jumbo shrimp, easy risotto, and other oxymorons

Sorry that I skipped all of June! I feel like I’ve been terribly busy, but when I look back on the last month, I somehow can’t figure out what exactly I’ve been so busy with!

But now that I am back, let’s talk about shrimp. I have never been a particular fan of crustaceans, especially shrimp, and especially after the first time I saw one cooked whole and I realized that shrimp are nothing but giant underwater insects. Something about the texture particularly bothered me. And those feeler things. And their black, dead eyes.

Then, a few years ago, I confided this disgust to my friend Joseph, who insisted that it was merely because I had never tried fresh, never-been-frozen shrimp. I am always resistant when people say that kind of thing, though I secretly believe that anyone who doesn’t like one of my favorite foods must have never had it prepared well (the one exception seems to be Max, who refuses to eat raw tomatoes under any circumstances, even slices of local heirloom tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt). Given that discrepancy (or perhaps hypocrisy), I have been trying to re-try foods when I have the opportunity to eat them fresh or prepared in a new way.

And all that led me to a recent trip to the Lobster Place, where I was left staring at these beauties:I don’t know why, but I was completely captivated by the contrast between their gray bodies and red legs and tail. And best of all, they had never been frozen! I snagged about a pound of them, too transfixed by their prettiness to worry about peeling and deveining them. I immediately planned to make risotto and bought a small bottle of white wine, which I generously split between myself, the risotto, and lastly Max.

Peeling the shrimp was supremely easy–just tug off the legs and the rest comes right off. I pinched off the tails, too, since I am a newbie at deveining and I thought it might make it easier. I saved the shells and tails and simmered them in a pot of water to make broth, as suggested in the video below, which also explains the deveining process:

As is pointed out in the video, the “vein” you remove is actually the shrimp’s digestive tract, and it can be gritty. There is also a “vein,” however, on the other side of the shrimp, on the abdomen. Apparently you don’t need to remove that if you don’t want to, because that is a bundle of shrimp nerves and isn’t filled with partially digested shrimp food. While it looks awfully easy in the video, I had a rather difficult time, and ended up using my fingers as much as the paring knife. It took ages.

Peeled and tailless, they had certainly lost some of their charm. I was also less than thrilled with handling their goopy digestive tracts. But luckily I could put them aside and work on the risotto for a little while–though before doing so, I tossed them with some garlic salt and melted butter.

Risotto has the reputation of being impossibly difficult to make, but actually the process of it is quite simple. It requires some time, that’s true, and a little babysitting, but the technique is very easy and always yields impressive results. Plus, it’s infinitely versatile: I am particularly partial to mushroom risotto, for instance, but you could make it with peas or asparagus or bay scallops or a million other things. I decided to add in some minced shrimp as well as topping the dish with whole ones so that every bite had a little shrimp in it.

Shrimp Risotto (serves 2)

Ingredients:

3/4 – 1lb shrimp, not peeled

1/2 cup arborio rice

6 cups broth (preferably homemade broth using the shrimp tails and shells)

1 shallot, minced

4 tbsp butter, divided

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1/2 cup white wine

2 tbsp olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

optional: garlic salt

Directions

1) Set 6 cups of water to boil while beginning to peel the shrimp. As you peel, drop the shells into the water, adding a healthy teaspoon of salt. Turn the water down to a simmer and cover.

2) Melt 2 tbsp of butter and toss the shrimp with it and about a teaspoon of garlic salt. Set them aside.

3) Heat the olive oil over medium heat, and add the shallot. Once the shallot has become translucent (about 1-2 minutes) add the arborio rice, stirring constantly. Don’t let the rice toast–just get it coated with oil.

4) Add the wine, stirring nearly constantly. When the wine is almost completely absorbed, add about a cup of broth, stirring frequently. Once that has been absorbed, add more broth. Repeat until the rice is cooked almost completely.

5) As the rice nears completion, heat up a pan to cook the shrimp in and add the shrimp. We have an old, grill-style cast iron pan that proved perfect. The shrimp only need a couple minutes on each side, if that.

6) Chop up four of your cooked shrimp and toss them in the risotto. Make sure not to neglect your risotto and to continue adding liquid and stirring.

7) Once your risotto is cooked completely to your liking, shut off the heat and add the parmesan cheese and then the remaining butter. Stir it completely.

8) PLATE! I chose to arrange the “grilled” shrimp around a mound of risotto. As you can see, I served this with roasted zucchini and yellow squash which I simply chopped up, tossed with olive oil, stuck in the oven at 450˚ and forgot about for 15 minutes.

A squeeze of lemon might also serve you well.

Verdict? Awfully good. Max was particularly keen on it, declaring it better than risotto he himself makes (fine praise as he taught me how to do it in the first place). It has converted me from a shrimp-hater to a shrimp-kind-of-liker. I still am wary of these sea insects, but I definitely enjoyed this meal and would make it again (especially if someone else were to take care of the veins). So basically, if you care about shrimp at all, it would be an injustice not to make this meal. And if you, like me, think you despise shrimp–well, you owe it to yourself to try it this way! And even if you’re not the biggest fan of shrimp or risotto, well, you can always keep this recipe in your arsenal to wow someone who loves ’em.

Are there any foods you’ve been converted to? I’ve recently been branching out a lot more with oysters, octopus, and mild cheeses, but you still won’t catch me eating livers, kidneys or brains.

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