My dad, a native New Englander, is a huge fan of lobster rolls, those heavily-buttered hot dog buns stuffed with chunks of mayonnaise-rich lobster and maybe a little celery for crunch.
Wildly flavourful and obscenely indulgent, lobster rolls are a summertime fixture at every seafood shack in New England. Problem is, they can be pricey. Also, it's not as if everyone everywhere can count on finding fresh Maine lobster at their local store. So I came up with this recipe, my attempt to concoct a poor man's lobster roll.
I did it by swapping shrimp for the lobster, and I must say it turned out splendidly. You just have to be careful not to overcook the shrimp. So let me share some tips with you.
First, don't be fooled by the raw shrimp at the fish counter. Just because they are raw doesn't mean they are fresh. Almost all of the shrimp we buy in this country have been frozen, often in 5-pound blocks. And as soon as they are defrosted, they start to head downhill. Your best bet for freshness is to buy IQF (individually quick-frozen) shrimp.
If you can't find IQF shrimp, then buy thawed shrimp with the shells on. But be sure to ask the person at the counter how fresh they are. And take a whiff yourself. If they smell fishy, move on. Why buy shrimp with shells? Two reasons: They are cheaper and you can freeze the shells and use them later as fodder for a shellfish stock.
Here's my method for peeling and cleaning the shrimp. Peel all of the shrimp first, then pile them onto a cutting board. Take each shrimp, one at a time, and lay it flat. Cut a slit about 1/16-inch deep down the back of the outside curved side. Having scored all of the shrimp, carry the cutting board over to the sink, then briefly run each shrimp under cold water while pulling out and discarding the little vein (often black) that runs down its back
And here's my method for cooking shrimp so they turn out tender. The key is to avoid boiling them. Boiling any piece of protein for more than a few minutes can make it tough.
Instead, add the shrimp to boiling water (the shrimp instantly cool the water to below a simmer), then cook for just 2 to 4 minutes, or until the shrimp are just cooked through. The water also must be well-salted or the shrimp will taste bland. Finally, it's crucial to transfer the shrimp from the hot water to ice water as soon as they are done to stop the cooking.
The dressing here is simple and effective, but you're welcome to customize it by substituting celery for the cucumber or by adding chilies, Dijon mustard or horseradish.
For a true New England-style seafood roll, the bun must be slit open on the top and have no crust on the sides. If you can't find any that fit that description, buy some standard hotdog buns and slice off the sides. Why must the bun sides be crustless? The better to soak up butter when toasted in the pan.
NEW ENGLAND-STYLE SHRIMP ROLLS
Start to finish: 40 minutes
4 ounces seedless cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch dice (a scant cup)
1 pound peeled and deveined large shrimp
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives, dill or tarragon, plus extra to garnish
Ground black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 New England-style hot dog buns
In a large saucepan over high, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Set a bowl of water and ice nearby.
In a colander, toss the cucumber with a little salt. Let drain over the sink for 10 minutes, then use paper towels to pat dry. Set aside.
When the water comes to a boil, add 1 tablespoon of salt and the shrimp. Cook for 2 to 4 minutes, or until the shrimp are just cooked through. Start timing from the moment you put the shrimp in the pan, even though the water will immediately cease boiling. Keep the heat on high but do not let the water get any hotter than a bare simmer.
As soon as the shrimp have changed colour, remove 1 shrimp from the pan and cut it crosswise. If the meat is translucent at the centre, let the shrimp cook a little longer. If the shrimp is opaque, use a slotted spoon to transfer all of the shrimp to the bowl of ice water. Let the shrimp cool for 10 minutes, then drain, pat dry and cut each crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces.
In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon zest, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of chives, dill or tarragon. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cucumbers and the shrimp, then mix well.
In a medium skillet over medium-high, melt the butter. When the foam has subsided, reduce the heat to medium. Add the hot dog buns, placing them on one of their sides. Immediately turn the buns over to the other side (to make sure the butter gets evenly distributed) and cook until they are golden on the side that is down, about 1 minute. Turn them back over and cook them on the other side until golden, about 1 minute.
Transfer the buns to serving plates and let them cool for a few minutes before stuffing each one with a quarter of the shrimp salad. Sprinkle each portion with additional fresh herbs.
Nutrition information per serving: 480 calories; 290 calories from fat (60 per cent of total calories); 32 g fat (10 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 175 mg cholesterol; 1250 mg sodium; 28 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 20 g protein.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."