- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2003

A skillet full of sizzling shrimp is surely one of the most enticing culinary preparations — the crackling sound is appealing and the scent is wonderful. When seared with garlic in butter or olive oil or both, in the French-Mediterranean manner, shrimp can be irresistible.

Shrimp is the world’s most common crustacean, and cooks around the globe love sauteed shrimp with garlic. It’s also delicious stir-fried with the Asian garlic-ginger-scallion trio and finished with a splash of sesame oil.

Long ago, at a Thai-Chinese cafe, I was struck by a tasty and simple variation of the popular shrimp and garlic combination. It was enhanced with snow peas, a touch of tomato and a hint of oyster sauce. My friend Neelam Batra, author of “1,000 Indian Recipes” (Wiley), marinates shrimp with garlic, ginger and spices before sauteing them, then tosses them with sweet red peppers, cucumbers and baby greens for a fresh, beautiful salad.

Although sauteing is at the top of my list, any cooking technique can produce superb shrimp: grilling, frying, braising in sauce, boiling in a flavorful liquid or steaming. Shrimp is more affordable and easier to prepare than most shellfish, is less temperamental than most kinds of fish and doesn’t fall apart when you stir it.

I rarely buy shrimp ready cooked. That flavor and texture cannot compare to the sweet succulence of home-cooked shrimp.

The few minutes it takes to cook is time well spent.

At the store, shrimp may be labeled with a number such as 31/35, which indicates that 31 to 35 shrimp make one pound. This type of label is more precise than “medium” or “large.” A higher number means smaller shrimp and usually a lower price. I find 30 per pound convenient for most purposes. Some markets, menus and recipes call large shrimp prawns. Whatever you buy, try to use them within a day.

Peel shrimp before sauteing for easier eating. Remove the thin legs and, beginning at the wide (head) end, gently peel the shell from the belly toward the back.

Pull off the shell segment at the tail end, if desired.

A question that has often come up in my cooking classes is whether to devein shrimp. For attractive jumbo shrimp, remove the black threadlike vein — actually part of the digestive tract — from the back. In smaller shrimp, it’s usually not noticeable and you can skip this step. To devein a shrimp, make a shallow incision along the length of the back and, if you see a dark thread, pull it out with the tip of a knife or your fingers. If you’re cooking the shrimp unpeeled, slit the shell down the back with a sturdy knife and devein the shrimp.

Once shrimp is cooked, use the juices to saute mushrooms, asparagus or green beans. The colorful shrimp and vegetable medley that follows is perfect over rice, couscous or linguine.

Restaurant chefs frequently use this principle to create main courses that are hearty yet elegant. At Cicada, an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, a pasta entree I enjoyed featured spinach, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes, with garlic shrimp arranged on top.

To make a fast, bold-flavored shrimp-and-pasta combo, toss garlic shrimp with angel hair pasta, zucchini and bottled marinara sauce and spike it with hot red pepper flakes and slivered basil.

For a lighter dish, turn the sauteed shrimp into a terrific topping for chard or other greens. When you’re entertaining, use the savory shrimp to create a sensational seafood pizza, as I learned from master chef Fernand Chambrette, my Parisian culinary guru.

Garlic shrimp with asparagus

Tomatoes and herbs give this shrimp a summery look. To use green beans instead of asparagus, break trimmed beans in three pieces and cook them about 5 minutes.

If the shrimp have heads, twist them off and cook with the rest of the shells to make the quick shrimp stock used in this recipe. Freeze the extra stock to use for seafood sauces and soups.

To save time, substitute packaged fish or seafood stock, which is sold in specialty stores and some fish markets. Other options are canned vegetable or chicken stock or 2 to 3 tablespoons of bottled clam juice. (Use less clam juice because it’s salty.)

11/4 to 11/2 pounds medium or large shrimp, rinsed, shelled, shells reserved

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 sprig fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried plus 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

3/4 to 1 pound asparagus, peeled, if thick, trimmed and cut in 4 pieces

Salt

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

3 tablespoons butter

Freshly ground pepper

4 large garlic cloves, minced

2 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced or 1/2 cup diced drained canned tomatoes

2 tablespoons Italian parsley

Cayenne pepper, optional

Rice, couscous or linguine

Lemon wedges, optional

Devein shrimp, if desired. Combine shrimp shells, wine and 1 thyme sprig or 1 teaspoon dried thyme in a saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Strain this shrimp stock and measure out 1/4 cup. (Freeze any remaining stock for another use.)

Cook asparagus uncovered in a saucepan of boiling salted water until not quite crisp-tender, about 2 or 3 minutes. Drain the pieces, reserving the liquid. Quickly rinse asparagus with cold water to stop cooking process and drain well. Measure out 1/4 cup cooking liquid and discard the rest.

Heat 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat until sizzling. Add the shrimp, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and cook, tossing often, for 11/2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the shrimp turns pink and is just cooked through, about 1 minute. (When you cut one at its thickest part, it should be white inside.) Spoon shrimp into a bowl.

Wipe skillet clean, then heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter in the skillet over medium-low heat. Add the asparagus and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. With a slotted spoon, transfer asparagus to the bowl.

Pour the 1/4 cup reserved shrimp stock and 1/4 cup reserved asparagus liquid into the skillet. Boil, stirring often, until liquid is reduced to about ⅓ cup, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, parsley, remaining 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme and cayenne to taste, if using.

Return shrimp and asparagus to the pan and toss over medium-low heat until heated through. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot over cooked rice, couscous or linguine with lemon wedges on the side, if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

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