A good friend who I think still reads this blog made some comments about cooking shrimp. This is an attempt to enlighten him and anyone else who eats shrimp as explained to me by the #1 Chef in the house–Kim Lien.
We in Vietnam do not eat frozen shrimp. There just is no need. If you want shrimp for dinner, you go to the market and buy whatever size shrimp you want that are swimming in the various tanks at the market, or in buckets at the local market’s fishmonger’s stall. There are no tiny live shrimp–too much work to clean, so you can buy any amount of tiny shelled dried shrimp that you want, bring them home and soak and cook. Easy. Fast food for flavoring soups and other dishes, even salads.
For bigger shrimp look for shrimp that have no space at the joint between the head and the body. If there is a space, they are not fresh. Don’t buy. Next, smell the shrimp. They should have no odor. If they smell, don’t buy them, they aren’t fresh. If you want them cleaned, do it yourself at home after you cook them. Cook them intact, with the head and tail on! The shell, and the head give the water flavor and you can use this water for soup. It will already have the fine shrimp flavor. Do not overcook. When they are pink, take them out and immerse them in ice water with a squeeze of lime to stop the cooking. When cool, pull off the head and shell and legs and tail. You will soon learn how to do this easily and quickly and you will be amazed at the superb taste of shrimp that have never been frozen. If you see that the vein is black, make a small incision along the back of the shrimp and pull out the vein. The black won’t kill you and doesn’t taste, but you don’t really need to be eating stuff that the shrimp is in the process of eliminating.
That’s all there is to picking fresh shrimp and cooking them. If you want cevice, just peel the raw shrimp, pull off the head, add some chopped cilantro and onions, and squeeze some lime over the shrimp. Put in the fridge for 30 or so minutes (until pink–the lime cooks the shrimp–so will lemon, orange, or other citrus, but lime is best), drain off the lime juice (it is bitter) and eat with some toast or crackers or whatever you like.
If you are going to cook the shrimp in a dish like etouffee (I can’t spell it, but I can and do eat it) don’t boil the shrimp. Pull off the legs and cook them with your smothering sauce. Your choice whether to cook with head on or off, but the head and shell really does up the flavor profile of the shrimp. It is just a pain in the neck to clean them after cooking, but fun to lick your fingers if your sauce is good!
That’s all. AK, this one’s for you, and if you want to contribute a good etouffee recipe, please do! All others, just Google it!