Monday, September 27, 2004

Halfway to Liking Shrimp

Shrimp Fra Diavolo

I do believe I’ve reached a milestone of sorts. If, as Jeffrey Steingarten claims, you can rid yourself of a food phobia by eating it eight to ten times at moderate intervals, then I am halfway to liking shrimp.

I made Shrimp Fra Diavolo with Spaghetti from Italian Classics this weekend. This time I used frozen peeled and deveined shrimp from Whole Foods. That is definitely the way to go – they smelled so much better than the “fresh” shrimp I bought from another store last month. Actually, they didn’t smell at all – which is as it should be. It was also nice not to have to peel and devein them. I thawed the bag overnight in the refrigerator, pulled their little tails off, rinsed them, dried them, and they were ready to go.

After my last experience with shrimp, I felt that I needed something bolder and spicier to mask the flavor of the shrimp, so I picked a recipe with copious amounts of garlic and hot pepper flakes, not to mention wine and cognac. However, the fact that the shrimp were in better condition this time was probably a bigger factor than all that garlic and hot pepper in making the shrimp more palatable.

When I first selected the recipe, I failed to notice that it called for flambéing the shrimp. I have never flambéed anything before and was a little reluctant to attempt it. I’ve always thought of the process as being mostly for show and not worth trying at home (though fun to see in a restaurant), but the recipe had a note which made me rethink my position: “Flambéing the shrimp in cognac brings out its sweetness and provides a nice balance to the spicy, garlicky tomato sauce.”

The shrimp are cooked quickly in a frying pan over high heat, doused with cognac, and then flambéed. That’s the plan anyway. My fear before starting was that I would have an out-of-control open flame that would burn me and/or my kitchen. What actually happened was that I couldn’t get the damn thing lit. I suspect that my pan, which was cast iron, was so hot that the alcohol cooked off before I even attempted to light it. The recipe had said to add the cognac and then wait a few seconds for it to “warm”, but I think the cognac was hot the moment it hit the pan – it steamed up like crazy. If anyone has had experience flambéing or knows how flambéing affects flavor, I’d be very interested to hear about it.

With all the excitement in the kitchen, I completely forgot to take pictures until after I had eaten dinner. So the picture above is of the leftover shrimp and sauce still in the pan and without the spaghetti.

Given that I am not yet a full-fledged shrimp fan, I enjoyed this dish quite a bit. I had some leftovers tonight for dinner and was happy to find that reheating shrimp in the microwave seems to work just fine.

Five more shrimp meals to go. Any suggestions?


chuckless said...

Cathy, it looks wonderful...I have flambe'ed with Madeira before and you're right, if you wait to long it won't light. I'm not sure whether the alcohol boils off or if it just becomes too integrated into the sauce to flame (in other words, there's no concentrated layer on top). When it has worked for me I have poured on the Madeira and tipped the pan slightly and lit hurry but also no wait...and it is a wonderful blue flame that usually doesn't reach the ceiling (just kidding...I'm sure you are using an amount that will only cause a small conflagration...uhm...flame). Also, I stir as it flambe's, I don't know if that's right or not but it continues to flame for a bit and does taste great! Congratulations on being halfway to shrimp-liking!

Zarah Maria said...

That is SO cool, Cathy - onwards with the shrimp! Will keep my eyes peeled on shrimp-recipes that sounds interesting and let you know...

Cathy said...

Chuck - I had no idea! I'm not sure it would have been possible to light this quickly enough. Perhaps I need to get one of those long utility lighters - it would be quicker than fumbling with a match - but then again, I'm not sure I'm up for doing this again... Thanks for the good wishes on the shrimp - now we need to think of some pepper dishes for you!

Zarah Maria - Thank you! Recipes (especially tried and true) will be most welcome!

Anonymous said...

Glad you're "halfway" to liking shrimp! So how did it really go, did you like it halfway better than at first? Have you ever tried "salad shrimp?" They're very, very tiny and they are usually sold frozen. They are perfect for adding to soup for a little extra body and flavor. Since you're not too keen on shrimp as of yet, I'd think these very tiny salad shrimps would be a good way to ease you into it. You could use them in a soup with many other ingredients/flavors/textures and while you might not notice the shrimp so much, you'd still be innoculating yourself toward them.


Cathy said...

Hi Alice - it was much better than the first time. I think I have started to adjust and I'm pretty sure that some of the shrimp I had that first time were bad. I'm still not crazy about biting into a big old shrimp, so your idea about the tiny ones is great! I have never minded the little ones in egg rolls, but I had no idea where to find tiny shrimp like that. I'll definitely search them out in the frozen food section next time I'm in the grocery store. Thanks for the tip!

Anonymous said...

The shrimp pasta dish looks absolutely delicious!

One of my favorite ways to eat shrimp is to stirfry them eggs to serve over hot rice. If you don't like biting into the big shrimp, cut into smaller pieces before cooking. To me, salad shrimp (aka bay shrimp) don't have too much flavor and almost always a soft unpleasant texture.

Take the shrimp (no heads, shells or veins)after cutting into pieces and toss with some rice wine, tiny sprinkle of salt, and some garlic powder if you like. Then toss into wok and stirfry til done. Remove.

Add some oil to wok, toss in 2 beaten eggs. Then toss shrimp back in. Stir and cook until eggs are softly set. (Or cook to hard scramble texture, if you don't like the slimy-er texture of soft scrambled eggs.)

Serve over hot rice with some soy, sliced scallions and plenty of hot sauce.

Hope you'll like the dish!


Cathy said...

Thanks Cyndy - your recipe sounds really good and cutting up the shrimp is a great idea!

P.S. - I'm definitely one who favors drier eggs over slimy eggs!