Shrimp Marinara for Feast of Seven Fishes

     Just days away from Christmas Eve, I have been thinking about what seven fishes I should make for our traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner.  Being that both of my parents grew up near the Gulf of Naples in Italy (my dad from Monte di Procida on the mainland and my mom on the Island of Ischia) fish was a focal part of many meals.  My mom came from a long line of prominent fishermen.  Her uncles and grandfather were tall strapping men who made fishing their living.  While my dad’s family on the other hand, made their living farming.  Fishing was just a favorite past time, a perk of living just a mile from the sea. Because of my family’s passion for salt water fishing, my siblings and I spent a major part of our summers fishing on the Long Island Sound.  So needless to say, getting fish for our Christmas Eve dinner was always an adventure for choosing the freshest and tastiest fish.  All this passion for fish also resonated into our restaurant menu.  Our restaurant was one of the first restaurants in the Hudson Valley to introduce calamari to their clientele. For this month’s recipe I thought I would give you our Shrimp Marinara recipe. It’s a simple recipe using our authentic marinara sauce that we used in the restaurant, the 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce.  As a recurring theme with all of my recipe,s the attention to all the ingredients is what sets us apart from the rest. To make this Shrimp Marinara truly special and mouth watering, I would like to share my knowledge from my family’s passion for seafood. There is so much to know when choosing your shrimp for this recipe!
There are dozens of different species of shrimp.  Shrimp are available with the heads and tails on or off, with the shell on or cleaned, and deveined or intact.  One can choose from pre-cooked, frozen, fresh, or previously frozen. And then one has to wonder whether to buy shrimp or prawns.
I have included some information to help you decide on some of the following questions:
1.What size shrimp to get?
A shrimp’s size is measured by the number of individual shrimp it takes to make up a pound. A label of 16/20 means that there are between 16 and 20 of these shrimp in a pound.
The smaller the number, the bigger the shrimp. These labels like “medium” or “jumbo” aren’t regulated and vary depending on the fish monger.  Here’s a general guide when picking shrimp for a recipe.Small  – 51 shrimp or more per pound
Medium –  36 to 50 shrimp per pound
Large –  26 to 40 shrimp per pound
Jumbo – 16 to 25 shrimp per pound
Colossal  – Fewer than 15 shrimp per pound
2. What types of shrimp are there to choose from?
By color:  When one thinks of shrimp you think about the color like brown, white, or pink shrimp.
Brown shrimp mostly come from the Gulf of Mexico, though they’re found down the entire Atlantic coast. They like it warm, so they’re found in shallow waters, and tend to be fairly small with a purple-ish coloring on the tail. Firm in texture, their flavor isn’t the strongest, though they’re thought to have a distinctive mineral-y iodine shrimp flavor.
White shrimp tend to be a little more tender and sweet. With a slightly lighter color and a green-hued tail, they’re found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts in shallow, muddy waters. There’s also a good number of white shrimp imported from Latin America—especially Mexico and Ecuador—Thailand, and China, all with varying levels of sustainability ratings (see the seafood watch reports for more details.)
Pink shrimp are some of the tastiest shrimp you can find, mild and sweet without the distinctive ammonia taste some of the brown and white shrimp have. Just don’t expect a vibrantly hued patch of shrimp at the market—pink shrimp can range from white to gray in color. You can recognize them by dark blue coloring on the tail; they usually also sport a spot on either side of the body, about three quarters of the way to the tail.
By name: Tiger shrimp, Spot Prawn, Rock Shrimp
Tiger Shrimp are found mostly in Asia, especially in Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, and China, tiger shrimp have telltale brown striping on their bodies.  They can get enormous in size, up to a foot long, and are the most commonly farmed shrimp in the world. Formed or fresh, they can have a distinctly shrimp flavor, you’ll frequently find them frozen in five-pound blocks in Asian markets. These shrimp have a soft texture.
Spot Prawn-  Prawn is a word generally used, among English-speakers, in the UK, Europe, and Australia, while the word “shrimp” is more common in North America. Some people may have the mistaken impression that a prawn is necessarily a bigger creature than a shrimp (possibly due to the other meaning of the word shrimp). In reality, there’s no difference between the two words. Yet for whatever reason, even in the US, the spot prawn is always referred to as a prawn and not a shrimp. It’s found along the Pacific coast from Alaska down to Mexico, and is a delicacy in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. A fairly large shrimp, at up to a foot long, spot prawns are prized for their sweetness and tenderness.
Rock shrimp are deepwater inhabitants, growing tough and hardy in the cold waters off the Atlantic coast from Virginia down to the Gulf. A few species also live off the Pacific coast. They don’t look at all like their warm water cousins, boasting a very hard (dare I say rock-like) shell and segmented flesh that looks more like a lobster tail than anything else. It tastes, not surprisingly, kind of like lobster, more firm than other varieties of shrimp, but also sweeter. It’s excellent in preparations that typically call for lobster, and a whole lot cheaper to boot. It’s pretty much impossible to remove that tough shell without a dedicated machine, so it’s usually sold pre-peeled.
3. How do you know if they are fresh?
Shrimp are highly perishable, so it’s important to know how to pick out the freshest shrimp available, not just for taste and texture but also for safety. First off, you don’t want any shrimp that smell like ammonia—this is a telltale sign of spoilage, and it’s worth asking your fishmonger if you can take a sniff before buying. You’ll also want to avoid shrimp that are limp, slimy, or falling apart, all of which are signs of decay.
A more advanced sign if you’re buying head-on fresh shrimp: look for black spots on the head first, then the body.
In most cases, you’re better off buying frozen shrimp, even when “fresh” shrimp are available.
4. Do you get fresh or frozen?
Most shrimp sold in the supermarket or at the fishmonger were deep frozen at sea and delivered to the retailer in that state. That display of “fresh” shrimp you see are just the same   bags of frozen shrimp you find in the freezer that have simply been allowed to thaw out in the store before going on display. There’s no way to know how long they’ve been there defrosted, so you’re better off buying the frozen shrimp and defrosting them yourself at home where you have more control over the process and can guarantee that your shrimp don’t spend too long out of the freezer before being cooked. You can also ask the fishmonger for a box of shrimp.
The one exception to the always-buy-frozen rule is when you have access to live shrimp, either fresh from the ocean, or stored in tanks at the shop. In those cases, cook the shrimp as soon as possible after purchasing for best flavor and texture.
5. Block or IQF?
Shrimp tend to be frozen either in large five-pound blocks or by using the IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) method. We recommend opting for the second. IQF shrimp tend to show less damage during freezing. They also make it easy to thaw only the shrimp you need for a single meal at a time.
If you’re buying from a grocery store freezer, take a peek in the little transparent plastic to make sure there is no freezer burn.  Freezer burn indicates that the shrimp have either partially thawed before being refrozen, or have been poorly handled during their freeze, both of which are bad for texture and flavor.
6. How do you thaw frozen shrimp?
Frozen shrimp should always be thawed before cooking. To thaw frozen shrimp take them out of their bag and place them in a bowl under cold (not warm) running water. They’ll be good to go in just a few minutes. Dry your shrimp on paper towels before proceeding with your recipe.
7. Do you get them with shells?
I recommend shell-on shrimp.  Shelled shrimp are often mangled and unappetizing. Shell-on shrimp also tend to be much cheaper. Finally, those shells pack a sweet, flavorful punch, whether you grill the shrimp directly in the shell, or use the shells to add flavor to the final dish like in this Spanish-style shrimp.
EZ-peel shrimp are already split and deveined—you’ll be able to hold onto those flavorful shells and they’ll make your job that much easier.  And they are much more expensive.  If you’re making something where the shrimp’s appearance doesn’t matter—dumplings, for instance—go for it. But if you want a good looking array for something like shrimp cocktail, you’ll probably want to peel ’em yourself. In either case, be sure to hold onto your shells: they can be simmered with aromatics to make a flavorful seafood stock, sauce, or oil.
 8. Does one devein or not?
The “vein” of a shrimp is actually its digestive tract, typically a thin, dark line aka shrimp poop. It’s not bad if you eat it, but it could be sandy and bitter and it’s easy enough to get rid of it. There are a few methods to devein a shrimp. The first and easiest is to just ask your fishmonger to do it. No tools are required for this method.
But it’s pretty easy to do it yourself, as well. You can, with a paring knife, make a shallow incision right through the shell on the shrimp’s back, from its head to its tail, and then pick out the vein.
9. What about choosing Pre-Cooked Shrimp?
“Pre-cooked” shrimp are usually “overcooked” shrimp. They’re  rubbery and bland, and since they’re already cooked, offer no room for flavor improvement and will end up dry when added to dishes. I say don’t bother!
10. Do we check for additives?
Shrimp are occasionally treated with chemical additives designed to increase their thawed shelf life or to get them to suck up and retain excess moisture so that they can be sold as larger shrimp. Check your label and make sure that it lists only “Shrimp” before purchasing.


Shrimp Marinara

serves 4
_DSC0147

Ingredients:

1 jar of 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce
1 ½  lb of 12/16 Shrimp ( On the chart it would be either a jumbo shrimp or colossal) 5 shrimp per person
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic peeled and sliced
¼ cup of sherry wine
¼ tsp of salt (optional)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley

Procedure:

1. Peel and devein the shrimp washing them in cold water. You can leave the tails on for extra flavor when sautéing.  Remember how I said that the shrimp peels are very flavorful.

_DSC0141
2. Add extra virgin olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, thinly sliced garlic and shrimp to a skillet.

_DSC0143
3. Over medium heat cooks until the shrimp turn opaque to white.  Probably takes about 5 minutes.  Immediately turn off heat and deglaze with sherry wine and put in parsley.

_DSC0150
4. Add jar of 24-ounce 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce. Heat over medium heat until sauce starts to bubble. It cooks quick.  Don’t overcook or the shrimp will become rubbery.

_DSC0152

5.  Ready to serve.  You may serve it over pasta of your choice.

Buon Natale e Buon Appetito!

Christmas Eve’s Clams Oreganate And My Favorite Christmas Present

2016-09-02-19-19-59The Typewriter

This  Christmas season I got all nostalgic and  I remembered one of my favorite Christmas present from the past. Don’t be surprised if this favorite gift of mine involves the restaurant.  My thoughts brought me back to 1971 when I woke up on Christmas morning to find my very own typewriter underneath the Christmas tree and I bet you all thought I was going to say pots and pans.  I was ecstatic!  I went right to work practicing typing and learning where all the keys were located.   I still remember the feeling of pressing down each key and the joy I felt as I witnessed the perfect black letter imprinted on the paper.  I especially loved the rhythm of the typing as I got better and better at it.  I would make up songs in my head as I typed.  It really was the best gift ever.

In 1971 I was twelve years old, taking biology taught by Sister Diane at Regina Coeli School.   Returning to school after a wonderful ten-day vacation, a biology test awaited us that first week in January.   During that Christmas vacation I remembered having fun practicing on my new typewriter typing out my biology notes. Of course, I had to make the notes look good so I practiced my typing over and over again. I had always been just an average student and did not take my studies very seriously.   At that time, I had never regarded myself as studious or even having the potential to achieve high grades.  The following day after the test, Sr. Diane announced that there was one student that had gotten the highest grade in both 8th grade classes.  I sat in my desk looking on with a bored expression thinking one of the smart kids got the highest grade.  Sr. Diane looked at the class with an amused expression as she announced my name. I was in shock.  I never thought in a million years that it could have been me. Inadvertently, when I typed out the notes, the information must have gotten lodged into my brain. The pride I felt and the shocked look in the smart kids faces did something to me. I realized that I did have potential! It just required a little work on my part.  And that was the just the beginning of how that typewriter changed my life.

I became addicted to the feel and the rhythm of the typewriter keys on my fingertips. I tried to think of what I could do to keep typing.  And then it came to me.  A most wonderful idea! I typed out a daily special from the restaurant menu.  The waitresses would usually hand write these specials during the slow hours between lunch and dinner.  Coming from Catholic School where penmanship was everything I regarded their penmanship as atrocious!! I wanted to make my father proud of me so I presented him with a perfectly typed daily special and told him I could make the menus look more professional. My dad loved the idea!  But unfortunately, I didn’t think it through all the way.  At twelve I wasn’t fully aware of how many menus we had at the restaurant and I didn’t quite understand the whole concept of daily specials. In the beginning, I happily typed away and then I begrudgingly realized that I was typing the never ending daily specials for 100 menus, 6 days a week.

What started out as a great fun idea had become hard work!  That little typewriter’s keys became harder and harder to press down as I forged ahead with the daily specials.  My fingers became so sore.  I no longer wanted to type those annoying daily specials.  But there was no convincing my dad to go back to handwritten specials!  By the following year, I talked my parents into buying me a much-needed electric typewriter.  Aaah….it was so much easier of my fingers!  But it was still tedious work typing out all those daily specials.  By the time, I was a junior in high school I found an even better alternative to the electric typewriter. I graduated to a memory typewriter!  With the memory typewriter, I only had to type one special. The rest of the specials could be automatically typed by the press of a button. All I had to do was place an index card in the typewriter one at a time.  It was great!!  But that wonderful feeling quickly wore off as I sat there for hours feeding the index cards one at a time complaining and whining about it!  At this point in time, I was in college working on my grades and other interests.  These daily specials were the bane of my existence. By the 80’s the personal computer became affordable and finally I happily became a whiz at typing out the daily specials!

Not only did that toy typewriter that I found underneath the Christmas tree so many years ago, make me believe in myself but it also taught me to always look for a quicker and better way to get the job done.  But the most important lesson of all was that it taught me is to make sure to do research before I volunteer my services!  Merry Christmas Everyone!


                 Clams Oreganate

I am going to give you the long version of making clams oreganate by making your own breadcrumbs.  They are the best.  For some reason making them from scratch are so delicious!!  Growing up in our Italian American family Christmas Eve table was never without out clams oreganate.  Of course they were readily available in our restaurant!

Ingredients:

Garlic Bread

2 loaves of thin crusted french bread (the thicker crust is harder to make crumbs)

1/2 cup of Extra Virgin Olive OIl

4 cloves of garlic minced

3/4 tsp of oregano

4-5 turns of black pepper

Oreganate Crumbs

2 cups of breadcrumbs either from the garlic bread crumb recipe or store bought Italian flavored bread crumbs

3/4 chopped parsley

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Raw clams on the half shell*

*2 dozen clams serves four people but the oreganate stuffing is enough to stuff 4 dozen clams

Procedure:

             For the Garlic bread

  1. Slice french bread
  2. Mix well 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil with minced garlic and dried oregano
  3. Brush olive oil mixture on all the slices of bread placing on 2 cookie sheets2016-09-02-18-27-11
  4. Toast in oven prewarmed at 325degrees for 30 minutes until golden brown and crisp to touch. If you want to make garlic bread for eating just toast under 2nd shelf under broiler until golden brown.2016-09-02-18-47-25
  5. You may eat some of the garlic bread but save some to make into breadcrumbs

         For the Oreganate Bread Crumbs

  6. To make breadcrumbs use a food processor or a blender..  For best results make sure that the bread is crisp.2016-09-02-18-53-59
  7. To make sure there are no big chunks.  Shake breadcrumbs thru a sieve and pulverize the big chunks again.
  8.  Once all pulverized.  Add 1/2 cup virgin olive oil,  2 tablespoons of oregano and mix well and 3/4 cup of chopped parsley2016-09-02-19-03-35
  9. Add chopped parsley and mix well.2016-09-02-19-05-11
  10. Open the little neck clams making sure to not drain the clam water.  Juicy clams are the best!2016-09-02-18-24-55
  11. Spoon bread crumb mixture onto clams. careful not to pack it down.  It should be fluffy!2016-09-02-19-06-45
  12.  Drizzle with  a little extra virgin olive oil and bake in 350 degree oven for 15 minutes and its ready to eat!2016-09-02-19-18-24

  Buon Appetito e Buon Natale!!