“Maytober” as my daughter called our chilly May has passed, and it seems that summer with its heat and humidity has decided to show up early. That’s the beauty of our state: four real seasons.
Another show of our state is the abundance of fresh summer stuff to eat. The first of the season’s tomatoes are just beginning to show up in our gardens and farmers markets, and it won’t be long before field peas and corn will join them. Along with some zucchini for the grill, I need one more critical local ingredient to indulge my taste buds – shrimp.
With shrimp, tomatoes, field peas, corn and zucchini, I can be a happy eater all summer long. I have one other caveat about summer cooking and that’s simply to keep the heat in the kitchen at a bare minimum. With shrimp’s quick cooking time, they are the perfect protein.
We love shrimp as a nation. They usually rank No. 1, or at least in the top three of our favorite seafood. Unfortunately, most of the shrimp consumed in this country is imported. I don’t fault the folks in Kansas for eating imported shrimp, but here in North Carolina there’s really no reason to. The brown shrimp, which is the main variety harvested off our coast, is a beauty of flavor, much fuller of shrimp taste than other types. They are called brown only because of their shell color, and they will cook up to that wonderful pink that we love. About 5.9 million pounds of shrimp were landed in North Carolina in 2010, according to the NC Division of Marine Fisheries. Another 5,600 pounds of freshwater prawns were raised here that same year. The best part is fresh shrimp freeze perfectly in a zip-top plastic bag covered in water, so buy a bunch later this summer, as the price tends to drop, to fill your needs throughout the year.
Fishermen are among the last of the hunters and gatherers. We need to support them at every turn. We also need to be mindful of our waters where shrimp (and crabs and other seafood) come into being.
So this recipe is a local play on the New England lobster roll. The key is letting the shrimp shine through without too many other flavors. Celery is used many times, but I find the texture to be a bit distracting, so finely diced cucumbers fill in with more moisture and a more gentle texture. Don’t like cucumbers? Then stay with the same amount of diced celery. I think the tarragon adds a rewarding foil to the shrimp. The chives lend brightness. Critical is the toasted buttered roll, which takes this wonderful recipe into the decadent range. This is also not the place to use cheap mayonnaise. If you don’t like tarragon, use parsley. The top split rolls are widely available now in most supermarkets, but a side split will work, they are just a little messier to eat. The shrimp salad will be good for about two days, refrigerated in an airtight container.
Since next weekend is Father’s Day (and my birthday), I see shrimp rolls, some sliced tomatoes and grilled zucchini in my future. However, if somebody wants to grill me a Porterhouse, I’d love that too. I know, shrimp rolls for lunch and the steak for dinner. Sounds perfect. And little heat in the kitchen.
Fred Thompson is a Raleigh cookbook author and publisher of Edible Piedmont magazine. His latest cookbook is “The Kamado Grill Cookbook.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2 pounds (21-30 count) shrimp, cooked
1/2 cup good quality mayonnaise, like Duke’s or Hellmann’s
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced tarragon
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced into 1/4-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons fresh chives thinly sliced
6 top split hot dog buns
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish
Cut each cooked shrimp into thirds.
In a large bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, lemon juice and tarragon. Fold in the shrimp and cucumber, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Just before serving, mix in the chives.
Brush the sides of the rolls and toast in a skillet until golden brown on each side.
Generously fill each hot-dog bun with shrimp salad, garnish with the parsley, and serve.
Yield: 6 servings.