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The Laughing Chef
  The Laughing Chef's Column Archive
October 18, 2006
Shrimp: The Napoleonic Seafood
Shrimp can be the cruelest of foods. Juicy and tender at its freshest, it can turn – by way of inadvertent over-application of heat, or by moment’s distraction – tough, chewy, tasteless.
Oh, sadness! Remorse!
Yet, before such challenges, one must not shrink. In the face of difficulty, best to march boldly forward.
And, so away we go, to produce from a bag of frozen, cooked shrimp and a handful of vegetables a light, chunky sauce that can be properly applied to cooked, warm pasta.
There are two schools of thought about thawing frozen cooked shrimp. One says, “We must move quickly through life. Empty the bag into a strainer and thaw under a stream of cool water. Away all prawns!” The other says, “Good things come best through slow toil. Allow the shrimp to arrive, in its own time, at the decision to thaw.”
Both have their places, and both produce roughly the same result. Regardless, since the task of thawing is someone else’s, there is time to confront another decision that presents itself immediately – pinch the tail off now, or pinch later. Upon following through, the shrimp may be set aside for a moment.
We come now to the supporting cast – the vegetables. A single, large hot pepper will bring spice and heat. Celery will add heft, and add a certain feel of home and of soups and broths in the depths of winter. And, naturally, there is the workhorse of the vegetable world – the onion.
Cutting vegetables raises certain red flags. Do not tread lightly into this territory. Pain can come, riding on the sharpened edge of steel applied to soft flesh, or it might come in a more devious disguise – a hand used to cut hot peppers and rubbed carelessly across the eye (experts suggest wearing gloves while working with hot peppers, but the experts are generally best left ignored – forge ever forward!).
Once the vegetables are prepped, it comes time to turn on the burner. A nice, low heat will melt the butter and allow it to blend with the oil without burning either.
At this time, garlic will be most happy added after the butter and oil mix, but before the other vegetables are rushed into the skillet. Let the minced garlic bathe for a moment or so in the warm mix. It is doing you a favor, and as a matter of reciprocation you owe it a moment of relaxation.
When the moment feels right – at all times, the key to success is feeling when the proper moment has arrived – add the pepper, onion and celery. Stir all of it gently, turning it over so that the vegetables slowly soften, releasing their flavor and allowing it to blend. You will thank yourself later for not trying to Captain Rush-Rush things.
At this time, a thought strikes you – cook the pasta. Go with this thought. Commit to it. Once water is boiling, and the vegetables are nice and soft, commit an act of beautiful symmetry by adding the pasta to water and the shrimp to sauce. Sprinkle parsley across the sauce.
Stir both, perhaps at the same time, regularly to keep stuff from sticking and the shrimp moist.
As luck would have it, both pasta and sauce will finish at almost the same exact time (magic!). Drain pasta, toss pasta and sauce together. Allow to cool a couple of minutes, apply salt and pepper and eat.
Perhaps you’re reading this, thinking to yourself, “Maybe I could add or substitute some drained corn kernels, frozen peas, short-cut green beans or, perhaps, some steamed summer squash.” Dare to dream, I say, dare to dream. But, be careful: Shrimp suffers from a mild Napoleon complex and an inflated ego. It acknowledges its superiors, but doesn’t suffer upstart common vegetables well.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
You’ll smile so hard, a capillary in your eye will burst.
This couldn’t be easier if someone else cooked it for you. Half an hour, tops, start to finish. The greatest difficulty comes as the vegetables are gently sautéing. There comes a great temptation to pull out cocktail sauce and eat the shrimp. Deny this urge. Deny it!
Infirmary report:
Mild deliriousness from perspiration-fueled loss of fluids.  One mildly inflamed eye.


© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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