Ritz crackers, a Pantry Special (Recipe: baked stuffed shrimp)
In America, it's hard to imagine a place where you can't find Ritz crackers in every supermarket and corner store, yet I seldom keep them in my pantry. Since 1935, a year after they were test-marketed in Baltimore and Philadelphia, the round, scallop-edged crackers, salted on the top side and flaky on the inside, have been sold nationwide. Topped with peanut butter, they're a favorite afterschool snack for kids, but when crushed or ground, Ritz crackers work much like Cheddar cheese-y, buttery bread crumbs, in stuffings or as a coating.
Is this Pantry Special new to you?
Where to buy online:
Amazon.com (4 12-oz packs, $13.47)
Baked stuffed shrimp
For my friends Bob and Charlotte, who taught me this recipe, baked stuffed shrimp is a New Year's Eve tradition. For me, it's a memory of summers in New Hampshire and the Woodbine Cottage, the fanciest restaurant within hailing distance of my summer camp, the place you could go with your parents where they would feel right at home (though you thought everyone there was old). The food at the Woodbine was classic, and lobster Newburg and baked stuff shrimp were the specialties. Shrimp are sold by the number per pound; U-12s are 12 to the pound. Serves 4, can be doubled and more.
1 stalk celery, diced
1-2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp butter
60 Ritz crackers
1 stick (8 Tbsp) butter, melted (easiest in a microwave for 45 seconds)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
2-3 Tbsp white wine
Lots of black pepper, to taste
20 jumbo shrimp (U-12 size)
Paprika, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
In a small frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp of butter. Sauté the celery and garlic for 3-4 minutes on low heat, until softened but not browned. Add to a large mixing bowl.
Crush the crackers with your hands so the crumbs are quite coarse, and add to the bowl with the celery. Stir in the melted butter, lemon juice, parsley, white wine and pepper. The mixture should be fairly dry but should just hold together. Taste, and add, as needed, more lemon juice, more pepper, or more wine. The crackers are salty, so you won't need salt.
To prepare the shrimp: remove the shell, leaving the tail section on. Turn the shrimp with the inside of the curve facing up. Butterfly the shrimp by running a sharp paring knife along the length of the inside, cutting down but not all the way through. You should be able to flatten the shrimp, except for the tail section, and scrape out any black vein.
Set one shrimp on a plate, cut side facing up (the tail should be standing up, too). Mound one tablespoon of cracker filling on the shrimp, and smooth into a large mound. Place the shrimp on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat (silicone liner) or sprayed with nonstick spray. Repeat until all of the shrimp are stuffed. Sprinkle each shrimp with a tiny bit of paprika.
Bake at 375°F for 20 minutes or until the shrimp are cooked and the stuffing is browned on top.