Last week I had the distinct pleasure of standing by the stove at Hugo’s and watching Chef Rob Evans make a luscious risotto using tender Maine shrimp.

If eating at Hugo’s makes you feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven, well then, who better to offer advice on what do with all of the plentiful, inexpensive shrimp that’s flooding Maine markets this year?

Chef Rob Evans serves up shrimp risotto in his kitchen at Hugo’s Restaurant in Portland. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

So here’s the gospel according to Evans on cooking, but not overcooking, Maine shrimp: “I wouldn’t go more than 20 seconds, ever.”

There you go.

Evans says overcooking is the biggest mistake people make with Maine shrimp. You want it to be tender, even a little translucent in the center, he said, not all “mealy and mushy.”

As I promised two columns ago, this week we’re looking at ways to use Maine shrimp so we can all take advantage of the ridiculously low prices – one reader from Rockland says he’s seen a truck selling them for 50 cents a pound – and maybe help out some fishermen at the same time.


Evans, one of Portland’s best-known chefs, graciously offered to provide a recipe for Maine Shrimp Risotto and discuss other ways he uses them. We also solicited recipes from you, our readers. I’ll focus on just one reader recipe – Shiu Mai, or Chinese dumplings, submitted by Steven Bauer of Portland – in this column. You’ll find the rest of the recipes, from “Easy Shrimp Chowder” to “Shrimp with Apple and Celery,” online at

Before we started the risotto, I asked Evans what’s so special about Maine shrimp. Number one, he said, is the freshness.

“And it’s so short a season, it’s a special treat we all get a few months out of the year,” he said. “As far as flavor goes, I think it’s as delicate as shrimp gets. Usually shrimp has much more of a bite or resistance to them. These are very tender.”

Here are some ways Evans recommends using Maine shrimp:

n Add the shrimp to scrambled eggs at the last minute, and let the residual heat of the eggs cook them.

n Make shrimp stock and freeze it. “The season is so cheap right now we make our shrimp stock out of whole shrimp,” he said.


n Freeze whole shrimp. “Freeze them in the shell, definitely,” Evans said. “They come out OK. I don’t think they’d last long, though. You wouldn’t want to leave them in there more than a couple of weeks or a month.”

n Make shrimp salad. Shock the shrimp by bringing some salted water or court boullion up to a boil, then turn it off. Pour it over the shrimp for 15 to 20 seconds, then plunge them right into an ice bath.

With shrimp going for 99 cents a pound in some places, Evans is buying them up and dehydrating them for use in consommés.

First, shock the shrimp as described above. Then put them into a dehydrator until they crumble.

“From there you can store them on the shelf almost indefinitely,” he said. “But you have to figure that 10 pounds when they’re dried out will probably get you about a pound.”

Simmer the dried shrimp in water for about an hour, and you’ll get “an incredible, clear shrimp broth.”


Evans has Maine shrimp on Hugo’s menu in the form of Maine Shrimp & Butte Potato “Paella.” But that dish “involves potato the size of rice grains, so I figured it wasn’t a good one for the home cook.”

Instead, Evans shared his Maine Shrimp Risotto with Prosciutto & Peas. He likes using Maine shrimp in risotto for the same reason he puts them in scrambled eggs – they can be added at the last minute, and the residual heat cooks them perfectly.

“On every menu now you see risotto,” he said. “People don’t give it the respect I think it deserves. We put a lot of time and attention into it. Every risotto’s done individually. We’re pretty proud of our risottos.”

Evans began his risotto by sweating the onions, along with garlic, crushed red pepper, coriander, cumin and paprika.

“Sweat meaning no color, just cooking them until they’re translucent,” he said. “Some people like their onions a dark brown, but I prefer it sweated.”

Evans said he tends to use more garlic in this preparation than he would in other risottos because of “the shrimp factor.” The crushed red pepper and paprika add a little heat.


After about 10 minutes, he added the rice and gently stirred it with a wooden spoon, warming it so it would take in the hot stock later. “Some people say it activates the starch of the rice,” he said. “There’s probably some truth to that.”

Evans used carnaroli rice over arborio because he believes it holds its texture better.

“Arborio breaks apart easier, gets mushy quicker,” he said. “This will create a creamier stock and give your risotto texture.”

Next came a little wine to clean the pan. When most of the liquid was absorbed, Evans started adding his own shrimp stock, which contained a little wine, bay leaf, and some tomato that colored it a dark red.

A lot of people stir constantly through the whole process of adding the stock a little at a time and waiting for it to be absorbed by the rice. Evans said that’s not necessary, but pay enough attention to the pot to make sure the rice doesn’t stick.

Toward the end, the chef started checking the texture of the rice. He offered me a couple of grains off the wooden spoon, and I noticed there was still a good bit of bite to them. Keep it al dente, he said, and don’t let it get mushy. It’s important to monitor the texture, especially in the last 10 minutes.


“I feel where most risottos lose it is in the end,” Evans said. “There’s a lot of liquid in there. Say this is at the end, and I reached in here and pulled out a grain and it was completely soft, I’d be in trouble because I’ve got all this liquid in here. You end up with that classic, watery risotto with overcooked rice swimming in it.”

When most of the liquid was absorbed, Evans finished with the butter, mascarpone, peas, grated parmesan, thyme and, of course, the shrimp.

Evans uses English peas when he can get them. Frozen peas are OK, he said, but never use canned.

The butter should be cold.

“Think of it as a beurre blanc, where you put the cold butter in and just keep stirring it so it slowly melts,” Evans said. “This is what’s going to make the creamy emulsion. You should end up with rice that looks like it’s coated with sauce, almost. It has a kind of sheen to it.”

Evans also adds a little lemon juice for vibrancy.


In the end, top it off with a little bit of stock to make the risotto loose again. By watching the texture of the rice closely during the last 10 minutes, you’ve put yourself in control and in a better position to adjust the creaminess of the dish. Any time you see risotto standing up on a plate, Evans said, chances are it’s too dry.

“And don’t let anyone ever talk you into doing a healthy risotto, with brown rice or something,” he said. “The closest we get to a healthy risotto here is we do a beet risotto where it’s all beet juice. But it has to be finished with butter.”

When the risotto was done, Evans spooned it into white bowls lined with slices of prosciutto. The prosciutto can be folded over to make an attractive little pouch. He garnished with grilled shrimp, heads on.

“For a single guy trying to impress his date, this is it,” Evans said.

Our featured reader recipe comes from Steven Bauer of Portland, who first learned how to make Shiu Mai in the early 1970s, when his parents opened a gourmet cookware store in Montclair, N.J.

They soon added a kitchen in the back so they could offer cooking classes given by local chefs. Bauer’s favorite was a Chinese cooking class taught by a local restaurant owner named Madame Wong.

“She taught a beef and broccoli dish, and eggrolls, and Shiu Mai, or Chinese dumplings,” said Bauer, now 47.

The dumplings, he said, “were a huge hit then, and continue to be to this day. They are so good that people can’t believe that you actually made them yourself.”

Bauer says children and guests love to help make the steamed dumplings. When he makes them for a party, “people you don’t even remember will come up to you months later and say `You’re the one who made those delicious dumplings!’ “

Comments are not available on this story.