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January 2, 2008

From Gray Slimy Lumps to Luscious Shrimp


When one thinks of shrimp cocktail, thoughts tend to jump quickly to the end product – seafood dredged through cocktail sauce and eaten. Very few think of the process by which the shrimp is turned from gray and slimy lumps into something not just edible but delicious. Yet process is very important.


Typically, the steps are simply farmed out to someone else, and a professionally prepared mix of seasonings is substituted for a few minutes’ worth of effort. Yet, it’s worth spending a minute or two considering the dangers that the professionally prepared mix has been sitting around for awhile and has been rendered inert by the slow, gnawing march of time.


The foundation of your own mix is salt, a finely ground sea salt. You are free to skimp on this, but a better tasting salt means better tasting seafood. It also serves another purpose, smoothing the transition of shrimp and other edibles from things of the sea to things of your stomach. At some molecular level, seafood can communicate better with sea salt than it can with regular old table salt.


There are peanut butter and jelly. There are peas and carrots. There are pork chops and applesauce. There are salt and pepper. Many things in the kitchen come in twos, and basic condiments are two of them.


While you will want to start with a healthy amount of salt, you will want to supplement it with ground pepper. The topic of peppers is not one that is typically broached, and it remains a greatly overlooked topic in debates about the kitchen.


The matter is somewhat confused by the presence of different kinds of pepper. There is pepper that comes in peppercorn form, and pepper that comes courtesy from fleshy pods. Here, we will further muddle things by saying that both kinds of pepper will be represented here – finely ground black pepper and finely ground red pepper.


Black pepper comes from a peppercorn, and red pepper is a crushed and ground dried chili pepper. Use both in this mix, with the amount depending on personal preference for heat.


You will also want to add garlic powder to the mix. Seafood and garlic go together like peanut butter and jelly, peas and carrots, pork chops and applesauce and also salt and pepper.


Add to this mix a healthy dose of hot paprika, a ground bay leaf, some oregano, thyme, a clove bud and – if you have it – some dried lemon peel.


Mix it well, sprinkle some into a pan of boiling water and store the rest in an airtight glass container.


Place a steaming tray above the water and lay your shrimp over the top, overlapping only if there are too many to leave only one layer.


You will want to steam the shrimp until they turn orange and firm. Do not let them overcook, owing to the ever-present menace that they might become tough and rubbery.


Once they are finished, you may wish to slip them into a refrigerator until chilled, and serve with a side of cocktail sauce. To make that . . . well, that’s another story.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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