the Joy America Cafe at the American Visionary Arts Museum in Federal Hill.

At Joy America, one of the "little dishes" offered is papaya-habanero marinated, grilled shrimp. At Spike & Charlie's, a favorite is shrimp and black olive roulade, made with puff pastry.

"One of the coolest things about shrimp is that they're good for home cooking -- you can get good ones even in the supermarket," Gjerde says. "They're such perfect little things to eat."

Roasted Corn Sauce for Grilled Shrimp

Serves 2

2 cups of white corn, cut off the cob

1/2 cup onion, chopped

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup chicken stock, commercial or homemade

3/4 cup heavy cream

few drops of Tabasco (optional)

In a medium saucepan, saute the corn and onion in the butter until the onion is translucent. Add chicken stock and cream, simmer for 15 minutes. Place mixture in bowl of food processor and process briefly, so there are still pieces of the corn. Finish with Tabasco, if using. To serve, spread pool of sauce on plate, top with grilled shrimp.

-- From Cindy Wolf of Charleston

Spike & Charlie's Shrimp and Black Olive Roulade

Makes about 24 appetizer-size portions

8 large (21-25-count) shrimp, peeled and deveined, chopped

1/4 cup kalamata or other high-quality black olives, pitted

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