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Thursday, May 23

Gapers Block

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I recently returned from a few days in New Orleans, the only city I love as much as I love Chicago. Every time I visit, I'm amazed at how much food matters there. I'm also amazed at how the typical dishes that are seen as New Orleans flavors really are amalgamations of different cuisines that get merged together, married, and then spawned children dishes that are also fabulous. This love, appreciation, and joy of food is admittedly one of the many reasons why I feel so at home there. Every cab driver we've had in New Orleans has asked us where we were eating, what we were planning on eating, and how we liked what we had eaten.

I had a number of dishes that were both basic and incredibly well-executed. A number of those dishes I would like to replicate, and a few more I just don't think I'll be able to do them justice. For example, I'm willing to experiment with grilled oysters on the half shell, but I'm going to leave the smoke-roasting of hamhocks to the fine chefs at Cochon. However, I do plan on making pickled watermelon rind an ingredient I have on hand, thanks to their barbecued short ribs.

I think I may have also learned the secret flavor that was hiding in the bolognese sauce at Como Inn, a West Loop restaurant long since closed and turned into condos. While enjoying a lunch at NOLA, I ordered a mushroom bolognese. It was fabulous, and once I found out that the flavor I was missing was likely derived from mushroom stock, I decided to set out once again to make this dish that I loved so much.

I also plan on learning to make pie crust. Not so I can whip out an awesome apple pie, but so I can finally make crawfish pie. Imagine a creamy crawfish etouffee stuffed into pie crust and turned out like little cajun empanadas. I've had two different varieties now and think I know what I liked about each one.

But all these dishes seem like a lot of work and require testing and planning. And I want to make them all and share them all with you, but since I'm still in the lazy days of post-vacation bliss I decided I would share a couple of recipes that will not tire me out. Thirty minutes or less is my maxim for dinner this week.

So I'll show you how to whip up a rich Shrimp in Diavolo sauce, a Vietnamese inspired Tamarind Shrimp, and an even simpler Simple Shrimp that can be cooked in a skillet or grilled on skewers.

Each of these shrimp dishes can be served over rice (brown or white) or pasta. The Shrimp in Diavolo Sauce would go great with linguini, the Tamarind Shrimp would go great with cellophane noodles, and the Simple Shrimp would also be delicious served on a bed of arugula drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Shrimp in Diavolo Sauce
1 pound of shrimp, deveined and shells removed (31-40 count)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup of sweet white wine, brandy, or cognac (white zinfandel works great)
4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1 15 ounce can of chopped tomatoes
1 cup of white wine
1 pound of linguini
1 large handful of parsley, stems removed and chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the noodles. While that comes to a boil, place a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Once the skillet is hot, toss in the shrimp, 1/2 teaspoon of the red pepper flakes, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Spread the shrimp over the skillet and leave them untouched for about a minute until the bottoms of the shrimp start to turn bright pink and maybe get brown. Turn off the heat and pour in 1/4 cup of a sweet white wine. It will steam and most of the liquid should evaporate. Stir to combine and encourage evaporation. Now pour the contents of the skillet into a bowl and set aside. Let the skillet cool down for a few minutes and then return it to a low flame. Add two tablespoons of olive oil and the garlic. Let it cook on low, stirring almost constantly. The garlic should turn golden but not brown. If the oil gets frothy, turn down the heat. After about 7 minutes of cooking, stir in the rest of the red pepper flakes, 3/4 teaspoon of salt, the can of tomatoes and 1 cup of wine (dry would work better here, but sweet will be OK). Increase the heat to medium and let it simmer for about 10 minutes until it is thicker and very fragrant. Once you increase the heat on the sauce, the pasta water should be boiling. Add the linguini and stir occasionally to keep the noodles from sticking together. Stir the shrimp and the parsley into the sauce and cook until the shrimp are heated through. Once the pasta is cooked to your liking, drain it, add it into the skillet and toss. Once the pasta is coated, serve on plates or bowls, dividing the shrimp equally among the portions. Pour more sauce over the top of the pasta and if desired, drizzle a little olive oil over the top or a sprinkle of fresh parmesan cheese.
Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish.

Tamarind Shrimp
2 tablespoons of tamarind paste
1/2 cup of chicken broth, white wine or water
1 pound of shrimp (31-40 count)
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 medium yellow onion, minced
2 tablespoons of rice wine or dry sherry
1 1/2 tablespoons of brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 scallions, just the green, chopped into small rings
1 jalapeno, with the seeds removed and cut into rings
Large handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

In a glass or metal bowl, combine the tamarind paste and 1/4 cup of the chicken broth or liquid. Let it sit for several minutes and stir occasionally until the paste has dissolved. If the shrimp aren't already cut down the back and deveined, do so now. Combine the minced garlic and onion in a bowl. Reserve one tablespoon of the onion and garlic mixture. Use your fingers to rub the remaining onion and garlic mixture over the cut seam in the shrimp and set aside on a plate. Add the wine, sugar and salt to the tamarind mixture. Place a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Once it seems warm add the vegetable oil and the reserved onion and garlic mixture and cook for 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and 1/4 cup of the liquid and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the tamarind sauce and jalapeno and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the sauce has coated the shrimp and they seem opaque and cooked through. Move to a serving dish and sprinkle with the cilantro. Serve over rice or cellophane noodles. The shells on these shrimp should be tender enough to eat. If you prefer not to eat the shells, I would suggest removing the shells before cooking. However, a great deal of flavor is stored in the shells, so try eating the shells once to see if you like it. They're high in calcium, too.

If you want this to be a more traditional Vietnamese dish, substitute 1/4 cup of fish sauce for 1/4 cup of chicken broth. Fish stock tends to be very salty so taste the sauce before adding the salt called for in this recipe.
Serves 2-3 as a main dish or 4-6 as a side.

Simple Shrimp
3/4 teaspoon of mixed peppercorns (any combination of green, red, white, black) 1 pound of shrimp with the shells on (31-40 count)
2 teaspoons of salt
4 cloves of minced or pressed garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil (if grilling) or canola or peanut oil (if sauteing)
1/2 of a bunch of cilantro that has been roughly chopped (or parsley)

Crush the peppercorns with either a mortar and pestle, in a food processor, a coffee grinder, or by placing them into a plastic bag and rolling over them with a rolling pin or a canned food item. If the shrimp aren't already cut down the back and deveined, do so now. Place the crushed pepper, the shrimp and one teaspoon of salt in a bowl. Toss everything together to combine and set aside.

In a wooden or glass bowl (no plastic or metal), combine the minced garlic and the salt. Use the back of a stainless steel spoon and smoosh everything together until it resembles a paste. This will take the bitterness out of the garlic. If cooking on the stovetop, heat a wok or skillet to medium and add the vegetable oil and the garlic paste. Toss for a minute and then add in the shrimp. Increase the heat to medium-high and stir continuously for 3 to 4 minutes before removing from the heat and covering with the cilantro.

If cooking on the grill, combine the olive oil and the garlic paste in a small bowl. Place shrimp on skewers and brush with the oil mixture. Grill over high heat for about 4 minutes on each side, or until the shells turn pink. Serve with lemon or lime wedges, over a salad dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, or even with a mild cocktail sauce.
Serves 2-3 as a main dish. 4-6 as a salad or side dish.

Shrimp are a great food for summer. They soak up flavor greedily and they cook quickly. And as I've proven with these recipes, they can be dressed up or down in a variety of cuisines and with a wide variety of ingredient combinations. They're high in protein, low in fat. They're also often farmed or harvested in ways that endanger local ecosystems. Shrimp that are farmed in more ecologically sound ways will be marked as such, and will be priced higher, too. But they're also likely to taste better, so give them a try.

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Eamon / June 11, 2007 9:47 AM

I just made my dad bacon-wrapped shrimp kebabs on the Weber for his 60th birthday that took no effort, looked super fancy, and tasted crazy good. Hooray for shrimp!

Jeff / June 11, 2007 11:22 AM

Cinnamon --

A fine article, once again.

Just a note, your link to Chochon had a typo. Here is a valid link.

Andrew / June 11, 2007 1:17 PM

Typo fixed; thanks, Jeff.

Winediva / June 12, 2007 5:18 PM

Wow. First good use for White Zinfandel I've ever seen!


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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