Because Maine shrimp are more tender than the gargantuan Southeast Asian shrimp raised on farms, they require a more delicate hand. Only 60 to 90 seconds is all it usually takes to cook a small batch of this sweet, unadulterated, wild-caught protein.
Overcooking, which can happen in a snap, tends to send them directly from soft and tender to mushy and watery. For this reason, I tend to cook them with the heads off but shell on, which also leaves the roe intact and to my mind imparts better flavor.
Shrimp can be found on many of our daily routes to and fro for $1 a pound heads-on, and the highest I’ve seen is $5 per pound “picked-out,” meaning heads and shells removed. It’s a bargain no matter what, especially when you consider they are naturally hormone-, pesticide- and chemical-free.
To feast on the simple and briny, bring a salted pot of water to boil and cook in batches for around 1 minute, again with the heads and shells on. They are done when the color changes to a deeper pink and the meat changes from grayish white to white.
If you are unsure, pull one from the pot and break it open to check. Drain and spread them out on newspaper. They are perfect on their own, but you could add fresh lemon wedges, a homemade aioli or tartar sauce or even a homemade horseradish sauce.
If you have any leftovers, tossing the meat lightly with lemon juice, mayonnaise (or what’s left of the aioli is even better), salt and pepper makes a classic shrimp roll. Stuff a lightly buttered and grilled hot dog bun with the shrimp. Add a beer for drinking if you like.
One of my favorite ways to cook Maine shrimp is to pan-sear them, heads removed and shells intact. Heat a skillet on high heat and add olive oil to the pan. Add the shrimp, lightly salt and pan-sear for 1 to 2 minutes. If you’d like to make a sauce to accompany the shrimp, remove the shrimp from the pan, make the sauce and then add them back to the pan to heat quickly. Serve immediately.
For a ceviche dish, it’s better to use picked-out shrimp. Marinate the shrimp for up to 30 minutes in lime, lemon or orange juice. Light additions such as cilantro, basil and shallots will add zing without overpowering the light taste of the shrimp.
Caution, though: this is not a make-ahead dish. Any more than 30 minutes, and the shrimp will start to become mushy.
If you end up with remains of heads and shells, making a simple stock for a soup or sauce base is easy. Start by roasting the shells first with a little tomato paste, or simply add them to a pot of boiling water with the usual onions, carrots and celery. Thirty to 45 minutes is all that is required to extract the most flavor from the shells.
Of course, if you have chickens, they go wild for the shells and you end up with brilliant, almost fuchsia egg yolks. Beware, though: too much of this and the eggs start to taste like shrimp.
SHRIMP WITH CHIPOTLE CHILI AND PUMPKIN SEEDS
Hulled, roasted, salted pumpkin seeds can be found in the natural foods or snack section of the grocery store. This is one where substituting pumpkin seeds that you pulled from your very own pumpkins will NOT work; the seeds need to be hulled. If you are unable to find them roasted and salted, you can toast the pumpkin seeds in a large skillet over medium-high heat until they puff up a little and turn a tiny bit brown. You will need to adjust the amount of salt in the recipe.
1 cup hulled, roasted, salted pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons butter, divided in half
1 cup diced onions, about 1 small onion
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups chicken broth or clam juice
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 to 1 chipotle chili en adobo, minced
1 pound whole, uncooked shrimp
Remove the heads from the shrimp and set aside. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and melt half the butter. Add the onions and cumin and sauté until the onions are translucent. Deglaze with white wine and add broth, heavy cream and chipotle chili. Bring to a boil and reduce for 5 minutes.
Transfer the sauce to a blender and add pumpkin seeds. Pulse carefully and then blend until the sauce is smooth. Meanwhile, return the skillet to medium heat and melt the rest of the butter. Add the shrimp and salt and sauté until only a little gray remains. If you are using Maine shrimp, the time will be less than a minute. Return the sauce to the pan and bring to a simmer.
Immediately remove from heat and serve over rice or pasta.
Serves four to six.
Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of “At Home, At Sea,” a recipe book about her experiences cooking aboard the family’s windjammer. She can be reached at: [email protected]