America's Most Popular Sea Creature

The most popular seafood in America is shrimp. Since Louisiana lands about a third of the country’s total catch, it’s no wonder that we have so many ways to cook and serve this delicious crustacean. Boiled shrimp, fried shrimp, shrimp remoulade, shrimp gumbos, stews, poor boys and jambalayas are emblematic of both Cajun and Creole cuisines, but those dishes only scratch the surface of shrimp cookery.

Shrimp lends itself to almost any preparation you can think of and is one of the most versatile and cooperative of ingredients, quite comfortable with a wide variety of companions. Shrimp’s natural sweetness can be accentuated with onions or thrown into relief with the addition of lemon or horseradish. Shrimp are equally at home with butter or olive oil, with mild flavors or strong ones. Given its ability to forge alliances, a shrimp would be an unbeatable candidate in the political world.

Since we have so much fresh shrimp in Louisiana, we can choose from a variety of sizes. Generally, the larger the shrimp, the higher the price. The consumer often prefers very large shrimp, but for some preparations smaller sizes are more appropriate. For example, large shrimp are great for grilling, but smaller sizes are better in a gumbo, jambalaya or salad.

As we transition ever so slowly toward fall, the recipes this month include two cold dishes and two hot ones. The Shrimp and Couscous Salad and the Avocado Stuffed with Shrimp are quick and easy to prepare. Either can be served for a light lunch or as an accompaniment to something more substantial. Both recipes call for small shrimp, which can be tedious to clean and shell. Some markets carry cooked small shrimp, but they are also available raw, peeled and frozen in one-pound packages, ready to use. These are wild-caught Gulf shrimp that work very well in salads. To cook them, cover with water, season well with salt and red pepper or hot sauce and bring to a boil. Drain in a colander and they’re ready to use.

The Shrimp Cakes (or call them patties, if you prefer) can be made from any size shrimp, but there’s no reason to pay a premium for large ones since the shrimp will be coarsely ground anyway. For a satisfying lunch, serve the Shrimp Cakes with the Shrimp and Couscous Salad, good crusty bread, and a chilled rosé.

The final recipe is for a simple and flavorful Shrimp Filé Gumbo, one that is quick and easy to prepare. Heads-on shrimp are the key here, essential for the flavor imparted by the heads. Dried shrimp are another important ingredient, called for because of their intense flavor. It may still be too hot, strictly speaking, for gumbo, but to paraphrase Jimmy Buffet, “It’s gumbo weather somewhere.”


Avocado Stuffed with Shrimp

A quick and simple-to-prepare dish that only needs good bread, butter, and a glass of wine.

2 avocados
1 pound cooked small shrimp, chilled
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Creole mustard
Coarse salt and freshly ground Black pepper to taste
Hot sauce to taste
1 teaspoon chopped parsley

Halve avocados, remove seed, and peel. Slice off a thin strip from the bottom of each half so avocado will sit flat on a plate. Place avocado halves on 4 plates. In a mixing bowl, make a vinaigrette with the oil and lemon juice. Add mustard and whisk to combine. Season with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Add shrimp and toss to combine. Adjust seasoning. Pile shrimp atop avocado halves and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Makes 4 servings.

Shrimp & Couscous Salad

This is a far cry from the traditional way couscous is served in North Africa, but it’s no less delicious for that.

2 cups water
1½ cups couscous
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound cooked small shrimp
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
¾ cup small black olives
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons sliced green onion tops
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Coarse salt and freshly ground Black pepper to taste
Hot sauce to taste

In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add couscous, cover and remove from heat. Let couscous sit for 15 minutes. Transfer couscous into a mixing bowl and fluff with a fork while drizzling in olive oil. If there are lumps, separate grains with your fingers. Add shrimp, bell pepper, and olives and toss to combine. Add parsley, onion tops, and lemon juice, and toss to combine. Season with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Serve chilled.

Makes 4 generous servings.

Shrimp Cakes

Panko, the Japanese-style bread crumbs, create a light and crispy texture in these shrimp cakes.

1 pound boiled shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 tablespoons Panko bread crumbs
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
Coarse salt and freshly-ground Black pepper to taste
Hot sauce to taste
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
½ cup all-purpose flour
Olive oil for frying
Lemon wedges

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse shrimp a few times until they are coarsely ground. Add Panko and mayonnaise and pulse to combine. Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl, season with salt, pepper, and hot sauce; add parsley. Form mixture into 4 cakes, dredge in flour and fry in about ¼-inch of hot oil until browned on one side, then turn and brown on the other. Drain on absorbent paper. Serve with lemon wedges.

Makes 4 servings.

Shrimp Filé Gumbo

A homestyle gumbo, simple, quick, and satisfying.

4 pounds medium heads-on shrimp
12 cups water
¼ cup dry roux
1⁄3 cup dried shrimp
1 large onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
Cajun/Creole seasoning to taste
Coarse salt and freshly ground
Black pepper to taste
¼ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup sliced green onion tops

In a large pot, cover shrimp with water and bring to a boil. Place a colander over another large pot and drain shrimp, reserving the liquid they were cooked in. Place pot with liquid on stove. Whisk dry roux into pot until dissolved. Add dried shrimp, onion, bell pepper, garlic, thyme and bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Maintain the pot at a slow boil. Meanwhile, remove heads from shrimp, peel and devein them, and cook the rice. Add shrimp to gumbo, season with Cajun/Creole seasoning, salt and pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Add parsley and onion tops. Serve gumbo with filé and rice.

Makes 4 or more servings.


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