At my dad's favorite steakhouse, shrimp cocktail was the star of the menu. Plump, pink and pretty, there were five shrimp clinging to a wide martini glass filled with ice. A tiny crystal dish of fiery horseradish sauce was served on the side for dipping.
Once so very pricey, shrimp was reserved for special occasions. Today, shrimp is the No. 1 seafood choice in the U.S.: they are accessible, affordable and among the least sustainable. Without getting into the nasty details of imported shrimp, just know that the best choices come from those harvested off our nation's Pacific and Atlantic coasts as well as those farmed in "fulling recirculating" systems, located across landlocked states. To be sure you're getting the "cleanest" shrimp, look for sustainable certifications when you're shopping (see references below).
I'm willing to seek out good shrimp because they make a speedy, satisfying dinner on a busy, hot summer night. I like to buy them shell-on and poach them in a shallow pan of water for just a couple of minutes until they turn that telltale pink. Adding a few herbs and sliced green onions to the pan makes a flavorful stock that enhances a light soup, salad or noodle dish.
Cooked shrimp are versatile enough to work their way into a range of weeknight dinners — fold them into soft tortillas to top with a spicy tomato salsa and chopped fresh cilantro or serve them over a cooked whole grain studded with chiles and chopped fresh basil. Toss with a lemony mayonnaise and layer them on bruschetta. Drizzle cooked shrimp with a bright citrus vinaigrette to serve cold for a finger-licking appetizer or set them over noodles with the season's freshest chopped veggies and dinner is done.
Sustainability should be among the things shoppers look for when choosing ingredients. Here are some sources:
Seafood Watch: The list from the Monterey Bay Aquarium develops science-based seafood recommendations for consumers and chefs to use to inform their buying decisions. seafoodwatch.org
Sustainable Fisheries and Seafood: This group provides certifications and assessments in regards to sustainable seafood. scsglobalservices.com
FishWatch: Operated by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the website has a searchable database of up-to-date information on popular seafood harvested or farmed in the United States. fishwatch.gov
Shrimp and Rice Noodle Salad
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: You can cook the shrimp up to two days ahead to hold, covered, in the refrigerator. Vary the vegetables as they come into season and try this preparation over angel hair pasta or a cooked whole grain. To cook rice noodles: In a large pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Add the noodles and cook until tender but firm, about 6 to 8 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water, set aside until ready to use. From Beth Dooley.
• 1 1/2 to 2 lb. shell-on shrimp (in the 15/30 per-pound range)
• Generous pinch salt
• Several sprigs parsley
• Several peppercorns
• 3 green onions, trimmed
• 1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
• 4 tbsp. olive oil
• 3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• 1 c. sliced red and yellow cherry tomatoes
• 1 medium cucumber, seeded and cut into 1/2-in. cubes
• 8 to 10 oz. rice noodles, cooked (see Note)
• Generous pinch red pepper flakes, for garnish
• 1/4 c. wasabi peas, for garnish, optional
To prepare the shrimp: Using a kitchen shears, cut along the length of the backs of the shrimp, through the shells, just deep enough into the flesh to expose the veins. Remove the veins.
Bring a skillet filled with about 2 inches of water to a boil and add the shrimp, salt, parsley, peppercorns and green onions. Cover the pot, remove from the heat, and let stand just until the shrimp are cooked through and pink, about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and reserve the cooking liquid, removing and discarding the parsley, green onions and peppercorns. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl to cool. Once cooled, peel and set aside.
To prepare the salad: In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of reserved shrimp stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Put the tomatoes, cucumber and noodles into a large bowl and toss with enough of the vinaigrette to lightly coat. Arrange the cooked shrimp over the noodles and vegetables and drizzle with any remaining vinaigrette. Garnish with the red pepper flakes and wasabi peas.
Beth Dooley is the author of "The Perennial Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.