Friday, March 8, 2013
by Sheila Connolly
Oh, and if I haven't mentioned it before, my short story, "Kept in the Dark," (in Blood Moon, from Level Best Books), has been nominated for an Agatha Award. It's about a mushroom farmer.
When I was young, my mother had a couple of favorite quick and easy dishes. Baked beans, hot dogs and canned brown bread was one of them (I I never liked it much), and Shrimp Wiggle was another (I did like that).
She didn't make up the name. In fact, the dish has a long history. One of its first documented appearances was in an 1898 edition of the Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, and it popped up regularly in cookbooks after that. The main ingredient was (as you might guess) shrimp, usually in a cream sauce. Most recipes, beginning with Fannie's, add peas (canned), and the glop was often served over toast. (Some versions suggest adding tomato soup or chopped tomatoes.)
The Fannie Farmer recipe from the 1947 edition is this: one cup shrimp, 2 cups white sauce, 1 cup cooked peas; combine, season, reheat. My mother's version was slightly updated, but still about as simple as it could be. You needed one bag of thawed frozen shrimp (back in those days they were cheap; now they're running about $1 an ounce—ouch!), one can of Campbell's Cream of Shrimp Soup, some milk to dilute the soup; put all of these in a double boiler and heat until the whole thing is warmed through; pour over rice and serve. Doesn't get much easier, does it?
Oh, I forgot one important element. My mother was a good plain cook but not very adventurous. Her idea of dressing up a dish was to add a dash of vermouth (she liked martinis, so we always had vermouth on hand). You could add sherry if you're out of vermouth.
This dish can be recreated today, and I still have the double boiler. This is how it turned out. (I used the cheapest frozen shrimp I could find.)
Ah, those were simpler times, but things have changed. In these days of fresh local food, the canned soup would be a no-no (not that I'm slamming Campbell's—the label says it includes food starch, MSG, soy protein concentrate and yeast extract, but not a lot of nasty chemicals). I'll admit that the shrimp, both fresh(ish) and frozen, have been flown in all the way from Thailand or Vietnam, but I will also note that the fresh ones cost half as much as the frozen ones. I guess airfare is expensive even for shrimp.
So I deconstructed my mother's version and made a roux-based cream sauce, using fish stock (all right, store-bought) and cream, and sautéed a few shallots gently, and lovingly peeled the softly glistening shrimp and gently folded them all together, and called it:
Crevettes Tortillants a la Crème
(in case you haven't guessed, the "tortillant" is the wiggle part)
1 pound fresh medium-sized shrimp, peeled and deveined (heads removed)
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 Tblsp butter
3 Tblsp flour
3 Tblsp butter
1 cup fish stock
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp tomato paste
Peel and clean your shrimp and set aside
In a sauté pan, melt the butter and gentle cook the chopped shallot until translucent. Add the shrimp and sauté briefly until they turn pink (do not overcook). Remove from heat.
In a separate saucepan, melt the additional 3 Tblsp butter. Add the flour and whisk together, then cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Pour in the liquids, whisking steadily to prevent lumps. Blend in tomato paste (this is for color rather than flavor). Cook over low heat for another five minutes. Taste for seasoning.
Pour the cream sauce over the cooked shrimp and simmer briefly to combine the flavors. Serve over steamed white rice.
Of course you may dress this up with herbs if you wish, and canned peas if you must.
I served both versions to my test audience (i.e., my husband). We agreed that the modern version tastes better, but the earlier one is quite acceptable, and you can't beat it for speed.