May is usually a month of gorgeous weather and an abundance of celebrations (weddings, graduations, birthdays). This year I am flying from CT to California for a grandson’s high school graduation and I am hoping that this shrimp salad will be part of my daughter-in-law’s graduation lunch menu because I love it so much. I shamelessly hinted that she serve it and Molly, being the sweetest daughter-in-law on earth as well as the prettiest, right away loved the idea. No pressure, right?
It is far less expensive to make today what with stores like Trader Joe that sell very inexpensive frozen shrimp, but I still love fresh shrimp from an old fashioned fish store, so when I am feeling particularly flush, I buy fresh shrimp still in the shell to make this salad. However, in the pictures, I am making it with frozen cooked shrimp because that is what I had in the freezer, folks, and I needed to post a recipe today. Still, I think that this recipe transforms even frozen shrimp into a delectable salad, if the ingredients used are fresh and top quality.The celery hearts should be fresh and crisp (wash, rinse and dry with paper towels before chopping), the olive oil should be an excellent brand, the onion should be sweet, not biting. Try red onion because it is sweeter than white, if you can’t find Vidalia. I am telling you this because I have made it with old celery, a biting onion, and weak olive oil and the result was horrible.
Also, the shrimp should be cooked until firm. So many shrimp recipes warn against overcooking, but I would far prefer overly firm shrimp to slimy, limp, undercooked shrimp that never combine well with the dressing. Believe me folks, that is what happens. Cook them firm and the little buggers give in like a cheap date over a bottle of wine – melding with your dressing in the most compliant way.
As far as the dressing goes, I have used dressings I tried to imitate from seafood salads I enjoyed while lunching at my cousin’s home in Rome. Since I do not speak Italian and their English is limited, I couldn’t understand her explanation of what was in the salad,evn though I kept nodding my head and smiling during her recipe recitation. She did the same thing while I went on and on praising her seafood salad. It was not a meeting of the minds. Fortunately, after I got home I found a wonderful Northern Italian cookbook of my mother’s that explained what goes into an Italian seafood salad. It can contain either extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and capers, or their own version of mayonaise. Apparantly, Italians are very strict about their mayonaise ingredients – no dry mustard, paprika, hot sauce – just egg yolk, olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper. I make my grandmother’s version using my blender. However, this salad also tastes delicious using a good mayonaise such as Hellman’s. Sometimes, to lessen the calories but improve the flavor, I mix Hellman’s light mayo with their regular mayo. Then I can pretend that this salad is “diet” even though, sadly, it isn’t.
1 lb fresh or frozen shrimp
1 jar capers in vinegar
1 bunch celery hearts, chopped fine including leaves
1 small to medium sweet onion, vidalia or red, chopped fine
1/2 cup or more mayonaise (homemade or commercial
2 to 3 tbsp mild olive oil (I use Filippo Berio)
Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Squeeze of fresh lemon (optional)
Remove the shells from the fresh shrimp and devein if not already deveined. If using frozen shrimp, cooked or uncooked, defrost according to package directions and remove shells and devein, if necessary, depending on the type of frozen shrimp you are using.
To cook raw shrimp in water, add 1 pound shrimp (with or without shells) and 1 teaspoon salt to 3 quarts boiling water. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1 to 5 minutes or until the shrimp turns pink and the shrimp feel firm. The shrimp will turn from translucent to pink and opaque when cooked. Drain and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients. To cook frozen shrimp, follow the package directions, but make sure the shrimp are firm and not still slimy and rubbery. You can see I am a bit crazed over undercooked shrimp.
Remove the large stem core at the end of your hearts of celery. Wash the individual stalks, saving the larger stalks for soup and saving the tender inner stalks and light green leaves for the shrimp salad. Rinse and dry the tender stalks and then finely dice them. Use a cup of diced celery for the salad or more if you just love lots of crunchy celery in your salad or you are trying to stretch it because Uncle Joe and Aunt Blanche showed up again unexpectedly. Place diced celery in a large ceramic bowl.
Slice your onion in half length-wise, make cuts across the top that do not go all the way to the bottom. Hold the onion half firmly and dice across the cuts making your dice as fine as possible. You want very finely diced vegetables. Place the onion in the bowl with the celery.
Dry the drained shrimp with paper towels until free from water. Then chop up the shrimp, each shrimp cut into three pieces, if you are using medium shrimp, four pieces if using large shrimp. If using jumbo shrimp, heck, I don’t know because I can never afford jumbo shrimp.Anyway place the cut shrimp in the bowl with the celery and onions.
Sprinkle the ingredients in the bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper and toss together until all is coated. Taste to see if you have salted enough. Add 1/2 jar of the capers along with 1/2 of the vinegar in the jar and toss again. Then add the mayonaise in 1/4 cup increments, tossing and testing to see if the salad needs more or not.
When all is tossed and you are happy with the way the dressing has adhered – not too much and not too little – you may squeeze some lemon juice over it all, if you want to add another bit of piquancy and freshness to the salad. You can also squeeze lemon juice over the shrimp while it is sitting in the colander draining.
Serve this shrimp salad in a pretty bowl with potato salad, fluffy biscuits, sliced Virginia country ham (living for years in Charlottesville, VA, I learned to serve ham biscuits for every meal but breakfast, and sometimes, even then), and whatever else you like to serve with a celebration luncheon. This recipe serves 6 – 8.