'FRUIT OF THE SEAS': Gulf shrimp season ushers in new recipes

May 16, 2012 

With the shrimp season in full swing in the Gulf of Mexico, let's explore the many ways to prepare this Southern delicacy.

It is hard to think of the multitude of shrimp recipes without remembering the recitation in the movie "Forrest Gump."

If you recall Bubba says, "Shrimp is the fruit of the seas," and then recounts 21 ways to prepare it. Certainly there are more ways than that, but too often we rely on our old, standby recipes.

Boiling shrimp with a commercial seasoning, such as Old Bay, is a long-standing favorite. It is based on the French technique of quick cooking seafood in a broth called court bouillon.

This method of preparation is much better without the reliance on commercial seasoning, which should be replaced with a combination of fresh herbs, spices and wine.

Frying is also a good method and much enjoyed in the South. The pitfall for this technique is the chance of overcooking. If you do not overcrowd the pan and enough oil is used shrimp are perfectly cooked in two minutes.

Perhaps the next most popular way

to serve shrimp is in a gumbo. Nothing beats a bowl of gumbo when done right, but too often short cuts are used that miss the complexity of flavors that make the difference between an OK gumbo and a great one.

There can be no doubt there are many good Southern recipes for shrimp, but what if we get out of our comfort zone and try something new? An Asian influence is always a good place to start and your cookbook library should include several Asian cookbooks. I recommend at least one Chinese, Thai and Japanese cookbook. Once you have become familiar with Asian techniques you can expand to other cultures.

What about taking another look at an American classic? What comes to my mind first is the unchallenged American hamburger. Shrimp can be combined with a good variety of vegetables, something to bind (eggs) and breadcrumbs, formed into patties then grilled. You have plenty of options for bread, such as a French baguette or pistolettes, but a regular hamburger bun works fine, too. You can top a shrimp burger with anything you like, but don't forget the standards; mayonnaise, ketchup, lots of sliced tomato and lettuce. If you want to be a bit more imaginative make a spicy mayonnaise with avocado, lemon juice and hot sauce or melt thick slices of Swiss cheese on top.

Another good option is to go Italian, but there's not much new about combining shrimp and pasta is there? Why not use spinach pasta, fresh spring yellow squash from the farmers market and smoky bacon or sausage?

This recipe can be prepared in minutes and is even better when you pile on freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, the undisputed king of cheeses.

The brown shrimp season is coming and these simple, yet unique recipes will help you enjoy succulent crusteacans in a way that you have perhaps not yet tried.

SHRIMP BURGER

1 pound peeled, chopped shrimp

1 chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup chopped bell pepper

4-6 cloves chopped garlic

2 cups Panko bread crumbs

2 eggs

Salt and pepper to taste

1 pinch of red pepper flakes

Sauté the shrimp in a little butter for 2-3 minutes, remove and set aside. In the same pan sauté the onion, celery and bell pepper for about 10 minutes, then add the garlic and continue cooking for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Combine all of the ingredients and mix well, place in a food processor and pulse 2-3 times. Form into patties and brown in a little oil. Serve just as you would a hamburger with all the trimmings.

SHRIMP AND SPINACH PASTA WITH SQUASH

1 pound peeled shrimp

2-3 yellow squash, cut into 1/2-inch rounds

1 bag spinach pasta (any shape will do but penne is best) cooked according to package directions

1/4 cup chopped smoked sausage

1 small chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper

Black pepper and red pepper flakes

1 pinch dried oregano

Butter and oil as needed

Season the shrimp and sauté quickly in hot butter, set aside. In the same pan brown the chopped sausage, remove and sauté the onion, celery and bell pepper for 8-10 minutes, then remove. Sauté the squash in a little butter until tender then combine all of the ingredients, taste and re-season as necessary. Finish with Parmesan. Another option is to add a spicy pepper to the sautéed vegetables.

SHRIMP AND TOFU WITH MUSHROOMS AND SNOW PEAS

1 pound peeled shrimp

1 package fried tofu

1/3 cup snow peas

1/2 cup mushrooms

1/2 cup chopped onion

4-6 cloves chopped garlic

Red pepper flakes

1-2 tablespoons oyster sauce

Soy sauce as needed

This recipe is best if prepared on a gas stove with a wok. Quickly wok the shrimp in a little hot oil, then remove and set aside. Over high heat add the snow peas and the garlic to the wok with a little oil, sauté for 30 seconds then add1/4-cup of water and immediately cover and steam for 2 minutes. Remove the lid, let the balance of the water evaporate then remove the garlic and snow peas. Reduce the heat and cook the mushrooms until they began to give up their water, add the onions and cook until tender. Add all of the ingredients, mix, season with oyster sauce and soy. Serve immediately. Garnish with cilantro.

Julian Glenn Brunt, who has been a Mississippi Gulf Coast resident for more than 20 years. His column runs weekly in Taste. You can contact him at living@sunherald.com.

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