‘Tis the Season (for parlor games, Shrimp Louis, and watching the world go to hell on TV)
A few weeks ago I sat down to watch No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain’s food and travel show. It was a surreal experience to watch him wend his way through Sweden knowing that he and his camera crew had recently been stranded in Beirut. Indeed, his August 21st show will be devoted to that experience. (He and his crew evacuated safely a few weeks ago.) You can read Bourdain’s account of what went on there on Salon.
Meanwhile, back in Sweden, the show included all the sorts of segments one might expect: checking out a herd of reindeer, spending the night in a yurt-like structure somewhere near the Arctic Circle, and going out on the town to see musicians play at a club with a comely Swedish MTV host. (A great deal of the show is dedicated to Bourdain’s oft-expressed hatred of Abba.) After he and the young host went clubbing they headed out in search of late-night street food.
At a perfectly normal-looking street-corner establishment they ordered something that Swedes apparently eat all the time (although none of my Swedish friends has ever mentioned it …), namely a hot dog, shrimp salad, and mashed potatoes served together in some kind of wrap.
If it hadn’t been so late at night I would have called one of my friends to tell them there was a new entry in the game I call “Casserole.” I invented Casserole when I was a kid, a game in which someone has to come up with two tastes that taste gross together, each person trying to gross out the other to a greater degree. For many years the combination of tuna and marshmallow fluff stood alone as the undisputed winner.
Time passed. I put away childish things, and I no longer knew the joy of playing a good round of Casserole. Eventually, though, my friends started having kids, the kids began to be able to talk, and soon thereafter they were able take pleasure in grossing other people out, so Casserole was dusted off and introduced to another generation primed and ready to squeal with revulsion.
But then a really weird thing happened. When I explained Casserole to my friend Mark he said, “Oh, yeah. We used to play a game like that too, except in our family you had to name a third ingredient that would be disgusting with the other two.”
“How hard can that be?” I asked myself. Then I started trying to think of three-part combinations in which all three ingredients are a poor match with the other two. It’s not as easy as it sounds! (Did I mention that Mark is a mathematician? From a long line of mathematicians? Leave it to them to think up something so innocent-sounding and yet so fiendishly difficult!)
Now, admittedly, the hot dog, shrimp salad, and mashed potato combination doesn’t really win any prizes for grossing anyone out since hot dogs and mashed potatoes are good, and shrimp salad and mashed potatoes could be good, and Swedes apparently think that shrimp salad and hot dogs are good, but it is the free-wheeling, anything-goes spirit of the dish that rates it as a contender in Casserole — perhaps an award for “most enthusiastic.”
In honor of this Swedish monstrosity, this week’s recipes are for the classic Shrimp Louis and my own invention, shrimp in a Caribbean (not that I’ve ever been to the Caribbean … do I sound bitter?) creamy curry-coconut cocktail sauce.
It sometimes feels difficult to keep up on what seafood is OK to eat without depleting fishing stocks or hurting the environment, but there are some handy, up-to-date guides on the internet. Several types of shrimp are on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s list, which can be printed as a wallet guide. There is a different list for each part of the country, but most put U.S.-farmed or wild-caught shrimp on the OK list and imported-farmed or wild-caught on the list of shrimp to avoid. (The aquarium’s website also has an “Otter Cam” and a “Kelp Cam” worth checking out.) A more in-depth look at the issue is available in the Chefs Collaborative’s “Seafood Solutions.”
If you want to serve regular red cocktail sauce straight out of the bottle, that’s fine too — just put a squeeze of fresh lemon juice in it and it will improve it by leaps and bounds. Wild Oats makes an organic cocktail sauce that isn’t quite as horseradishy as most. It has more of a clove/mace/allspice flavor that makes a nice alternative to the heat of horseradish if you’re looking for something a little bit different.
(serves four as an appetizer or insanely luxurious TV snack)
Shrimp Louis is a classic cold dish, composed of shrimp, avocado, hard-boiled eggs, and a “Louis” dressing made of mayonnaise and chili sauce. If you don’t like chili sauce you can use ketchup instead. You can make this in any quantity (within the boundaries of good sense and good taste, of course) and you can vary the proportions to make it stronger or milder. You can also use sour cream in place of part of the mayonnaise, but mayo’s the classic.
1 and 1/2 cups of mayo (or a mayo-sour cream combo)
1/2 cup of chili sauce (Heinz is the usual choice for this sauce) or ketchup
1 teaspoon lemon juice
One pound of cooked, chilled, shelled and deveined shrimp
2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and finely chopped
2 – 3 chopped scallions
A few leaves of lettuce for garnish (iceberg is fine)
- Mix the mayo, chili sauce, and lemon juice together until smooth and thoroughly combined. (It will go through a very ugly curdled-looking stage about halfway through but keep going and it will come out fairly smooth on the other end.)
- Place a few leaves of lettuce on each plate to make a “bed” for the shrimp Louis.
- Cut the avocados into slices and distribute the slices evenly among four plates, placing the slices in the center of each lettuce leaf. (If it’s a hot day you can chill the plates in the fridge beforehand.)
- Divide the cooked, cooled shrimp into four portions and place them on top of the avocado slices.
- Pour the sauce over the shrimp, dividing it among the four portions.
- Toss the chopped egg atop the sauce, then add a sprinkling of chopped scallions to each plate.
Cold Shrimp with Curry-Coconut sauce
(serves four as an appetizer or decadent TV snack)
There are many different kinds of curry powder out there. For this recipe I suggest a “Madras” curry powder, light in color and bright in flavor. Sun brand, which comes in a tin, is a classic choice. Whole Food’s Muchi Curry Powder or Penzeys’ Balti Seasoning would work as well. (You can mail order from Penzeys. They have a wide selection of curry powders and other Indian spices.) A very dark curry powder or garam masala won’t taste very good in this dish.
If you can, make this a couple of hours ahead of serving so it can sit in the fridge and the flavor can develop a bit. Limeade or lime seltzer makes a nice accompaniment.
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
2 tablespoons coconut-flavored rum (optional)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
salt to taste (start with two pinches)
1 lb cooked, chilled deveined shrimp
- Mix the first six ingredients until smooth, then taste the sauce and salt to taste. Remember that if it’s still really cold from the fridge, you could oversalt it by accident, because it’s harder to taste things when they are cold, so let it sit out just long enough to take the chill off before you salt it.
- Divide the sauce evenly between four small, deep bowls.
- Divide the shrimp between the four bowls.