Sometimes – well, actually often – the shrimp I buy ’round these parts aren’t all that great. Wild-caught, not farmed. Big, small, shell-on, shelled, pink, grey. Brined, not brined. Grilled, sauteed, baked, broiled. Blah, blah, blah. I’ve tried every iteration and vendor I can think of. Meh. I know, I know, I live in the middle of the country, give it up and eat what’s delicious locally. And mostly, I do. But when shrimp are great, they’re divine, dang it – plus they’re light and nutritious and are the one seafood my whole family loves.
I’ve come up with a solution. Unfortunately, it’s not a tip on a great source of consistently firm, sweet shrimp. Sorry. And it definitely takes the healthiness profile down a notch or two – sorry about that too. But the little buggers turn out deliciously, so here it is…
I fry them.
No batter, not really much breading – just a dusting of seasoned flour, a pass through hot oil, and voila – consistently tasty, lightly crispy shrimp. What can I say? Frying gives them back the texture that freezing and cross-country travel take away – a crisp plumpness, a thankfully far cry from the mealiness that other cooking techniques can’t mask. They’re not as fabulous as the shrimp you’ll find on the coasts, of course, but they’re mighty good for Minnesota, and far less breaded/heavy than what you’ll find in most restaurants.
I sauteed a pan of okra with tomatoes, onions, and bacon to have alongside (pictured above with polenta, which we did not have tonight – but that is some dinner, okra with polenta). Good together, shrimp and okra, I look forward to having both someday in New Orleans…
Until then, here’s how I do the shrimp: I buy them frozen in 1 lb. bags, since all shrimp that arrive in Minnesota have been frozen – I figure the store can thaw them, or I can thaw them…so I thaw them. Plus, I’ve discovered that the thawed shrimp at the fish counter taste exactly the same as what I buy frozen. So, I thaw them either in the refrigerator overnight or in a bowl of lightly salted water for an hour, then rinse and drain them in a colander and spread them out on paper towels for just a minute or so. I don’t pat them dry, but I don’t want them to be soaking wet either. While they drain, I put 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1 tsp. of salt, and 1/2 tsp. of cayenne pepper in a large Ziploc bag. Sometimes I add a little cornmeal (1/2 cup) if I’m in the mood. I put the damp-not-wet shrimp in the bag, seal the bag, and shake it all around. The shrimp will be lightly coated in flour. I leave them in the bag while I heat a couple of cups of peanut or other high-heat (refined) oil in a wok over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, I then remove the shrimp, one at a time, from the bag (I give each shrimp a little shake as I pull it out of the bag to remove excess flour) and fry them, a few at a time, until nicely golden brown, turning once. I drain the shrimp on paper towels and serve them while they’re hot – on their own, tossed with stir-fried vegetables (I’d skip the corn meal if using Asian flavors), or dipped in cocktail sauce or aioli. One pound of shrimp will feed 3-4 normal people (or only my husband, who grew up eating the fresh shrimp his grandmother fried on the beach in Jacksonville, Florida – can you imagine how good? – so he has a different sense of what a “serving” of fried shrimp is. Like fried walleye to Minnesotans – just keep bringing it). To prepare more than 1 lb. of shrimp, create separate bags of flour and use fresh oil for each pound.