Shrimp. So versatile.
You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey's uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich...
Perfectly articulated by Bubba in Forrest Gump, the laundry list of ways to cook and eat shrimp is seemingly endless, and for good reason. It’s low in fat, high in protein, and a blank slate, ready to be painted with any number of flavors. Definitely worthy of its own day.
Don’t you agree? Seems many do, since National Shrimp Day is May 10th!
There are over 2,000 species of shrimp in the world, and each species’ flavor and texture is influenced by where it comes from, where it is raised, and what it eats. Wild shrimp live on river beds and ocean floors around the world, filtering particles in the water and feeding on seaweed and crustaceans, all of which gives them a more enriched flavor and thicker shells compared to their farm-raised friends.
Shrimp are loaded with healthy nutrients like lean protein, B vitamins, iron, and omega-3s, without the calories and fat present in other sources of these vital nutrients. As we’ve all been told over and over again, the omega-3s found in seafood such as shrimp have been shown to lower blood pressure and triglycerides, improve vascular function, and ease inflammation. It also turns out that shrimp contain at least three unique antioxidants: astaxanthin, and the minerals selenium and copper.
While shrimp do have measured benefits, opponents to shrimp consumption argue that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. Contaminated ocean waters, overfishing, poor farming practices, potential detrimental effects of certain fishing methods on wildlife, and shellfish contamination (especially mercury) are all reasons to pass on the seafood. Additionally, the effect of farming practices on the environment have been argued in some cases to be harmful- foreign shrimp ponds discharge polluted water into nearby land and waterways, destroying land often used for agriculture as well as drinking water.
Despite its opponents, shrimp is the #1 most consumed seafood in the United States. While the shrimp harvested in the U.S. come from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coast, most of the shrimp that we consume here, as high as 90%, is actually imported and farm-raised, with Pacific white being the most popular species.
When choosing shrimp at the market, choose one that boasts an ocean-side fragrance, with a plump and juicy texture. When you get home, rinse them under cold water before tightly covering and refrigerating. Better yet, cook and consume as soon as you get back from your fish monger.
Cooking shrimp takes little time and results in a dramatic color change from grey to pink, giving the cook a built-in tell of when to take them off the stove! This color change has to do with the antioxidant astaxanthin contained in their shells and in the shells of other crustaceans such as crab and lobster. When uncooked, the astaxanthin pigments are hidden by protein chains that give shells the blueish-grey color. When the protein strands are destroyed by heat, the astaxanthin molecules are released, and shrimp’s color explodes to orange.
All of this talk of shrimp is making me hungry, and so I think it’s time for a recipe. In honor of National Shrimp Day, this grandma recipe comes to me from Jackie Flowers. When I asked her for a suggestion, she brought in her family’s cookbook that is heavily loved, held together by masking tape and dotted with hand-written annotations. The best kind of cookbook. Jackie’s family comes from Belize, a nation whose cuisine is influenced by Mayans, Mexicans, Lebanese, Mennonites, Chinese, and most notably, the Creoles (who were, in turn, influenced by both African slaves and European colonists). It’s from this last group from which todays’ recipe, shrimp creole, draws inspiration today.
1- 1/2 pounds fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 TB olive oil
½ large yellow onion, diced into small pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small green pepper, cored, seeded and diced into pieces the same size as the onion
1 cup diced tomatoes (you can use fresh, I used ½ a can)
¾ cup of white wine (I used Savignon Blanc)
2 TB fresh basil, cut into ribbons
2 TB fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ TB Worcestershire Sauce
1 TB hot sauce
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
2 TB heavy cream (optional, eyeball it)
White or brown rice, to accompany
Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Add the onions, garlic and green pepper, bay leaf and spices. Cook over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the wine, and scrape the bottom of the pan to remove any bits. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes until some of the liquid has been reduced.
Once the liquid has reduced, add the shrimp and cover and let cook about 5-7 minutes until the shrimp are all cooked (this shouldn't take long). Stir in the cream and add the basil and parsley at the end, right before you serve it.
Notes: Bacon would be so good in this. So would some andouille sausage.
Chew on this: Some shrimp species are hermaphroditic. Namely, peppermint shrimp first mature as males, and sometimes turn into a hermaphrodite with both male and female sexual organs.
Do you have any favorite shrimp recipes? Share them with us below or on any of our social media platforms. Don't forget to use the hashtag #FeedYourCuriosity and tag @Foodseum!
Chrissy Barua lives in Lincoln Park and successfully lawyers by day despite an addiction to bad movies, cookies, and travel. She'll be bringing you monthly doses of delicious as she tries to track down the best grandma recipes she can find. (Follow her on her other cooking adventures at The Hungary Buddha Eats the World.)