In the Pink

It’s difficult to think of another seafood as versatile and popular as shrimp. Name a cooking method, and shrimp can be prepared that way, but there’s no better way to enjoy their natural sweetness and succulence than by boiling a fresh batch of shrimp in highly seasoned water. And I doubt if there’s a more popular preparation (and none more scrumptious) than fried shrimp, either on their own or stuffed into a poor boy.

But that is only the beginning of our love affair with shrimp. We smother them in brown gravies, redolent of onion and garlic. We liven them up with a sizzling sauce piquante or stew them in an elegant dish of shrimp Creole. Alone or with the addition of crabmeat, we enrich them with butter in golden étouffées. A seafood gumbo is unthinkable without the addition of shrimp, along with crabmeat and oysters. Shrimp bisque is a glorious creation seen all too seldom, while shrimp jambalaya is a mainstay of Louisiana cooking.

We stuff shrimp, and we make a stuffing of them to go into flounder, peppers, eggplant, mirlitons, tomatoes and artichokes. We grill shrimp; we barbecue them; we combine them with grits or pasta into elegant creations that take their places on sophisticated menus. And then there are all the various cold preparations – shrimp cocktail, shrimp salad, avocados or tomatoes stuffed with shrimp salad, shrimp rémoulade and all the rest. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the various ethnic preparations of shrimp that enhance our culinary fabric.

Shrimp’s mild and sweet flavor makes it a natural for combining with all manner of ingredients in myriad ways, limited only by the cook’s imagination. Shrimp is so versatile and so widely available in Louisiana that it’s easy to take it for granted, but that would be a mistake, for our shrimp population is a fragile resource that deserves our care and protection so that future generations will be able to enjoy this treasure.

This issue’s recipes are all variations on familiar themes – a shrimp stew elevated with ground pork; shrimp smothered with okra, tomatoes and smoked sausage; shrimp braised in a brown Louisiana ale; and shrimp pickled in vinegar and spices.

Turbo Shrimp

Turbodog is a dark-brown ale brewed by Abita Brewing Co. in Abita Springs. In this dish, its rich, sweet flavor combines with the natural sweetness of shrimp and onion to produce a toothsome result.

4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 12-ounce bottle Abita Turbodog
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped green onion tops

In a large nonreactive skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter on medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is browned, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the Turbodog and shrimp. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat; and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are pink, about 3 minutes. Remove the shrimp to a bowl, and keep them warm. Increase the heat, and boil the contents of the pan until thickened. Whisk in the remaining butter until emulsified. Return the shrimp to the pan, and stir to coat with sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the onion tops. Serves 4.

Pickled Shrimp

Here, the sweetness of shrimp is set against the astringency of seasoned vinegar. This is not a wine-friendly preparation, but it does go well with buttered rye bread and a cold beer or dry martini.

4 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
1 lemon, quartered
1 bag crab boil
1/2 cup chopped celery with leaves
4 large sprigs parsley
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 pounds large shrimp

Combine all of the ingredients, except the shrimp, in a large nonreactive pot, and boil, covered, for 15 minutes, to extract the seasonings. Meanwhile, peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the last shell segment and tail intact.
Add the shrimp to the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let the shrimp cool in their cooking liquid. Remove the shrimp from the cooking liquid, and refrigerate. Serve cold. Serves 8 as an hors d’oeuvre.

Smothered Okra with Shrimp and Smoked Sausage

A quick and tasty home-style dish that is reminiscent of a shrimp-and-okra gumbo.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound okra, trimmed and sliced
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup water
1/3 pound smoked sausage, sliced
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hot sauce

Cook the onions and garlic in oil until softened, about 5 minutes or so. Add the okra, tomatoes with juice, water and smoked sausage. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until the okra is tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Add the shrimp, and simmer until the shrimp turn pink, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and hot sauce. Serve over steamed rice. Serves 4.

Shrimp-and-Pork Stew

Shrimp and pork have an affinity for one another and are often combined to good effect in Asian cuisines. You could call this a Louisiana version of surf and turf. It is a good example of how adaptable shrimp is.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 pound ground pork
1 cup water
2 tablespoons dry roux
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper
Hot sauce
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped green onion tops

In a large pot, cook the onion, garlic, celery and bell peppers
in oil, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.

Add the pork, and cook, stirring frequently, until browned, about
5 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small pot, bring the water to a boil. Whisk in the roux until dissolved; add the mixture to the large pot with the vegetables and pork, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt, peppers and hot sauce. Add the shrimp, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp turns pink, about 5 minutes. Adjust the seasonings, and add the parsley and onion tops. Serve over steamed rice. Serves at least 4.

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