The week preceding the Fourth of July, deep sonic booms reverberate through our neighborhood, echoing the efforts of overzealous fireworks practitioners. Like a seismic alarm clock, these harbingers of pyrotechnical display are my cue to clean out the grill, pull out my red-and-white checkered tablecloth, and purchase several pounds of the largest shell-on shrimp I can find.
Fireworks and the Fourth of July are as traditional to the “Red, White and Blue” as “Mom’s Apple Pie.” According to the website ehow.com, however, the tradition of igniting fireworks for special events began in China around 2,000 years ago. They are still used throughout China and thought to ward off evil spirits and celebrate births, deaths and other holidays.
I’ve adapted a tradition of grilling jumbo shrimp in the shell on the Fourth of July. Grilled shrimp only take minutes to make, which saves me time for other festive pursuits. A ketchup and horseradish cocktail-type of sauce is always delicious with shrimp. But, with a nod to the country that founded the fireworks tradition, I enjoy injecting an Asian flair to my dipping sauce recipe.
Have you ever grilled shrimp with the shell on? The shell adds a great deal of flavor to the crustacean. The shell also protects the flesh, yielding a plumper, juicier and more succulent bite. Serving shell-on shrimp also requires my guests shell them, saving me time in the kitchen. Just remember to have plenty of napkins or damp cloths on hand.
When selecting shrimp to purchase, labels on packaged shrimp or signage at seafood counters may be misleading. I’m often asked if shrimp are the same thing as prawns.
According to Wikipedia.org, in biological terms, shrimp and prawns are of a different suborder, but in commercial farming the terms “shrimp” and “prawn” are often used interchangeably. The term “prawn” generally refers to any large shrimp, the size yielding less than 15 shrimp per pound. Jumbo shrimp may be referred to as extra-large or colossal shrimp, or prawns.
When grilling shrimp, I strongly recommend purchasing the biggest crustacean your purse will allow; small shrimp fall easily through the grates and dry out quickly. And how does one interpret the words “count” or “size” on a shrimp package? “Counts” and “Shrimp Size” labeling can be confusing so when grilling shrimp, I purchase shrimp that yields 8-12 shrimp per pound, generally labeled: “Jumbo Shrimp (prawns); 8/12 Count.”
Jumbo shrimp are expensive but, thankfully, they are often on sale at area groceries. I stock up when a particularly enticing price hits the street. Arbor Farms Market has a sale on jumbo prawns (from India) at $11.99 per pound, from July 2-4.
To devein or not to devein — that is the question. Deveining shrimp, whether you leave the shell on or remove it, is not the most pleasurable of culinary pursuits. There are shell-on, deveined shrimp available, and Busch’s Corporate Chef, Rebecca Wauldron, tells me, “I don’t think there is a significant difference between shrimp that has been deveined (easy-peel) before being frozen and shrimp that has been frozen intact. I think the overall quality of the shrimp is the most important factor for good flavor.”
While I had Chef Rebecca on the hook, I asked her if she felt it was essential to devein the shrimp at all. “Although removing the ‘mud vein’ or digestive tract is not necessary, it does eliminate any grit or sand from the cooked product,” she informed.
“Larger shrimp have larger mud veins that can have more grit, so it’s more important to devein larger shrimp. Fortunately, larger shrimp are easier to devein,” she continued. “I usually use a sharp paring knife to make a shallow cut along the back of the shrimp. Then I use the tip of the knife to pull out the digestive tract.”
When grilling shell-on shrimp, I generally purchase bags of frozen, 8/12 count shrimp. According to the website, “Howtodothings.com,” unless you live near a coastal area, almost all shrimp in the United States has been previously frozen. There are certainly exceptions, especially at the best fish counters in town, but often people think they are buying fresh shrimp from their grocery store when they are actually buying frozen shrimp the seafood department has thawed for the case.
For the best texture, thaw the shrimp in your refrigerator and grill when it has completely thawed. Keep in mind the texture of the thawed flesh breaks down the longer shrimp sits before cooking. The jumbo shrimp I used in this recipe took 24 hours to thaw to perfection.
Quite vital to the success of grilling shrimp is the heat of your fire. Whether you grill over gas or charcoal, make sure your fire is hot. If using charcoal, the coals should be coated in white ash with a red hot glow; when using a gas grill, preheat the grill to high.
If the weather cooperates, the Fourth of July could be an evening spent hearing “oohs” and “aahs” and admiring the fireworks while you savor grilled shrimp!