fig. a: freshly boiled shrimp
We might seem like a couple of Johnny-Come-Latelys with this post because those of you who keep abreast of the world of food magazines know full-well that shrimp have been nothing if not a hot topic over the last couple of months. They were the lead story in the March issue of Saveur, gracing the cover and providing the focus for a sweeping 15-page spread; they made the cover of the May issue of Food & Wine in the tantalizing form of "bacon-wrapped shrimp with passion fruit," the lead-in to a story on Jean-Georges Vongerichten's very own Polynesian Fantasy Island; and they played a prominent part in the bouillabaisse gracing the cover of the May issue of Gourmet. Hell, if that wasn't enough, we got a loaner copy of the January issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller because there was a feature on summer cocktails that one of Michelle's friends thought might be of interest, and, sure enough, there were "poached prawns" and "scampi with chilli and shallot salt," artfully placed next to a cool summer drink, right there on the cover. Everywhere we looked: shrimp, shrimp, and more shrimp.
Now, we're both big fans of shrimp--we don't know many people who aren't--so it wouldn't have taken much persuading to get us to try out some new shrimp recipes, especially because it's crevettes de Matane season around these-here parts--the one time of the year when shrimp are not only plentiful, they're tasty, regional, and relatively cheap. But what really got us all revved up and raring to go was the truly fantastic The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-Be Southerners, which entered our lives recently when a certain someone picked it up for Yours Truly on the occasion of his birthday. The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook is smart, charming, well-researched, and chock-full of all kinds tempting recipes for everything from cocktails, to snacks, to grits and rice recipes, to a stunning array of vegetable recipes ("Where did the South get its reputation for being hostile to vegetarians?," they ask). It's also got many of the poultry, pork, beef, and game you'd want from a book on Southern cuisine, from Baked Country Ham, to both Tuesday and Sunday Fried Chicken, to a "suite of pork picnic shoulder recipes" (Yes!). But for some reason we found ourselves particularly attracted to the seafood recipes right off the bat. In fact, when it came to giving our copy of The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook a test drive we started with the very last recipe in the whole cotton-picking book, pg. 553's Lee Bros. Shrimp Boil. For those of you unfamiliar with Southern coastal cuisine and the range of spice mixes expressly intended for boiling seafood that are known as "boils" (of which McCormick's Old Bay is the most famous variant), the phrase "shrimp boil" might very well fill you with dread. It need not. As Matt and Ted Lee explaing, "A shrimp boil is a spice blend that combines with water to make an instantly spicy and aromatic broth, a perfect medium for boiling all sorts of fish and shellfish." We were curious to see what a homemade shrimp boil would be like, and we'd already determined that Lee Bros. Shrimp Boil was going to be crucial to upcoming Lee Bros. recipe testing, so we got to work. The fact that we had everything necessary onhand made things that much easier.
fig. b: freshly prepared Lee Bros. Shrimp Boil
Lee Bros. Shrimp Boil
1 tbsp peppercorns
1 tbsp celery seeds
6 bay leaves, shredded with scissors
1/2 cup kosher salt
3 tbsp ground cayenne pepper
Pound the peppercorns, celery seeds, and bay leaf with the salt in a mortar, in batches if necessary. Place in a small bowl and stir in the cayenne. This mixture will keep for up to 2 months in an airtight container.
Makes 1 ridiculously fragrant scant cup.
With that out of the way we were all set for our first test. We were enticed by everything from the crab cakes, to the Bobo-Style Oyster Pie, to the Legareville Oyster Roast and the Rural Mission Crab Crack and Fish Fry, but what we settled on, what Michelle decided would make a particularly delicious lunch, was the recipe for Shrimp Burgers. I'd had my share of shrimp po'boys in East Texas and Louisiana, but I'd never been to any of the shrimping towns like Thunderbolt, GA, McClellanville, SC, or Morehead City, NC that the Lee Bros. single out as being prime stomping grounds for shrimp burgers. The Lee Bros. recipe was admittedly a bit new-fangled, utilizing the sweetness of corn to draw out the full flavor of the shrimp and ginger "to give it complexity," but we liked its apparent lightness of touch and its admonition to "use a gentle hand when flipping the burgers in the skillet," which was reminiscent of just the kind of crab cakes we prefer.
2 quarts water
2 tbsp Lee Bros. Shrimp Boil
1 pound headless large shrimp (26-30 per pound), shells on
2 tbsp chopped scallions
1/4 cup fresh corn kernels, cut from the cob (about 1/2 ear)
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
3 tbsp high-quality store-bought mayonnaise, such as Hellmann's
1 cup bread crumbs, preferably fresh
kosher salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
pepper vinegar to taste (optional)
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 tbsp canola oil
Bring the water and shrimp boil to a boil over high heat in a 3-quart saucepan. Turn off the heat. Add the shrimp and let stand until they are just pink, about 2-4 minutes, depending on just how big your shrimp are. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Peel the shrimp and chop coarsely [You can devein them first, if you like, but the Lee Bros. aren't fussy about such things unless the shrimp are being showcased in such a way that their aesthetics are critical, which isn't the case here.] You should have 1 3/4 cups chopped shrimp.
In a large bowl, mix the shrimp with the scallions, corn, parsley, ginger, and lemon zest. Stir in the mayonnaise and bread crumbs and season with salt, black pepper, and pepper vinegar. Add the egg and gently fold with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until evenly distributed.
Form the shrimp mixture into four patties, each about 3 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the patties in plastic wrap and let stand in the refrigerator for 30 minutes [as in the case of crab cakes, this is an important step, so don't skip it].
Remove the burgers from the refrigerator and unwrap them. Place the oil in a 12-inch skillet and heat over medium-high to high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the burgers and sauté until both sides are gently browned, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on a dinner plate lined with a paper towel.
Serve on a toasted hamburger bun (or a fresh Portuguese bun) with lettuce, tomato, and Tartar Sauce (such as Lee Bros. or A.J.'s E-Z Spicy).
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 Thai, serrano, or bird's eye chiles, fresh or dried
With a funnel, pour the vinegar into a cruet. Add the chiles and use a chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon to submerge them, if necessary. Cap the cruet and place it in the refrigerator. The vinegar will be well infused in 24 hours and will keep for months in the refrigerator.
A.J.'s E-Z Spicy Tartar Sauce
4 tbsp high-quality store-bought mayonnaise, like Hellmann's
8 salt-packed capers, rinsed and minced
1 tsp chipotle puree
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Makes enough for four shrimp burgers.
fig. c: freshly made shrimp burger
How'd they turn out? Just great--look at that baby. Really one of the best lunches we've had in recent memory and an auspicious debut for The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook.