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Recipes and Stories

28 July 2018: Old-Fashioned Shrimp Salad

Old-Fashioned Shrimp Salad, here tucked into Parker House rolls and enjoyed with tea.

Before July slips completely away, here’s one last word on those old-fashioned chopped meat salads, specifically, one that’s quintessential to a Lowcountry summer: shrimp salad.

No one would argue that tomato sandwiches are the primary hallmark of summer for most of us. We eagerly anticipate that first really vine-ripened tomato so we can thickly slice it, tuck it into soft white bread slathered with mayonnaise, and relish it wearing an old shirt (or no shirt) while standing over the sink, because it’s going to drip all over us when we bite into it.

But here in the Lowcountry, the hallmark sandwich of summer is shrimp salad. To be sure, there are cafés and diners that offer it year round, but it’s only in the summer, when the very small brown creek shrimp are teeming in the marsh creeks and inlets, that this salad really comes into its own. Tiny little creek shrimp may not look terribly impressive, but they’re packed with more flavor than any others. Showy, big deep-water prawns have nothing on them.

On the face of it, traditional shrimp salad looks just like the others that I’ve covered here: a simple quartet of meat, onion, and celery bound with just enough mayonnaise to coat it, except that this salad historically never contained chopped pickle or relish of any kind. If the shrimp are those flavor-packed small ones, they not only don’t need it, it would be intrusive. But if you’re having to resort to larger shrimp, you could add a couple of tablespoons of chopped capers.

Old-Fashioned Shrimp Salad Spread

You can use larger shrimp for this, but only small creek shrimp will have the full flavor of a Lowcountry summer. Yes, they’re a bit tedious to peel, but it’s worth it.

Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish, 8 as an appetizer

1½ pounds (headless weight) small shrimp, preferably brown creek shrimp
¼ cup minced red or yellow onion or scallions (both white and green parts)
½ cup small-diced celery
About ½ cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
Ground cayenne pepper
Firm white sandwich bread, Parker House rolls, or, if you must, whole wheat bread, optional
Your favorite crackers or crisp toast points, optional
4-6 whole medium ripe tomatoes, 3 ripe avocadoes, or lettuce leaves, for optional
Sweet Paprika, for garnish, optional
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus whole leaves, for garnish, optional

1. Bring a quart of water to a rolling boil. Add the shrimp, cover, and count one minute. Check to make sure they’re cooked through and if not, cover again, turn off the heat, and let them sit until they’re cooked through, as little as another 15 seconds to half a minute for small ones. Lift them from the cooking water with a skimmer, rinse under cold running water and peel them, reserving their shells.

2. You don’t have to do this step, but I always make shrimp broth whenever I cook shrimp so that I’ll have it for other dishes later on. Put the shells back into the cooking water, bring it back to a simmer (watching, they tend to foam up and boil over) and adjust the heat to a steady simmer. Simmer thirty minutes, strain, discarding the shells and let the liquid cool. Cover and freeze until needed. It’ll keep for up to 4 months.

3. Put the shrimp into the bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, cover, and pulse until evenly chopped—not too fine: they should have the texture you’d get by hand chopping. Turn the shrimp out into in a mixing bowl, add the onion and celery, and toss to mix.

4. Fold in enough mayonnaise to bind it. Taste and season with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate 30 minutes, then taste and adjust seasonings. Cover and return it to refrigerator until ready to serve. Will keep, well-covered and refrigerated, for up to 4 days.

5. Serve it with crackers or toasts as a cocktail appetizer. For sandwiches, spread it over white bread or tuck it into warm parker house rolls if you want to fancy it up for cocktails or afternoon tea. To offer it as a main dish, scoop it into hollowed out ripe tomatoes, ripe avocado halves, a bed of lettuce leaves, or just right onto the plate. Garnish with paprika and minced parsley and offer crackers or toast on the side.

Homemade Mayonnaise in the Food Processor: You can make it by hand, but this is so easy that it’s worth cleaning the machine’s work bowl. Break 1 whole large egg into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add 1 tablespoon of Dijon-style mustard, a large pinch of salt, a dash of cayenne, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or wine vinegar. Process 1 minute. With motor running, slowly drizzle in 1 cup of vegetable oil in thin, steady stream. Let machine run for a few seconds more, taste and adjust the seasonings, and pulse to mix. It’ll keep, well-covered and refrigerated, for up to a week.

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