Scampi

You’ll often find classic recipes caught in a backwater eddy rotting into poor, grotesque things far removed from former splendor, like a fading star of stage and screen who’s reduced to dinner theater, falling subject to farce for the same reason: their name is a draw. So you’ll find prima vera with frozen vegetables, for instance, or steak Diane with condensed cream of mushroom soup.

I worked in a restaurant where the house recipe for scampi consisted of garlic powder, a commercial oil product (Whirl), and the remnants of whatever open bottle of white wine the bartender had. That’s it. This concoction was poured over a dozen medium-sized shrimp arranged in a small circular metal dish and placed in a salamander.

The results were dry and chewy; had our customers been (in the least bit) savvy, no doubt they would have complained with vigor and frequency, but the very fact that they didn’t led to the recipe becoming entrenched on our menu and–what’s even more tragic–likely defining this travesty as scampi for hundreds of people who’d never eaten at a restaurant with tablecloths.

To make a good scampi, sauté the best shrimp available in a really good butter with a slash of olive oil, plenty of fresh, finely-minced garlic, a fruity white wine, salt and white pepper. Before serving, add a jolt of lemon juice and a sprinkling of parsley. Some thicken the sauce with starch or lightly bread the shrimp,  add scallions, or even chopped drained tomatoes, but I don’t. Scampi can be served as an appetizer with bread or over pasta as an entree.

Roots Remoulade

The Larousse Gastronomique ‘s recipe for remoulade calls for a cup of mayonnaise with two tablespoons mixed herbs (parsley, chives, chervil and tarragon), one tablespoon drained capers, two finely diced cornichons and a few drops of anchovy essence (optional).

Now, the Éditions Larousse is a Parisian publishing house specializing in encyclopedias and dictionaries, and as a battle-scarred veteran of Dr. Joe Ray’s etymology classes at Ole Miss, I find it odd that this recipe skips over the roots of the word “rémoulade,” derived from the dialectal French, rémola, with origins in the Latin word for horseradish, armoracea.

Given this precedent, I find it altogether appropriate if not requisite that any recipe for a remoulade should include horseradish, but yes, anchovies are nice, too.

Oysters Bienville

Nowadays most discussions—more often polemics—about culinary authenticity involve terms such as “the salience of ethnic identity” and “aligning broader socio-political representations”.

These investigations certainly have their place in this global franchise we call a world, but when it comes to a specific restaurant recipe, we’re on less esoteric footing. We know that at some point in time, at this particular place, a recipe was formulated, prepared and served, a recipe that became an archetype for any that followed, and our best means of replicating such dishes is to find recipes written by people who are thoroughly familiar with the original and have the wherewithal to replicate it with authority.

Such is the case with Arnaud’s signature recipe for oysters Bienville in Bayou Cuisine that’s credited to Jackson restaurateur Paul Crechale. This recipe rings with authenticity and authority. Note the use of a beige roux to thicken, cream and egg yolks to enrich, mushrooms, shrimp, and a hard dry cheese for substance.

Prepare the sauce by browning lightly in 3 tablespoons butter 2 minced onions. Stir in 3 tablespoons flour and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is lightly browned. Be sure not to let it burn. Add gradually 1 ½ cups chicken consommé, ½ cup white wine, 1 cup minced raw mushrooms and 1 ½ cups chopped cooked shrimp. Cook slowly, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes.

Open 3 dozen oysters and put them in their deep shells (my italics, jly) on individual baking dishes. Bake the oysters in their own juices in a moderate oven (350) for about 6 minutes. Thicken sauce with 2 egg yolks beaten with 2 tablespoons heavy cream and heat the sauce without boiling. Cover each oyster with some of the sauce and sprinkle lightly with equal parts of dry bread crumbs and grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Return the oysters to the oven for about 10 minutes, until browned.

Dilled Shrimp

Bring shrimp to a short boil in water with a lemon and couple of bay leaves, 12 oz. beer, and a quarter cup of vinegar to a gallon. No need for salt.

Drain, cool, and peel; devein if you’re squeamish or just fastidious. Toss in one part mayonnaise to one part sour cream with fresh dill, horseradish (a hint!), and minced capers. Throw in a little white pepper for a bit of bite.

Serve over leaf greens with onion, toasted rye, pickled eggs, and sliced cucumbers. Beets are nice. Garnish with sour citrus.

New Orleans Barbecued Shrimp

This recipe comes from Howard Mitcham’s knowledgeable, rambunctious, and absolutely delightful Creole Gumbo and All That Jazz  (Addison-Wesley: 1978). Howard lived in New Orleans in what many consider a golden era, (1955-70) when the city was filled with talent not only local, but brought on board by the scintillating lures of freedom and indulgence.

One of the most delicious seafood dishes to come out of New Orleans is barbecued shrimp, and once you’ve eaten it, you’ll never forget it. Barbecued shrimp have been around for a long, long time, and they’ve been served at many restaurants, but they’ve been brought to a peak of perfection by Pascal’s Manale, up- town on Napoleon Avenue. People come from miles around to eat their barbecued shrimp, and on weekend nights the place is so crowded, you have to wait two or three hours to get a table.

It is said that Manale’s secret recipe for this dish is buried in the center of a two-ton concrete block under the office safe. A friend of mine, Mrs. Ivy Whitty, solved the riddle by hiring a cook who used to work at Manale’s. The cook could neither read nor write, but she had all the treasured secrets in her head. Working together, that cook and Mrs. Whitty perfected a barbecued shrimp recipe that may or may not be Manale’s, but it is sublime.

It’s amazing that such a good dish could be so simple, but there’s nothing in it except shrimp, butter, and black pepper. If you try to add anything else-herbs, spices, Worcestershire, whatever-you’ll spoil it for certain. It’s important to use fresh shrimp with their heads and shells on if you can find them. The tomalley inside the shrimp’s head, which is like the tomalley of a lobster, adds a real punch to the sauce in the pan. (However, if you can’t find fresh shrimp, frozen unpeeled shrimp with tails will make a dish that’s almost as delicious and better than almost any shrimp dish you could find in the average seafood restaurant.)

At first glance it seems that the recipe calls for too much black pepper, but you’ll discover later that it’s just right. The heat cooks out of it-well, sort of. Always open a fresh can of black pepper when making this dish so that it will be fully aromatic and pungent. The general rule for butter is one stick per pound of shrimp plus a stick for the pan.

Use a 16-20 count; pat shrimp dry and place in the bottom of a buttered baking dish, skillet or casserole. Drizzle with melted butter—one stick to one pound of shrimp—and top with excessive amounts of freshly ground black pepper. Place on the highest rack in your hottest oven for about 10 minutes (jly).

Shrimp and Beans

You’ll find dishes with beans and seafood across the globe, and while this recipe is usually styled “Creole” a very similar Italian recipe uses diced tomatoes. You can use tomatoes in this as well, simply add them with the shrimp.

Put a pound of dried white beans (Navy, northern, or baby limas) in a heavy saucepan, add three cups of water, cover, bring to a boil, and place in a 300 oven for about two hours, until cooked through A bay leaf or two is a nice touch. Sauté a large white onion, a cup of diced celery, and a diced ripe sweet pepper with a couple of minced cloves of garlic in olive oil. When the vegetables are soft, add a pound of peeled, medium-count shrimp and cook over medium heat until firm.

Combine the shrimp and vegetables with the beans. Add the diced tomatoes, if you like. Season with dried basil and thyme, ground black pepper, chopped fresh parsley, and salt to taste. You can make this as soupy as you like by adding weak stock.

Some people add diced smoked sausage or ham, and the dish is usually served over rice.

Scallops Veracruz

Mexico has almost six thousand miles of coastline—about half of the estimated total for the U.S.—but mollusks don’t seem to play a proportionate role in Mexican cuisine.

Kennedy includes a scallop cebiche in Cuisines of Mexico, but not a one for oysters. This is not to say that oysters and scallops aren’t eaten in the country, simply that you’ll not find them in cookbooks. Recipes for salt-water fish abound, and red snapper Veracruz (huachinango a la Veracruzana), a rich, colorful dish with tomatoes and chilies, is one of the most distinguished. This scallop recipe is a riff on that, lighter and more intense.

Thaw frozen scallops, squeeze and drain. Even fresh scallops are too watery for this dish, so sauté lightly until firm. Then drain, toss with pepper, a bit of salt and a light dusting of plain flour. Brown in the least bit of oil possible, then add by spoonfuls a pungent, piquant, and aromatic tomato salsa. Cook until scallops are well-coated.

Pickled Shrimp Salad

I recommend 21/25 ct. shrimp. Boil, peel, and if you’re the persnickety type, devein.

For five pounds of shrimp, mix well a cup of rice vinegar, a cup of vegetable oil, a small jar of capers (with liquid), two tablespoons of good Italian herb blend, and a tablespoon of coarse black pepper. Add with two small white onions, very thinly sliced, two fresh bay leaves, and a cup of diced sweet peppers.

Toss until shrimp are coated, cover and chill overnight, stirring occasionally. In season, add diced ripe summer tomatoes before spooning over leaf greens and drizzling with marinade.