In 1953, the year I was born, gentlemen preferred blondes, and diamonds were a girl's best friend.
Clearly, I'm not big on bling, because frozen shrimp are this girl's best friend.
Here in New England, there's no shortage of fresh fish; Boston is, after all, the home of the bean and the cod. In Rhode Island, we take great pride in our quahogs (co-hogs, we call them), the hardshell clams that morph into stuffies, clam rolls and chowdah, which comes in white or red.
Yes, we've got fish and shellfish galore, but we don't have fresh shrimp. Every single shrimp in this area arrived, on ice or frozen solid, from somewhere else: Thailand, Japan, Taiwan perhaps, or the Gulf of Mexico.
Second only to canned tuna in popularity in the US, shrimp are low in calories and nutrient-dense. They've gotten a bit of a bad rap for being high in fat and cholesterol, but in fact, they a healthier protein source than eggs.
Good quality, good-tasting frozen shrimp is the ultimate pantry staple; it's the go-to convenience food when you want to kick up your everyday cooking. Though it seems expensive to buy the two- or three-pound bag, you'll use just a few at a time, and they will keep in the freezer for a few months. Find a brand you like, from a fishmonger you trust; some brands are salty, some waterlogged, some taste like soap — and some taste like heaven.
Shrimp is sold (fresh or frozen) by the number per pound: 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-40, and so on. The lower the number, the larger the shrimp. This can make it tricky when you're following a recipe that calls for "large" shrimp. I tend to keep two sizes in the freezer, the 21-25 size (which is called "jumbo", but I think of them as large; and 31-40, which is labelled "large" but look "medium" to me).
Store frozen shrimp in the freezer right up until the moment you're ready to use them. Defrost only as many as you need, under cold running water, never in the fridge or sitting out on the countertop. In two minutes, you'll be ready to make elegant Cuban shrimp, smoky citrus tea shrimp, shrimp ceviche, Panamanian shrimp in garlic sauce, green curry shrimp, healthy shrimp dip, and New Orleans' favorite shrimp remoulade.
Lucky for me, the gentleman in my life prefers good food to blondes. And I prefer shrimp to diamonds, any day of the week.
Rice stick noodle salad with caramelized shrimp
Just as I was about to finish this post, with a different recipe, my dear friend Candy sent along this recipe for a salad she created just last weekend. It combines many of my favorite things: shrimp, noodles, lime and mint. How lovely of her to share it! Serves 4, easily doubled for 8.
For the dressing:
1/3 cup Asian fish sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar (not seasoned)
2 Tbsp sugar
1-1/2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 large garlic cloves, minced fine
1/2 tsp dried hot red pepper flakes
For the shrimp:
1 lb jumbo shrimp (16-20) or tiger prawns (14-15)
1 large garlic clove, minced fine
1/2 small onion, sliced thin
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp chili oil
For the shrimp sauce:
1 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp water
For the noodles:
1 lb rice stick noodles (I use 1/8 to 1/4 inch wide Vietnamese noodles)
For the salad:
1 English cucumber, halved, seeded, cut in 2-inch long sections, then into julienne strips
4 scallions, cut first into 2-inch long sections, then into julienne strips
1/2 red pepper, cut, seeded, cleaned, then into 2-inch long julienne strips
1 cup Asian white radish, sliced into thin julienne strips
1 cup fresh mint sprigs
1/2 cup cilantro sprigs
1 cup Thai basil leaves (sprigs)
2 Tbsp chopped peanuts
In a bowl stir together all dressing ingredients until sugar dissolves. Chill, covered, 1 hour.
Shell and devein shrimp, dry between paper towels.
Stir the shrimp sauce ingredients together to dissolve the sugar.
In a bowl soak noodles in hot water to cover, for 15 minutes to soften. While noodles are soaking, bring 6 quarts salted water to boil. Drain noodles in colander and cook in boiling water 45 seconds, or until just tender. Drain noodles and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Drain again and with scissors cut into 4-inch lengths.
Heat the oil in the pan, stir fry the garlic and onion 1 minute, add the shrimp, pepper, and the sauce. Cook for about 2-4 minutes or until the shrimp are just cooked. Take from heat and cool. Halve shrimp lengthwise.
On individual plates, combine the noodles, salad ingredients and dressing, then top with shrimp and peanuts. Let each diner tear mint, cilantro and basil leaves onto the top of their salads.
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