Shrimp dishes are always crowd pleasers

September 13, 2019
I’ve been invited to many a potluck-style cocktail party where the host serves liquid refreshments (notably adult beverages) and the guests bring hors d’oeuvres to share. For one such event later this month, the organizer wanted to make sure there would be some substantial protein-based options, and she asked me to bring shrimp.
Of course, I could always go the easy route and purchase one of those pre-packaged shrimp rings sold in the grocery store freezer section. One key step in this approach is to remember to defrost the contents of the tray. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been to a party where the shrimp ring and cocktail sauce were set out on the buffet table still frozen solid.
But, after checking the ingredients list for the variously sized shrimp rings, I decided this wasn’t a good option because of the additives. One additive in the shrimp was listed as sodium tripolyphosphate “to retain moisture.” The way this ingredient works is to attract water molecules so the shrimp appear firmer, glossier and smoother. It’s also used in dishwasher detergent and WD-40.
Another additive was sodium bisulfite, described as a preservative. This chemical is made by combining sulfuric acid and table salt (doesn’t that sound delicious?). Sodium bisulfite prevents oxidation and the appearance of dark spots in the membranes and meat under the shell. It’s also used in making paper and leather.
Although the prepared shrimp ring solved the convenience and presentation problems, I wasn’t comfortable serving chemicals, so I needed to find fresh or frozen shrimp I could peel and steam myself. An important part of the peeling process is to be sure to remove the very tip of the tail so people walking around a party with their hands full won’t have to find a place to ditch it.
My favorite recipes for boiled shrimp use either Old Bay or Penzey’s seasoning mixture called Shrimp and Crab Boil Spices. You can always create your own blend of aromatics sharpened with lemon or vinegar, but both of these mixes work well. Since shrimp cooks so quickly, you can cook it off the heat after the seasonings have simmered. Just don’t overcook it; you want the flesh to turn opaque, but you don’t want it tightly curled and chewy.
Once the shrimp is peeled, cooked and chilled, I’ll have to decide two things: how to serve it and what to serve with it. The best first answer is probably a generously sized decorative platter, large enough to arrange the shrimp in a single layer, with their tails all pointing in the same direction (don’t forget the toothpicks).
The second answer is a bit more complicated. Traditional horseradish-laced cocktail sauce is always popular, but I’d like to offer other flavors. I’ll include another spicy option and add a creamy dill choice for a change of pace. The recipes here are for the standard ketchup-based sauce, a sharp New Orleans remoulade sauce and a lemony-dill dipping sauce.
For the party, I’ll nestle the bowls of sauce among the shrimp on the platter, but if I were making individual servings, I might try the plating in the photo. Here, the shrimp are placed at the top of a long drizzle of each of three sauces, instead of the more familiar tail-draped bowl of shrimp cocktail. See you at the party!
Boiled Shrimp
2 lbs shrimp
2 qts water
3 T shrimp boil spice mix
1 lemon half
2 C ice cubes
3 C water
Peel shrimp, including removal of tail tip; set aside. In a 3-quart saucepan, combine water and spice mix. Squeeze in juice from lemon half and add lemon to pot. Bring to a boil over medium; simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and add shrimp. Cover tightly and allow shrimp to cook off-heat until they’re pink and flesh is opaque, about 7 minutes. While shrimp cook, prepare an ice bath of 2 C ice cubes and 3 C water in a large bowl. Transfer shrimp to the ice bath with a slotted spoon. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes; arrange on a serving platter and refrigerate before serving.
Cocktail Sauce
3/4 C ketchup
1/2 C horseradish
2 T lemon juice
1 T soy sauce
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1/4 t pepper
1/4 t tabasco sauce
Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Chill before serving.
Remoulade Sauce
1 C mayonnaise
2 minced scallions
1 T chopped parsley
3 T Creole mustard
1 t paprika
1 T lemon juice
1 t lemon zest
2 peeled garlic cloves
1 t paprika
1/2 t cayenne
Combine ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or blender and purée until smooth. Chill before serving.
Dill Sauce
1/2 C sour cream
2 T minced dill
1 T horseradish
2 t lemon juice
1/4 t salt
1/4 t white pepper

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