2011 November: SEAWORTHY

I always wonder why more pizzeria operators don’t do more with shrimp. Yes, I know adding any type of seafood to the operation poses a few issues –– buying, storage and cooking — that might be more than some operators want to deal with. But using shrimp on pizza, in a pasta dish or as part of a salad expands your repertoire of offerings and gives your place a forward look. Let’s examine the possibilities.

Ordering and buying shrimp is known as the “count.” For example, 21/25 means that there are 21 to 25 of that particular size of shrimp in one pound. The rule of thumb on this is that the smaller the number, the bigger the shrimp. For example, a five-pound bag of shrimp with a 10/12 count means that there are about 50 to 60 shrimp in that bag; an 11/15 count means that there are about 55 to 75 shrimp in that five pound bag. Further help in deciding how much shrimp to buy (the count) goes like this: 16/20 suggests extra-large shrimp; 21/30 suggest large shrimp; 31/35 suggests medium and 36/45 means small shrimp.

When buying shrimp, keep in mind there should be no aroma to them at all. If you detect the smell of ammonia, that batch of shrimp just might be over the hill.

With few exceptions, all shrimp comes to market frozen. The shrimp is harvested, cleaned and frozen before the boat hits the dock. Raw frozen shrimp will last six months; frozen cooked shrimp should be used within two months.

To thaw frozen shrimp, put the shrimp in a colander under cool running water. Pry the shrimp apart as the water runs. In about 15 minutes, the shrimp will be thawed. Rinse the shrimp thoroughly and blot it dry with paper towels.

You might be wondering whether you should work with frozen cooked or frozen raw shrimp. For me, that choice should be made based upon your intended usage. I favor frozen raw because when precooked is used in a dish or on pizza, it has to go through the cooking process and could result in a tough, chewy shrimp. On the other hand, there are times when you might not have a choice. But if you follow the recipes I give here, you should come out just fine.

Before we get to those, though, here’s a fast and easy pasta dish that uses frozen cooked shrimp: In a large sauté pan, sauté garlic in olive oil. Add some tomato sauce and crushed red pepper flakes. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Stir in the shrimp and cook for only two to three minutes. Serve the shrimp and sauce over cooked pasta. Garnish with flat-leaf parsley or fresh basil. Serve.

Fettuccine with Shrimp and peppers //////////

Yield: 4 servings (scale up in direct proportion)

¼ cup olive oil
1 cup each red, green and yellow bell peppers cut into ¼-inch strips
8 ounces fettuccine pasta
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound medium shrimp (31-35) shelled, deveined and butterflied
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ cup torn fresh basil

In a sauté pan large enough to hold all the pasta after it has been cooked, warm the olive oil over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the bell peppers. Cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium. Cover the pan and cook for about 2 to 3 more minutes to soften the peppers.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until it is barely al dente. Drain, reserve and keep warm.

Add the garlic and the shrimp to the sauté pan with the peppers. Cook and stir for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the shrimp just begins to turn pink (the shrimp should be barely done). Add the red pepper flakes and basil. Add the reserved pasta to the sauté pan. Cook and stir for 1 minute to incorporate the flavors. Portion into heated pasta bowls and serve at once.

Shrimp pizza //////
Yield: one 14-inch pizza

14-inch pizza shell
8 ounces large uncooked
shrimp, peeled and deveined
2-3 garlic cloves, pressed
¾ cup shredded provolone

Brush the rolled out pizza crust with olive oil. Scatter
the garlic evenly over the olive oil. Cut each shrimp into
2-3 pieces. Scatter the shrimp over the crust and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake.

Chef’s Note: A different way to make this pizza is to devein, butterfly and broil (or grill) extra-large shrimp. Toss the shrimp in olive oil. Brush the pizza crust with olive oil. Add crushed garlic and provolone.

Bake. When the pizza comes out of the oven arrange the shrimp over the cheese. Sprinkle on some chopped flat-leaf parsley and serve.

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.