This story first appeared in December 2017. We decided the time is right to run it again.
DEEP INTO the holiday season, I’m churning out platters of finger foods. Holiday cocktail parties, end-of-year parties and family parties are all converging and it feels like I’m carrying trays of food to almost every one. I don’t mind. I love making holiday party food, but I always want to make sure that the hors d’oeuvres on my platter are the first to go. I’ll admit to a little culinary competitiveness, but mostly I want to make sure that if I make it, it gets eaten. I have found there’s a pretty simple secret to achieving my goal: shrimp, big, beautiful shrimp—no pre-made, packaged shrimp cocktail platters for me.
I start with raw shell-on shrimp and clean and cook them myself, and the bigger the shrimp the better. Yes, it’s some work, but it’s way worth it in the end results. I vary the preparation, as much to keep myself interested as to entice my friends, colleagues and family. If the weather cooperates I keep the tails on and grill the shrimp. If not, I can turn those same shrimp into a roasted version, a crostino or a canapé. If I’m short on time, I might even make my own shrimp cocktail platter with a homemade double-lemon cocktail sauce. Whatever the preparation, every piece will get eaten.
With all the shrimp, peel and devein the shrimp. From there, it’s up to your imagination, or mine:
Grilled or Roasted Lemon-Herb Shrimp With a Kick: Marinate the peeled and deveined shrimp in olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes for 30 to 60 minutes. Grill or roast until just cooked through. Arrange on a platter, or thread 1 or 2 shrimp onto a small skewer before plating. You can refrigerate these, but bring them to room temperature before serving.
Shrimp and Cucumber Canapés: I stole this one from Martha Stewart’s Hors d’Oeuvres Handbook (Clarkson Potter, 1999). Make a lemon-dill butter by mixing softened butter with lots of lemon zest (yes, there’s a lemon theme going on), chopped dill, salt and pepper. You can make the butter days in advance and refrigerate until ready to use, or you can make it as little as one hour before using. When ready to serve, bring the butter to room temperature. Cook the shrimp however you like but cool them as quickly as you can, either in an ice bath or in the fridge. Cut each shrimp in half down the back—like butterflying, but cut all the way through to produce two flat shrimp halves. Then take an English cucumber and, with a vegetable peeler, cut long wafer-thin slices down the length of the fruit (yup, cucumbers are fruit). Thickly butter a slice of sandwich bread. Take one of the long cucumber slices and sit it into pieces the length of the slice of bread—you should be able to get at least two 3-to-4-inch lengths from each strip of cucumber. Place the two cucumber slices on the sandwich bread, basically creating two “stripes,” one down the right side of the bread, one on the left. Cut off the crusts of the piece of bread. Cut each piece of bread into four cucumber-topped squares. Top each square with one of the shrimp halves. Repeat until you run out of shrimp or energy. Serve within an hour.
Shrimp and White Bean Bruschetta or Crostini: Cook the shrimp any way you’d like. Cut each shrimp into 2 or 3 pieces and place in a bowl. Add an equal amount of cooked navy beans. Dress with olive oil, chopped chives and parsley, sherry wine vinegar, a pinch of sugar, salt and pepper. Refrigerate for a few hours or a day. Prepare crostini bases by toasting thin pieces of French or Italian bread, or bruschetta bases by cutting thick slices of French or Italian bread on the diagonal. Top each slice with the shrimp and bean salad. Garnish with additional chopped herbs and serve immediately.
—Stephanie Witt Sedgwick