I’d been hesitant about ordering meals featuring seafood. I mean, I’m from the Georgia coast, so I know something about shrimp. Real shrimp doesn’t get delivered by Fed Ex, you go pick it up down at the dock from a guy who spent all day catching it.
Now, from the arrogance with which I wrote the above, you’d never guess I never ate shrimp until I moved inland, would you? In our Leave-it-to-Beaver-style home (even in the 70s), Mom mostly cooked what Dad would eat, and that did not include seafood. (Have I told you this story before? How we made Mom take her sardines outside on the porch to eat? Or the one about our trip to New Orleans?)
I didn’t discover shrimp until I was in college in Atlanta. It was our dorm mother’s birthday, and a group of us went to the Sun Dial, the revolving restaurant on top of Peachtree Plaza, to celebrate. I was starving. I mean, I was so hungry I was ready to start gnawing on the waiter.
Then the waiter in question sat a bucket of iced shrimp on our table. A big damned silver bucket. Everybody around me dug in, as I sat there and whined about starving to death.
“Shut up, Belinda,” someone laughed with a smear of cocktail sauce on her upper lip, “and eat some damned shrimp.”
That’s when I had to admit I had never eaten shrimp, and, worse humiliation, I had no idea how to eat peel-n-eat shrimp. I may have even questioned whether it was actually cooked or not. I mean, they were cold.
They patiently showed me how to pinch the little tail off, and peel the translucent exoskeleton from the little pink curl of a sea creature. I was still highly doubtful as I dipped the first shrimp ever-so-delicately into the cocktail sauce... and bit into it.
Well, the rest is history. Nearly two tons of shrimp and thirty years later, I now eat shrimp fried, broiled, grilled, boiled, sauteed, barbecued, alfred0ed and scampied. Bubba Gump got nothing on me. I can put away two pounds of peel-n-eat at one sitting without a belch.
But tonight, friends, ushers in a bright new horizon in the land of Belinda’s bottomless stomach! Tonight I cooked the best damned shrimp I’ve ever cooked (which is to say, the only shrimp I’ve ever cooked that didn’t involve a wok). But still, this stuff was FABULOUS, even if I did have to devein it. Let me tell you, nothing is as appetizing as spending fifteen minutes spent pulling shrimp shit out of your dinner. The instructions didn’t even mention deveining. Do some people just cook it with shrimp intestines fully loaded? Shudder.
The shrimp was seared on one side in a hot pan with olive oil, then put aside while the stunningly delicious brown butter sauce was made. Butter was cooked in the same pan until it started to turn a deep brown, then the white part of a scallion was thrown in. Grainy mustard, some lemon zest and juice from the now-naked lemon, and crushed red pepper flakes all joined the party, mingling with the cooking butter. Then the shrimp were joyfully reunited with the pan, and it all simmered together for about three minutes.
If my neighbor next door happened to have her ear pressed up against the wall we share, she might have thought I was having particularly satisfying sex. At the first mouthful, I may have actually moaned, “Oh, my God....” It was that good.
They nearly lost me with the grits, though. They sent me INSTANT grits. I mean, come on! But they turned out really well. The Gouda cheese brought a subtle smoky cheesiness far different from the shredded mild cheddar I usually put in grits. The shrimp and the brown butter sauce was poured over the grits, garnished with the green parts of the scallion and some smoked paprika... and then devoured.
The meal came with fifteen good sized shrimp, meant to feed two people. I ate them all. And I’m not sorry.