“But how did you stand the winters?”
Anyone who’s lived in Maine year round and now doesn’t will be familiar with this question. There are lots of good answers but right now all I can think of is Northern shrimp, Pandalus borealis, the glory of the Maine winter, sweet, tender and buttery.
Like the wild mushrooms of the warmer months, Maine shrimp are a gift of place. If you’re near the coast, they’re everywhere, especially in a good season. Never mind fishmarkets and grocery stores. Trucks! By the side of the road. Two or three dollars a pound. Or you can be part of community supported fishing (CSF), pay in advance and be confident of the freshest and best every week.
The farther they must travel, the more they cost. But even at the 8.00/pound I recently paid in Manhattan out of a giant fit of homesickness, they’re a bargain. And talk about easy to cook!
COOKING MAINE SHRIMP
The simplest recipe is to get a big pot of lightly salted water boiling, dump in the shrimp, stir once and drain, reserving a bit of the boiling water if needed for thinning a sauce. Count to ten before draining if the shrimp are large. Cooking takes only 30 seconds to a minute. After draining, serve at once or spread them out right away so they don’t keep cooking each other. (Common shrimp get tough if you overcook them; northern shrimp turn to mush.)
To serve hot: Give everybody a pile of shrimp and a bowl to throw heads and shells in. Provide dipping sauce: melted butter with or without lemon; hot olive oil infused with garlic and crushed coriander seeds; rice vinegar dressing (season the vinegar with tamari, shredded ginger, garlic and brown sugar, then gentle with a drop or two of broth)…
To serve cold: Remove and discard heads after shrimp cools. Chill until wanted. Allow to return to cool room temperature before serving. Just plain is surprisingly tasty but the world is your dipping sauce: vinaigrette or mayonnaise or aioli or pesto or guacamole or tarator … Thick sauces often either fail to cling or cling too well, overwhelming the shrimp. Try a test shrimp and if there’s a problem thin the sauce with a small amount of the reserved boiling water. Cocktail sauce is missing from the list on purpose.
The quantity question: I have seen recipes that say 1 pound of whole shrimp will feed two people. This is a lie unless the people are about 3 years old. Three quarters of a pound per person is closer to the mark and if the person in question is either large or a real shrimp lover he/she can probably put away at least a couple of pounds. Given the deliciousness of both price and product, I err on the side of largesse and count leftovers a bonus. Peel them at the table after you’re done eating, while your hands are still all shrimpified.
Maine Shrimp Sushi, Sashimi and Ceviche are only wonderful ( and being raw, probably only safe), if the shrimp is right-off-the-boat fresh. This is possible on the Maine coast and at restaurants where dinner costs as much as a trip to Maine. Otherwise, cook as above or make
CAROL’S NEW ORLEANS BARBEQUED SHRIMP
That’s Carol of the wine colored dahlia and it’s only “Barbequed” because that’s what she calls it. Broiled, is what it is, coated with olive oil, butter, garlic, Worcestershire sauce and rosemary. Plus tabasco, of course, and pepper. That sounds like a pretty violent treatment but in fact the delicate sweetness comes through fine.
For 6 comparatively modest servings:
5 pounds whole Maine shrimp or 3.5 lbs. headless
¼ c. olive oil
2 tbl. Worcestershire sauce
2 to 4 tbl. minced garlic, depending on pungency
1 tsp. to 1 tbl. tabasco
6 tbl. coarsely minced fresh rosemary or 3 tbl. dried
coarsely ground black pepper
1. Rinse shrimp. If the heads look fresh and pink they can be cooked with heads on. If heads look rather tired and pink, remove them and set aside if you want to make shrimp butter and/or shrimp broth (below). If heads look suspicious, assume your suspicions are well-founded and discard heads before proceeding.
2. Spread the shrimp out on newspaper to dry. Put them on fresh paper and dry again. They may still be slightly damp but shouldn’t be wet.
3. Spread the shrimp in a single layer on a large jellyroll pan or similar. They don’t need to be separated but the one layer matters, especially if your broiling equipment isn’t super hot. Use two pans if necessary.
4. Heat olive oil and butter in a small saucepan. As soon as the butter melts, add the garlic, Worcestershire and tabasco and pour the mixture over the shrimp. Sprinkle on the rosemary. Move the shrimp around so each one has plenty of everything. A pancake turner works pretty well. Hands work better.
5. Move the rack so the shrimp will be about an inch below the flame. If your oven won’t let you do this, you can either make a higher shelf by paving the rack with upside-down muffin pans or not worry about it. Heat the broiler thoroughly. By now the shrimp should be room temperature but if it isn’t, don’t start until it is.
7. Broil the shrimp, moving it around frequently with a pancake turner to equalize cooking and minimize char. It will be done, just opaque through, in 2 to 6 or so minutes, depending on your broiler. At the 2 minute end, the shrimp is frying as well as broiling and will emerge so crisp you can eat the shells – and the heads, if the shrimp are very small. Otherwise, eating will involve removing heads (sucking out delicious juices before discarding) and peeling the tails. Not a big deal.
8. Serve with paper napkins and plenty of beer. If you have a slow broiler, there will be sauce. French bread.
SHRIMP BUTTER AND SHRIMP BROTH
There’s a lot of flavor in the heads and shells, so making the butter and broth give you a kind of threefer. Definitely worth the hassle when the shrimp is really fresh. Definitely not when not; if in any doubt at all, don’t bother.
The butter is a beautiful coral, tasting quite strongly of shrimp. I freeze it in small packages and use it as instant sauce for broiled fish and as the butter puddle for chowder. Needless to say, it’s great for sautéing shrimp or scallops and as a replacement for plain butter on the hot toasted rolls for crab rolls.The broth is shrimp stock. What’s to say? Fish soups and chowders.
1. First step for both is to spread the raw heads (and shells) on a sheet pan or jellyroll pan. Toast in a 300 degree oven, stirring occasionally, until they’re crisp enough to crush.
For @ 10 oz. shrimp butter: ( if not wanted skip directly to broth)
2. Remove eyes for prettiest color if you have the energy. Crush everything to small lumps. Combine lumps from 5 pounds of shrimp with ¾ pound melted unsalted butter in a small sauté pan. The more contact the better, but it’s alright if the butter doesn’t completely cover the shrimp. Place over very low heat and don’t really cook but just sort of hot marinate for about 45 minutes, stirring frequently.
3. Line a large strainer with a double sheet of cheesecloth large enough to completely enclose the heads with room to spare and put it over a bowl. Strain the butter through the cheesecloth, then gather up the edges into a bag and squeeze mightily. Some butter will still cling to the heads and they will still have a lot of flavor so use them to make broth.
For @ 1 quart shrimp broth:
2. Crush the dried material from 5 pounds of shrimp. Put it in a stockpot with 6 c. water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then lower heat and let bubble gently for about an hour. Strain and cool. If you started with butter shells there will be a sheen of floating fat. Most of the flavor is in the stock and it’s easy to remove from chilled broth. I don’t usually bother.
Make that didn’t usually bother. Now that I’m not in Maine in shrimp season all I can do is remember.