A variety of main dish options can start with frozen shrimp
A bag of frozen shrimp is one of the best resources for those busy days when you’ve forgotten to plan dinner or you haven’t left yourself enough time to execute the plan you had. I’m not talking about the tiny breaded variety or the kind that has been preserved with sodium tripolyphosphate and sodium bisulfite. Although challenging to find, what you want is a bag of raw, frozen shrimp with one ingredient: shrimp.
But, here comes the tricky part — what kind of shrimp are in that bag? Although there are over 300 different varieties of shrimp in existence, there are only a few that are commercially harvested. White shrimp (also called Pacific white shrimp or white leg shrimp) are the most common variety. When you remove their shells, they appear grayish-white and turn pink around the edges when they cook.
A variety found along the Gulf coast is brown shrimp, which have more mineral flavor and are ideal for dishes like gumbo. Pink shrimp are just that and comparable in flavor to white shrimp. Rock shrimp (sometimes erroneously called prawns, a different species altogether) are much larger with very hard shells. Their sweet flavor is comparable to lobster.
Red shrimp are often labeled as Argentine red shrimp, because they are typically caught from deep waters in the South Atlantic off the coast of Argentina. These are quite large with a sweet, almost buttery flavor. They are reddish in color when raw, hence their name. No matter which variety of shrimp, always try to find those that have been wild caught or sustainably farmed.
When you buy shrimp from the fish counter or specialty shop, they have often been previously frozen (and are thawing as they are on display in the case), so you will need to cook them immediately. Frozen shrimp gives you the flexibility of having a protein ingredient handy whenever you’re ready to make a shrimp dish.
In selecting frozen shrimp, I typically reach for the ones that have been peeled, but if you don’t mind the process of stripping the shells, the shell-on raw shrimp will work, too. I prefer to take off the tails so that eating the dish doesn’t become messy, but if you’re making shrimp cocktail, people expect to find the tails intact to use as a handle.
When cooking frozen shrimp, you don’t have to thaw them in advance. Simply dump the frozen shrimp into a colander and put them under running water. In a few minutes, they will soften enough to allow you to peel off the shells and tails. Arrange them in a single layer on paper towels and pat them dry before you start to assemble the rest of your ingredients.
Because their flavor is so mild, shrimp are adaptable to virtually any set of seasonings, from mild to bold. But, the key to their tenderness is not overcooking them. As you can see in the photo, the shrimp are gently curled in the shape of the letter “C,” which is an indication they are perfectly done. When you see those breaded shrimp sold in boxes to be heated in the oven, they have already tightly curled into the letter “O,” which means they have been overcooked and will be rubbery. Use this rule of thumb: C means cooked, and O means overcooked.
I’ve included two recipes, one for the delicate dish in the photo and another for a spicy shrimp Creole. For the latter, the elements of the sauce are cooked separately, to ensure the shrimp are not overcooked. Both of these are delicious served with buttered rice.
1 lb frozen shrimp
1 T butter
1 T lemon juice
1 T snipped parsley
Place the frozen shrimp in a colander under cool running water. If not already peeled, remove the shells and tails from the shrimp. Arrange them in a single layer on paper towels to dry. Melt butter in a nonstick skillet. Add shrimp in a single layer and cook for 60 seconds, turn over shrimp and cook another minute. Stir in lemon juice and cook just until the shrimp turn pink and form the letter “C.” Toss with snipped parsley and serve over rice or salad greens. Yield: 4 servings.
3 T butter
1 large onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 minced garlic cloves
1 T flour
1/2 t thyme
1/2 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
1/4 t cayenne pepper
15-oz can diced tomatoes
1 C chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 lb frozen shrimp, peeled
Tabasco sauce, to taste
sliced green onion, for garnish
Melt butter in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Stir in onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic. Sauté until vegetables are softened slightly, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the vegetables with flour, thyme, salt, pepper and cayenne. Cook until blended, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes with juices and stir in chicken stock. Add bay leaf. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf and add shrimp. Cook just until pink and slightly curled, about 4 minutes. Season to taste with Tabasco sauce. Serve over rice garnished with sliced green onion. Yield: 6 servings.