Turning Back the Clock: An Amazing Auction
The best shrimp cocktail. And a last minute gift suggestion.
It’s too late to send presents by mail. But it’s not too late to find a liquor store that sells real Shaoxing wine.
Here’s the thing: Although many Chinese recipes suggest using dry sherry, Sake or even Scotch in place of Shaoxing, the flavor is not the same. Throw a splash of Shaoxing wine into your wok and you’ll instantly know the difference. You can buy Chinese rice wine online, but most is cooking wine with added salt (whose only purpose as far as I can tell, is to keep the cook from drinking it).
One of my favorite places to find gifts is a liquor store in one of our country’s many Chinatowns. Most stock a few different brands of Shaoxing. My bottle, pictured above, is Pagoda brand, which many people prefer. Although it comes in a variety of forms, I’m partial to this one because the pretty ceramic crock makes me smile every time I open the refrigerator. Most recipes require only a tablespoon or two, so this is a gift that lasts.
How to Make a Better Shrimp Cocktail
Shrimp cocktail is the hamburger of the seafood world; it is served with catsup and almost universally snubbed by the sort of people who consider themselves “gastronomes.” For the rest of us, however, shrimp cocktail is a true American classic: easy to like and easy to make. It is also very easy to ruin.
A beautifully cooked shrimp has a sassy snap and a clean smooth, nearly fruity flavor. The fact that shrimp have almost no calories is an added bonus (a shrimp with cocktail sauce comes in at 20 calories). Best of all, this is food that you eat with your fingers; dipping it into a sweet, spicy, bright red sauce turns everyone into an instant child.
Cook the shrimp wrong, however, and the joy vanishes. What you end up with is something tough, tasteless and rubbery. Here’s how to do it right.
Buy good shrimp. Almost all shrimp have been frozen, but shrimp freeze beautifully so that is not a problem. But most shrimp are farmed, and farmed badly. What you’re looking for are wild caught American shrimp, and you want them in the shell.
Cook your shrimp in their shells; this not only protects them from overcooking, it also gives them a huge flavor jolt. (Shrimp shells are filled with flavor; they make excellent stock.)
Use enough salt. Almost everyone knows that salting meat is important. Too many of us forget that salting shrimp is equally important; even the best shrimp will seem dull when boiled in unsalted water.
Flavor the cooking broth. You can add lemon, bay leaves, celery, wine..... Each will impart a new level of flavor, especially if you leave the shrimp to steep in the broth as they chill.
Don’t overcook the shrimp. I’ll say it again: don’t overcook the shrimp. They cook with remarkable speed. As soon as they are cooked, remove them to a large plate and put them into the refrigerator to stop the cooking.
Cool the broth, separately, and allow the shrimp to sit in the cooled broth, in the refrigerator, until just before you peel and serve them.
Make your own cocktail sauce. And use freshly grated horseradish.
1 pound (26-30 per pound) large shrimp in the shell
5 cups water
1½ teaspoons salt
1 stalk celery
2 sprigs parsley
White wine (optional)
I don’t generally bother removing the vein that runs down the back, but it can look unsightly in a naked shrimp, so for shrimp cocktail I’ll cut the back of the shell with small scissors and pry out the vein.
Rinse the shrimp well.
Put the water in the pot with all of the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes — or until your kitchen smells delicious.
Bring the flavored water back to a boil and throw in your shrimp. Immediately turn off the heat and allow the shrimp to cook for about 2 minutes. Test them; a cooked shrimp will be opaque all the way through. They’ll cook more evenly if you turn them once or twice in the water.
Remove the shrimp to a large plate and put it in the refrigerator to stop the cooking.
Allow the broth to cool, then put that in the refrigerator too. When it’s chilled, throw the shrimp into the broth where they will soak up all those fine herbal flavors.
Peel the shrimp just before serving.
All-American Cocktail Sauce
3 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish
½ cup ketchup
dash of Tabasco
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Mix all the ingredients together. You might want to add a splash of Worcestershire or soy sauce. Keep tasting until you’re sure it will make a happy marriage with the shrimp.
Click HERE for a printable recipe
All I can say when I look at this list is OMG! This was obviously an auction held by Chez Panisse in 1981. Sadly, I don’t remember who benefitted. I’m wondering if it was held during one of the mad Chez Panisse golf tournaments (food and wine at every hole)?
But the idea that Alice Waters was willing to come to your home and cook dinner for 6 (and bring along two of her partners, Tom Guernsey and Jerry Budrick to serve) is rather amazing. So is dinner for two at Spago, with wine, for $60. A private cooking class with Marion Cunningham. The door prize was a suckling pig. And just look at those wines, one more fabulous than the next.