After buying some frozen shrimp from the market, or fresh shrimp directly from the boats and the fish house, or even from catching some with a cast net, shrimp can go into preparing a multitude of different dishes with just as many different flavors.
L’Auberge Casino Resort chef Kevin Thompson’s favorite shrimp dinner is the shrimp po’boy. Like many chefs, Thompson finds the simple meals are sometimes the best.
"We can get as extravagant as you like, but most of the time we usually like something that sticks to the ribs but executed well,” he said.
Thompson says L’Auberge purchases shrimp caught from the local waters and frozen in the processing plants. Though frozen shrimp may not have quite as much flavor as a freshly caught shrimp, Thompson says a shrimp caught during the peak of the season and frozen can still be of very high quality.
Before they go onto the plate, however, shrimp must undergo a bit of preparation. After peeling the shrimp, the vein in the back can be removed by cutting the membrane along the length of the vein, pulling the vein out, and then washing the shrimp thoroughly to remove the rest of the vein’s contents, which can give shrimp a gritty texture.
Whether to leave the head on the shrimp or not is left to the digression of the cook. Thompson says that while some people find the head unappealing on their shrimp, the head does contain a large amount of fat, which adds to the shrimp’s flavor when cooking.
It is, of course, possible to buy shrimp already deveined and removed of their shells and heads. Thompson notes, though, that shells can also be used in the creation of shrimp stock or a base for a soup.
After cleaning, shrimp are ready for cooking, though some shrimp serve better in creating a meal than others, depending on the dish. On the whole, Brown shrimp seem to be preferred in Southwest Louisiana cuisine, says Thompson, as they have a bolder flavor than white shrimp. Larger shrimp, such as the U-10s, can be used for better presentation in fancier dishes, while smaller popcorn shrimp in the 61-70 range may serve better for po’boys, especially since the shrimp will be concealed inside the sandwich beneath bread and lettuce.
A half-pound of shrimp per person is a good estimate of a service size, says Thompson. This can mean about 4 U-10s or a pile of smaller shrimp about the size of the palm as a serving.
Though Cajun shrimp dinners tend towards spicy seasonings, especially if it is expected the diner will be drinking a beverage like a beer, the possibilities for preparing and seasoning shrimp run the gamut.