One of the (many) benefits of living where I do, in the Pacific Northwest, is my proximity to water. More specifically, my proximity to Bellingham Bay and all of the fresh seafood that flows in on local fishing boats every day.
Bellingham has a very active fishing community which means that I have access to all types of seafood all year-long. There are fish markets in town, which are great, but even greater are the boats that sell their catch directly off the docks in the harbor. It is a great feeling buying seafood directly from the fishermen that caught it – knowing you are supporting them and their families, supporting the local economy, and getting a quality fresh product at the same time.
The ability to buy seafood directly from fisherman is a luxury that I realize not everyone has access to, and sadly, a luxury that I don’t take advantage of nearly enough. So, during a family kite flying outing at the harbor yesterday we spotted a sandwich board advertising fresh shrimp and decided to take a little detour.
This couple had live coonstripe shrimp that they had just caught out in the Puget Sound and were selling right off their small fishing boat for a very reasonable price – we bought 5 pounds of shrimp for $20.
The shrimp were live alright – they kept jumping and popping out as the guy was trying to get them in the box. Doesn’t get much fresher than that!
I did a mental inventory of my fridge and garden and brainstormed possible meals I could put together with what I had at hand. I knew I had lemon in the fridge and parsley in the garden, which immediately seemed like a logical first step toward a classic shrimp preparation: lemon, garlic, white wine and parsley. After a quick stop at the grocery store for some white wine and garlic, I was ready to cook dinner! Before I started with the shrimp I set a large pot of water to boil, so that the pasta could cook at the same time as the shrimp. The shrimp cook so quickly that the pasta and shrimp should be done at about the same time.
In a large skillet I heated about 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. I minced quite a few cloves of garlic, probably 1/4 – 1/2 cup, and tossed them in the hot oil, along with a sprinkling of crushed red chili pepper (I like it a little spicy, but it’s not necessary). When the garlic was starting to brown I dumped the box of shrimp in (about 2.5 pounds), then poured about a cup of white wine over the shrimp, and put the lid on the skillet. Cooking the shrimp whole, heads and all, is the best way to do it because the heads and shells add quite a bit of flavor to the meat and sauce as they are cooking. I let the shrimp steam in the pan for a few minutes, giving them a stir every minute or so to coat them in the sauce at the bottom of the pan. After the shrimp looked about done, pink, opaque, and curled up, I turned the heat off and added 3-4 tablespoons of butter, squeezed a lemon over the top, and sprinkled it with salt.
When I drained the pasta I saved about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the pasta water and added it to the shrimp to help thicken up the sauce. After a quick stir I spooned out some shrimp (and the sauce at the bottom of the pan) and poured them over a plate of cooked pasta. I topped the pasta with grated parmesan cheese and chopped parsley. A little more salt and a grinding of pepper and voila!
This is a really simple dish to make – the most time-consuming part of the process is chopping all the garlic. I fully intended to peel all my shrimp first, so I could just eat the peeled shrimp with the pasta, but every time I finished peeling one it ended up in my mouth instead of on my plate… oh well. Peeling the shrimp as you eat slows everything down a little and makes everyone take their time and enjoy the meal.
Do you have a shrimp eating style? Do you peel as you go, or peel all the shrimp first so you can eat them all at once?