Along with the delicate vegetables finally making their appearance after a long winter, in spring our thoughts turn to shrimp. What other seafood is so versatile - it speaks every language, from paella to stir-fry - and so easily transforms a salad, soup or risotto into a meal?
Skewer it, saute it, grill it - no more than a few minutes, and shrimp's done. Soon we'll be steaming it in classic Maryland fashion to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Old Bay Seasoning.
Shrimp is one of those foods, says Baltimore International College chef instructor Michael Wagner, "that really take on the flavor of things you're pairing them with really well. I think the best preparations for shrimp are the simplest."
Chef Cindy Wolf, whose Charleston restaurant often serves the classic combination of shrimp and grits, has quick ideas for using the shellfish in spring. One is to serve sauteed shrimp along with finely chopped leeks and shallots on top of a chopped yolk of a boiled egg and asparagus cooked in a little butter. Or brush grilled shrimp with lime juice and chopped chives and shallots, and create a salad with tender, fresh mache.
Shrimp cocktail is a simple, luxurious preparation you can make even easier with a technique from Ina Garten's new book, Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. Instead of poaching the shrimp, Garten roasts them in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper. By the time you've whipped up the homemade cocktail sauce, they're ready for dipping.
Just about the only thing you shouldn't do with shrimp is cook it too long, and that happens often, chefs say. "There's such a big difference between a properly cooked piece of shrimp and one that's been cooked to death," says Wagner. Look for the shrimp to turn pink and for their tails to curl, but not too much. Wagner recommends looking for a texture similar to what you feel when you make a fist with one hand, then lightly poke the skin between your thumb and forefinger with the other.
Inside, you'll find some easy recipes that use shrimp to usher in the season. Here are a few more tips for making great shrimp:
* Confused by terms like "medium" or "jumbo" when buying shrimp? Look for recipes that specify the count per pound. Wolf and Wagner say 16 to 20 is a good all-purpose size.
* Most shrimp has been frozen before it's sold, so it's OK - maybe even preferable - to buy it that way. If you can get shrimp that is individually quick-frozen, it will be easier to thaw just what you need. Use thawed shrimp within a day or two.
* If you're lucky enough to find fresh shrimp with heads on, use them right away - the heads make them more perishable, says Wolf. Be sure the heads are clear, with no dark spots.
* Always devein your shrimp, but don't cut too far into the shrimp unless you're butterflying it, Wolf says.
* Using shrimp to top off soup? In her book, Garten advises halving them horizontally to make them easier to eat.
old bay steamed shrimp
(serves 8 as an appetizer)
1/2 cup cider vinegar or beer
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined, with tails left on
In a saucepan, mix vinegar, water and Old Bay. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Gently stir in shrimp, then cover. Steam 2 to 3 minutes or just until shrimp turn pink. Drain well. Serve immediately, with cocktail sauce if you like, or refrigerate. Use alone, in salad or with pasta.
Adapted from oldbay.com
Per serving: : 60 calories, 12 grams protein, 1 gram fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 1 gram carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 86 milligrams cholesterol, 140 milligrams sodium
roasted shrimp cocktail
(serves 6 to 8)
2 pounds (12 to 15 count) shrimp
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Heinz chili sauce
1/2 cup Heinz ketchup
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the tails on. Place them on a sheet pan with the olive oil, salt and pepper and spread them in 1 layer. Roast for 8 to 10 minutes, just until pink and firm and cooked through. Set aside to cool.
For the sauce, combine the chili sauce, ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. Serve as a dip with the shrimp.
From "Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics," by Ina Garten
Per serving (based on 8): : 171 calories, 23 grams protein, 4 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 10 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 172 milligrams cholesterol, 687 milligrams sodium
zesty grilled teriyaki shrimp skewers with stir-fry
(serves 3 to 4)
1 cup orange juice
1 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup sweet chili sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon crushed red-pepper flakes
1 to 2 tablespoons cornstarch
water (as needed)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 pound medium raw shrimp (16 to 20 count)
10 to 15 large skewers, soaked in water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil