I bought two pounds of frozen shrimp for last night’s dinner. It was supposed to be cleaned and deveined, ready to defrost and cook. About half the time, I actually get properly cleaned and deveined shrimp. The other half, the machine wasn’t working or maybe they put the shrimp in upside down or something because the shrimp isn’t clean or deveined. This was one of those times.
I spent more than three hours pulling out veins and removing pieces of shell that should have been gone. By the time dinner was ready, which I admit was one of my better efforts, I’d been on my feet for half a day, mostly cleaning shrimp. It would have been easier and probably faster to clean fresh shrimp than mutilate previously frozen ones.
I didn’t take pictures of dinner, though I should have. But by then, all I wanted to do was eat.
This was one of the more elegant meals I’ve prepared in recent months — a great rice pilaf with orzo and shrimp in cream sauce. Since it took me so much effort to produce it, you might as have the recipes.
MARILYN’S RICE PILAF
There are hundreds of versions of this dish. You can make it with or without orzo but the rice is mandatory as is the turmeric and broth. You can use vegetarian broth if you prefer. This is a “side dish” so good, you can add things to it and make it a main dish. It’s beautiful to look at, too.
Prepare by whatever means you use (I employ a rice machine) a standard serving of rice for four people. Obviously if you are serving more people, make more rice and orzo. For me, that means two Japanese cups of medium-grain rice, two cups (American/British) broth. Add half a tablespoon of turmeric and push the “on” button. In a separate pot, cook 1 cup orzo until tender — about 13 to 15 minutes.
Fluff the rice when it’s done and drain the orzo. Chop up half an onion, a stalk of celery, plus 1/2 chopped sweet pepper. I used a yellow one. Any color is fine.
2 teaspoons chopped or fresh garlic or a couple of teaspoons of garlic powder
Half a tablespoon salt or more, depending on your taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
Dash of regular pepper
Zaatar if you have it or any other spice you like. This is a very international dish, so whatever you have in the way of spice will work.
In a 12-inch or bigger pan, add about 2/3 cup of olive oil. Heat the oil, add the chopped veggies. When the vegetables are soft, add the chopped garlic or powder. Add the rice and drained orzo. Add the other spices. Taste it then add more of whatever you think it needs.
Stir until it is hot and it tastes right — to you. It really is delicious and not complicated, although it helps to have an extra hand helping since there are so many parts you need to add.
You can also use a single pot to cook the rice and orzo together, but for me it’s a rice cooker all the way. I don’t know how I lived without one.
CREAMY SHRIMP SCAMPI
This is a recipe that includes elements of three other recipes. It is really good. It may be the best version of scampi I’ve ever made or eaten.
2 pounds raw shrimp, cleaned and if necessary, defrosted
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 sweet pepper, finely chopped
2 teaspoons chopped garlic (or powder)
1 container of sour cream (6 to 8 ounces)
1 cup dry wine. I used zinfandel, because that’s what I had and it was great, but any dry pink or white wine will do the job
1/4 pound butter. You can substitute a mix of butter and olive oil, but butter tastes better
2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with enough water to make a wet paste (to thicken the sauce).
In a big pan, melt the better. Add the chopped vegetables. When they are softened, add the garlic. Let that cook for a couple of minutes, then add the sour cream and wine. When the mixture is hot and lightly boiling, add the shrimp. Watch the shrimp carefully because it cooks fast. The difference between perfect and overcooked shrimp is about 30 seconds.
As soon as the shrimp has turned pink and white (NOT gray), add the cornstarch and stir until thickened. Turn off the heat. Add some salt and pepper, stir and taste.
The cream sauce is amazing and the combination of the rice pilaf and creamed shrimp scampi is delicious.
Try to get really clean shrimp! Hours of pulling out veins from previously frozen shrimp is a huge amount of unnecessary extra work, though it might be worth it.
About precooked shrimp: It’s not half as good as raw shrimp. When you cook it, it gets hard and shrinks into tiny pellets. This is a dish in which there’s a huge difference between two supposedly similar products.