Frozen shrimp (Recipe: Blazing hot shrimp)
No matter where or how hard you look, you will not find a fresh shrimp anywhere in Rhode Island.
Lobster? Yes. Scallops? Of course. Clams? Dig them yourself, on the beach.
Shrimp? Nope, not a one.
New England may be famous for its shellfish, but our waters are too cold for shrimp (oh, you lucky, lucky folks who live in California or near the Gulf of Mexico!), so whether I buy shrimp at the best fishmonger in town or at the local supermarket, I'm buying frozen shrimp.
And because that local market is ten miles from my house, I keep a few bags of shrimp of different sizes in my freezer.
Shrimp is sized by the number per pound; the smaller the number, the larger the shrimp. Recipes, on the other hand, often call for "medium" or "large". Large could be 16-20 per pound, or 26-30 per pound. The largest, 8 or fewer per pound, are undeniably jumbo. To me, the smallest, 51 or more per pound, are undeniably flavorless.
The best way to find good quality frozen shrimp is to buy from a reputable fish market. Often the shrimp they sell cooked, in the display case, is the same shrimp they sell frozen, so ask for a taste. If the shrimp looks watery or tastes of iodine, it does not mean that it's bad, but the iodine taste can be overpowering.
Please do not buy pre-cooked frozen shrimp. It's so easy to cook them yourself, and pre-cooked shrimp are almost always waterlogged when defrosted.
Defrost shrimp according to the package instructions. Place the shrimp directly from the freezer into a bowl of cold water in the sink; as soon as the shrimp are slightly flexible, you can peel and, if necessary, devein them. Cook for no more than 2-3 minutes, until the shrimp are pink, curled, and no longer translucent. Overcook, and you've made rubber.
Most often I stock two-pound bags of 21-25 (large) and 31-40 (medium). The larger ones are great for Vietnamese caramel shrimp, chipotle lime bacon wrapped shrimp, shrimp with charmoula, and smoky citrus tea shrimp. The medium size work well in shrimp fried rice, shrimp and cheesy grits, shrimp, garbanzo bean and tomato risotto, and sesame shrimp with honey mustard sauce.
Do you keep frozen shrimp in your pantry?
Blazing hot shrimp
Serve this with slices of crusty bread; you won't want to leave a bit of the spicy oil behind. If you prefer, make the dish less spicy by using half of the jalapeño. Serves 6.
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1-1/4 lbs large shrimp (21-25 size), peeled and deveined
1 jalapeño pepper, seeds and ribs removed, minced
Pinch of smoked paprika (pimenton), sweet or bittersweet
Pinch of sea salt, to taste
Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan or cassrole until quite hot, then add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the shrimp, jalapeño and smoked paprika, and cook, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes, until the shrimp are no longer translucent, turn pink and begin to curl. Season to taste with salt, and serve hot, with bread to soak up the spicy oil.