While seafood and pizza may seem an unlikely pairing, many pizzeria operators swear it can lead to a happy pizza marriage. One crustacean with solid marriage potential is shrimp. According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Fisheries Institute, shrimp is the most consumed seafood in the United States. Shrimp are surprisingly healthy — high in protein, low in saturated fats, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, and high in selenium and tryptophan (proven cancer-fighting compounds). Not to mention, shrimp taste good. It’s almost foolish not to consider a pie featuring such a beloved shellfish.
“Shrimp are the perfect texture for pizza toppings because they are juicy but not wet, meaty, tender and succulent,” says Craig Priebe, author, Grilled Pizzas and Piadinas and executive chef at Henry Crown & Company in Chicago.
He fi rst experimented with shrimp pizza back in 1998 when he entered — and won — the International Pizza Expo competition with his Gamberian Grilled Pizza. The Gamberian is adorned with sautéed jumbo shrimp, basil pecan pesto, tomato basil sauce, sundried tomatoes, capers, garlic, red onions, mozzarella and Parmesan. “I wanted to win that trophy. I thought shrimp was an exotic topping that was readily available, delicious and different,” he says.
Priebe is not the only one with a crowd pleasing shrimp pizza. Many pizzeria operators have found success with shrimp pizzas. Ed Martino, owner of Carminuccio’s Pizza in Newtown, Connecticut, created his shrimp pizza specifically with seafood lovers in mind. For the pizza, he sprinkles shrimp, mozzarella and Romano cheeses across dough covered with white sauce and estimates an $8.50 food cost for a large pizza. “The combination of the mozzarella and Parmesan, and the saltiness of the Parmesan really brings out the flavor of the shrimp,” Martino says.
At The Cove Trattoria in Scottsdale, Arizona, a 13-inch shrimp pizza displays mozzarella, pesto and vodka cream sauce with butterfly-style cut and chopped shrimp. “After the raw shrimp is thinly diced, it cooks with the pizza instead of beforehand. This ensures it is not overcooked. Placing the shrimp on top of the other ingredients last also prevents its fl avor from getting lost,” says Matthew Davin, chef de cuisine. Davin estimates the pizza has a $3 food cost.
Garlic shrimp pizza means pizza topped with shrimp, sautéed mushrooms, sliced red bell peppers, onions and roasted garlic sauce at Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza based in La Jolla, California. Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza is part of the Ladeki Restaurant Group. There are 16 units throughout California and Las Vegas. “It sells very well,” says Jeff Moogk, executive chef, who estimates a 24 percent food cost for the pizza.
Before diving in, explore the different varieties and styles of shrimp available from your purveyors — from fresh to freshfrozen, cooked or par-cooked. Fresh shrimp is available during spring and summer, but is costly and does not carry a very long shelf life. Most shrimp are fl ash frozen on boats or near the docks where they are caught. Individually quick frozen (IQF) shrimp are loose shrimp pieces that come bagged. Operators can thaw only as much as needed. Whereas block-frozen shrimp provides more shrimp than IQF, but the entire block must thaw before usage, taking much longer than IQF. Another economical option is purchasing “broken shrimp.” These are generally random pieces of shrimp not suitable for other shrimp preparations.
Priebe cautions not to buy shrimp that are too small. “They are cheaper but will disappear on the pizza,” he says. “People who order a shrimp pizza want to see the shrimp. If you do decide to use whole shrimp it is cheaper and easier to buy peeled and deveined shrimp instead of paying for the labor to clean them, which is also time consuming.
Shrimp are sold buy a count size of how many received in a pound. Medium size shrimp range from a 13-15 count. Davin uses 13-15 count fresh-frozen, cleaned and deveined tiger prawns on his pizza. Moogk uses 26-30 count frozen shrimp that he marinates in garlic, tarragon and olive oil. Martino uses raw, frozen 21- to 25-count shrimp. He does not prepare the shrimp beforehand. “They go on raw, and the flavor comes from the sauce and cheese combo,” he says.
Priebe sautés shrimp before adding it to his pizza. “As the shrimp cooks it gives up some water, which makes a pizza soggy,” he says. “Whether you bake them quickly in an oven, poach them in a little water or wine or sauté them tender in oil, don’t overcook them or they will be tougher and dry by the time they get to a pizza. If you don’t want to cook them fi rst, buy a steamed product that is lightly cooked and tender.”
Shrimp lends itself to an assortment of sauces and ingredients. Priebe suggests taking an Asian approach with a teriyaki or hoisin sauce shrimp pizza. “A spicy coconut sauce or a Thai red curry and peanut pizza works amazing with shrimp,” he says.
“Many sauces pair nicely with shrimp including pesto, cream and garlic and olive oil. Marinara can pair nicely as long as it is not too heavy,” adds Davin.
Martino believes white sauce couples with shrimp best. “White sauce allows the shrimp’s flavor to speak for itself,” he says.
Shrimp can store for up to six months in a freezer. Keep in mind that shrimp spoils quickly once thawed. “If you question if it’s still good, it’s not,” says Martino.
Upscale and healthy — shrimp are perfectly suited for pizza. “Your customers will absolutely love your shrimp pizzas. People respond very enthusiastically to seeing nice fat shrimp on pizza,” says Priebe.?
Yield: One pizza
1 grilled pizza crust or pizza dough
2 tablespoons herbed grill oil or extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
½ pound jumbo shrimp, shelled and deveined
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup shredded mozzarella
½ cup chunky tomato basil sauce
½ cup basil pecan pesto (pesto or extra virgin olive oil)
¼ cup thinly sliced sun-dried tomatoes
½ cup thinly sliced red onions
2 teaspoons capers
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons fresh basil leaves, torn
¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
Brush pizza crust with 1 tablespoon of oil. Dust with Parmesan.
Heat remaining oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté shrimp until opaque and pink, about 1½ minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Top crust with mozzarella. Spoon tomato basil sauce and basil pecan pesto on top, creating alternating patterns of red and green. Add sun-dried tomatoes, shrimp, onions, capers and garlic. Cook. (Pizza oven 500 F for 12 to 15 minutes; coal-fired oven 700 F for 4 to 5 minutes, conveyor oven 450 F for 12 to 15 minutes, grill 450 F for 5 to 7 minutes, or griddle 450 F for10 to 12 minutes).
Garnish with basil and cracked black pepper and serve.
Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and lifestyle trends.