America's favorite seafood? Shrimp. It's easy to see why; shrimp are available fresh or frozen, shell-on and peeled, raw and cooked. Shrimp lend themselves to countless dishes, from curries to gumbos to kebabs to stir fries.
“Mom and I loved shrimp,” celebrity chef John Besh recalls in “My New Orleans,” a combination cookbook, memoir and tribute to Louisiana’s food culture. “Dad enjoyed them but Mom and I loved them, just because they are so easy to cook.”
Louisiana is the major source for domestic shrimp. The state’s shrimp industry was socked hard by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, as Besh noted in his book (written before the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico), and has been battered by cheaper foreign competition.
For Besh and others, shrimp is more than a food; it’s a way of life.
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“It’s not just the critters we need to protect here but also the spirit of our shrimping community,” Besh wrote.
The region’s shrimpers are the equivalent of the family farm to Besh. “In our neck of the woods, that means everything,” he said in a telephone interview.”
Besh, whose restaurants include August, Luke, Domenica and Besh Steak, is not the only New Orleans chef gung-ho on the local product.
“I think it’s important to know where the shrimp are from because I personally think the gulf shrimp are the tastiest and the best,” said Susan Spicer, who, as chef/owner of Bayona restaurant, has made a reputation for using underused and underappreciated fish species on her menus.
In terms of having environmental cred, wild and farmed shrimp from the United States and Canada get the nod from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. Seafood Watch recommends avoiding shrimp from other countries.
Which shrimp is which? Consumers should ask at restaurants and retail outlets, said Sheila Bowman, outreach director for the California-based program. “The seafood supply chain has good information available that will tell you how it was caught, where it was caught,” she said. “If a restaurant or a retailer can’t tell you, it’s because they haven’t made it a priority to understand or know about the information.”
“Not all shrimp are created equal,” Besh insisted. “Domestic shrimp are much more scrutinized. Take the Gulf of Mexico for instance, where the shrimping season has just begun. Never have there been waters more controlled or tested on such a regular basis. They are making sure shrimp caught in these waters are not polluted.” Of course, as the gulf situation keeps unfolding new advisories or warning could be issued.
Spicer relies on a shrimper who goes farther west in the Gulf of Mexico, near Morgan City, La., to get shrimp.
“He delivers several times a week himself – which means he shrimps all night, then drives back to New Orleans and delivers to his restaurants all morning and afternoon. I don’t know when the guy sleeps,” she said.
Spicer likes using the gulf’s brown and white shrimps.
“I usually use a 16-20 count, which means there are between 16 to 20 shrimp per pound,” she said. “If the shrimp are headless, a count of 21-25 is a good size. The smaller the number, the bigger the shrimp and the higher the price.”
Besh uses both the brown shrimp, which tends to arrive at the market in May and June, and the larger white shrimp, which can be found from August onward. While larger shrimp are more popular, they also pose somewhat of a challenge.
“They’re more prone to be tougher and chewier,” he said. “If you go for medium-sized shrimp they’ll be more forgiving and, frankly, there’s sometimes less of that iodine flavor.”
Whatever shrimp you buy, make sure to enjoy them to the max and showcase them for all their worth. For, as Bowman notes, the best way to treat the world’s shrimp population may be not to eat them so often but relish them more.
“We have this all-you-can-eat-shrimp mentality,” she said. “Shrimp is not a commodity that can withstand that kind of demand. We have to rethink overeating seafood like the salmon, tuna and shrimp that we love. We’re loving them to death.”
Charred Chayote Soup with Adobo Shrimp
Prep: 30 minutes; Cook: 30 minutes; Makes: 4 servings
21/2 pounds chayote squash, peeled, halved, seeded
1 tablespoon oil
13/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
2 teaspoons sauce from canned chipotles in adobo sauce
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 quart chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1. Prepare a grill or grill pan for medium heat. Combine the chayote, oil, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and black pepper in a large bowl; toss. Grill the chayote, in batches if necessary, until slightly charred on both sides, 8-10 minutes per side. Cut into 1/2-inch dice; set aside.
2. Combine the shrimp, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and adobo sauce in a bowl. Let stand 10-30 minutes.
3. Heat the butter in a medium stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Cook until onions soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic. Cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add the reserved chayote, the cumin and the crushed red pepper. Stir in the chicken stock; heat to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until chayote is tender, about 8 minutes.
4. Add the shrimp. Cook until they turn pink, about 2 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat; stir in cilantro. Serve hot.
Nutrition information: Per serving: 335 calories, 38 percent of calories from fat, 14 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 191 mg cholesterol, 26 g carbohydrates, 26 g protein, 1,581 mg sodium, 8 g fiber
Source: Emeril Lagasse, “Farm to Fork: Cooking Local, Cooking Fresh.”
Garlic Lemon Shrimp
Prep: 35 minutes; Cook: 5 minutes; Makes: 6 servings
For the citrus vinaigrette:
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
3 tablespoons each: freshly squeezed lemon juice, key lime juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh garlic
11/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black freshly ground pepper
For the shrimp:
1/4 cup olive oil
30 jumbo shrimp, peeled, deveined
1/2 teaspoon each: salt, black freshly ground pepper
3 lemons, halved
1. For the vinaigrette, mix parsley, lemon and lime juices and garlic in a large bowl. Gradually add the olive oil in a thin, steady stream, whisking constantly until all is incorporated and the mixture looks creamy. Whisk in salt and pepper. Refrigerate overnight in a covered container.
2. For the shrimp, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat until just short of smoking, about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp in a single layer as much as possible. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the shrimp. Cook, without stirring, 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium-high; turn shrimp. Cook until pink, about 3 minutes.
3. Add 11/2 cups of the vinaigrette to the pan. Cook until the vinaigrette just begins to bubble and the shrimp are barely done, about 45 seconds, moving the shrimp around with a spoon so the vinaigrette flows evenly around all the shrimp. Remove from heat; let the shrimp sit in the pan 30 seconds; pour the shrimp and sauce into a large shallow pasta bowl or serving platter. Garnish with lemon halves.
Nutrition information: Per serving (using half of the vinaigrette): 311 calories, 91 percent of calories from fat, 32 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 54 mg cholesterol, 1 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 306 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
Source: Ralph Brennan, “New Orleans Seafood Cookbook.”
Prep: 45 minutes; Cook: 20 minutes; Makes: 12 servings
5 pounds jumbo Louisiana or wild American shrimp, peeled, deveined
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh lemongrass
1/2 cup olive oil
3 yellow onions, diced
10 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 rib celery, diced
1 bell pepper, red, green or yellow, seeded, diced
5 pounds overripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
Leaves from 2 sprigs basil, chopped
Leaves from 1 sprig mint, chopped
2 cups long-grain rice, cooked
1. Put the shrimp into a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Mix in the lemongrass. Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Add the shrimp; cook, stirring and tossing, until they turn pink, about 2 minutes. Remove the shrimp from the pan; set aside.
2, Add remaining 1/4 cup of the olive oil, onions, garlic, celery and bell peppers. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Heat to a simmer; add the bay leaf, allspice and red pepper flakes. Simmer 10 minutes.
3. Put the shrimp back in the skillet; add the basil and mint. Cook until warm, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. If the sauce tastes too tart, add a little sugar to balance the flavor. Remove the bay leaf. Serve over rice.
Nutrition information: Per serving: 259 calories, 31 percent of calories from fat, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 244 mg cholesterol, 18 g carbohydrates, 27 g protein, 425 mg sodium, 3 g fiber
Source: John Besh, “My New Orleans”
Grilled Shrimp with Coriander Sauce
Prep: 40 minutes; Cook: 25 minutes; Makes: 4 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon each: chili powder, ground red pepper
16 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails left on
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
5 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1. Combine olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon of the ground coriander, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, chili powder and red pepper in a medium bowl. Add shrimp; toss. Refrigerate while you make coriander sauce. Soak four 6-inch skewers in hot water.
2. For sauce, place the shallot, orange zest and juice, wine, vinegar and coriander in a small saucepan; heat to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until liquid is reduced to about 3 tablespoons, 20 minutes. Whisk in softened butter by the spoonful until sauce is emulsified and creamy. Stir in cilantro; stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm.
3. Prepare a grill or broiler for high heat. Place four shrimp on each skewer. Grill or broil shrimp until just cooked through, 2-3 minutes per side. Drizzle with the sauce.
Nutrition information: Per serving: 192 calories, 84 percent of calories from fat, 18 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 81 mg cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 198 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
Source: Susan Spicer, of Bayona restaurant in New Orleans.
SHRIMP BY THE NUMBERS
Names can change, but numbers are immutable, especially when it comes to buying shrimp. A set of numbers, called the count, tells you the size of what you’re buying. The count is based on the number of shrimp (without heads) per pound. Look for the count, often written as 31/35 or 10/12, on packaging, labels, store signs.
HOW TO BUY SHRIMP
New Orleans chef John Besh offers tips on what to look for:
Dark brown heads, legs or tails can mean old shrimp. The color should be light, “almost transparent in a way,” Besh said.
Use fresh shrimp immediately, if possible, or within a day.
Whole, fresh head-on shrimp should still have antennae attached; shrimp without them were likely frozen.
Besh said shrimp should smell “fresh and briny from the sea.” Perform a “sniff test” at the counter, if you like. If the store refuses, try an old Julia Child trick: Buy the shrimp, open the package right there and complain, loudly, if unsatisfied.
Buy shrimp with the shells still on; use them to make a shrimp stock for use in recipes. “Shrimp shells have more flavor than the actual shrimp meat itself,” Besh said.
Frozen shrimp can be as good as fresh, Besh said. He prefers shell-on shrimp because they’re less prone to freezer burn.
Source: Ralph Brennan’s New Orleans Seafood Cookbook