Suppertime star: shrimp in three praiseworthy dishes

July 10, 2002|By ROB KASPER

MAYBE IT IS the hand-lettered sign proclaiming "shrimps" that I see when I am headed to the ocean. Maybe it is the fact that shrimp seem to be good swimmers with tight bodies clad in form-fitting shells. Or maybe it is because as the temperature soars, the idea of eating something light and water-based seems very appealing. Whatever the reason, when summer hits, I want shrimp at suppertime.

Recently, I ate shrimp fixed three different ways -- cloaked in bacon and barbecue sauce; tossed with linguine, broccoli and pecorino Romano cheese; and grilled, then served with chopped herbs. Each dish had me singing the praises of the crustacean.

I found the bacon and barbecue-sauce treatment and the pairing with linguine and broccoli while eating my way through Gatsby's Garden Gala, a shindig held two weeks ago at the Antrim 1844 Country Inn in Taneytown. A number of restaurants located near Taneytown had prepared dishes for the event, which was a benefit for the Women's Business Institute, a nonprofit group that encourages women entrepreneurs.

The crew from Maggie's restaurant of Westminster served a toothsome morsel called "barbecued shrimp." Later Jim Breuer, owner of the restaurant, told me the shrimp was cooked in the oven, not on the barbecue grill.

"We wrap the peeled shrimp in bacon, then put them under the broiler until the bacon is crisp," Breuer said. Next, the shrimp is basted with one of several flavors of the restaurant's homemade barbecue sauce. Then the sauce-coated shrimp is warmed slightly and served between slices of cucumber and carrot.

"The bacon and the sauce keep the shrimp moist," he said, adding that the key to the dish's appeal was the barbecue sauce.

When I asked what was in the barbecue sauce, Breuer, like many other sauce makers, gave few details. He told me there was some tomato, some sugar and a little bit of pepper in his sauce. The precise list of ingredients and their proportions was, he said, "a secret."

The peeled shrimp in the linguine and broccoli dish were sauteed in olive oil, butter and a little crushed garlic, said Ernie Kosmakos, chef and owner of Maria's in Westminster, the restaurant that served this dish. I judged the rich offering to be the best entree of the evening.

Kosmakos took me through the preparation of the dish. When cooking the shrimp, he said, you could tell when it is done by touching it. "When it feels firm to the touch, not fleshy," it is ready, he said.

Next, he said, you remove the shrimp, then saute pieces of chopped-up broccoli in the same pan, he said. Meanwhile, the linguine is cooked in boiling water.

For the finale, all the ingredients -- shrimp, broccoli, pasta -- are tossed together, then topped with a generous dose of freshly ground pecorino Romano cheese.

"It has to be pecorino Romano, and it has to be freshly ground," Kosmakos said. "It is great cheese."

Kosmakos said he got the idea for this dish from his 85-year-old father, Chris, who years ago worked as a chef for a variety of food-service companies in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas and who now helps out at the Westminster restaurant.

I tried the third shrimp cooking method on one of those evenings when it was too hot to turn on the oven. The hardest part of this recipe was peeling the shrimp. I skewered the shrimp; brushed them with a little olive oil, then grilled them over a hot fire for about three minutes a side.

Then I tossed the warm shrimp into a mixture of chopped herbs, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and hot sauce. I had shrimp for supper, which to my mind is the ideal way to end a summer's day.

Grilled Shrimp With Herbs

Serves 4

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided use)

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce

1/2 cup coarsely chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley, sage, thyme and oregano

1 tablespoon minced garlic

salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 pounds shrimp, (peeled and deveined)

Prepare medium-hot charcoal fire. Make sure grill is clean, and place it as close to heat as possible.

In a large serving bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the olive oil, lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, herbs, garlic, salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, toss the shrimp with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

Skewer the shrimp, or if they are large, place them on grill as close to heat as possible. Turn the shrimp after first side becomes pink, 2 to 3 minutes. Grill until the second side is pink or opaque.

Add the hot shellfish to the herb mixture. Toss gently and serve immediately.

- Adapted from "The Best American Recipes 2000," by Fran McCullough and Suzanne Hamlin (Houghton Mifflin Co., 2000, $26)

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