I’m still learning kitchen tips from my 87-year-old mother. Rather than rely on pricey delivered meal kits, she stocks a modest supply of essentials suitable for fast weeknight dinners and impromptu guests. Frozen shrimp, purchased on sale, is a standard. Same for a few key frozen vegetables, fast-cooking pasta, canned tomatoes and refrigerated chopped herbs. The spice drawer contains a modest variety of herbs and spices; olive oil, onions and garlic are always on hand.
So when we did her weekly shopping, I tucked a couple of bags of frozen raw shrimp into my own cart. When I’m organized, the shrimp thaw in the fridge while I’m at work. Otherwise, the sealed bag sits in the sink to thaw while I prep the rest of the meal.
When purchasing shrimp, I prefer to buy them frozen rather than “thawed for my convenience.” That way, I can handle them properly until they go into the pan. Read signs and labels, and shop at stores that care about sustainability of the oceans and preserving fish populations. If the shrimp is really inexpensive, be wary. I avoid most imported shrimp — especially if I can’t tell if it was raised with sustainable methods. Instead, I look for shrimp farmed in the U.S. and sold at stores that care about such things, such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.
Once thawed, a hot pan and a splash of oil transform large shrimp into a crispy, spicy treat to eat out of hand or pile on toasted bread. Or, simmer shelled shrimp in a zesty tomato sauce, and serve over couscous.
All the ingredients for the Moroccan spiced shrimp tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, bottled roasted peppers, chicken broth, can be procured in advance. Saffron, while expensive, elevates the tomato sauce into something truly special, and a little goes a long way. Use fresh spinach or baby kale when it’s on hand. Otherwise, frozen cut spinach, thawed and pressed to extract some of the water, works well here.
I like to keep a supply of cut and lightly dried herbs, sold in little plastic pots in the produce aisle, in the fridge. They taste fresher and brighter than dried herbs. Alternatively, when the garden is producing herbs, fresh chives and parsley can be sliced into small pieces and patted very dry before packing into small containers. They’ll keep several days in the fridge or weeks in the freezer; use frozen.
Other ingredients to stock for meal-planning ease include frozen vegetables. But I’m selective. I prefer to purchase frozen long-cooking or difficult-to-prep varieties, such as winter squash, pearl onions, and shelled peas and edamame, but not the quick-cooking, low-prep veggies, such as asparagus or broccoli florets. Those I always cook from fresh.
Always be prepared. A motto my mom follows, with many a dinner guest the lucky recipient.
Pan-Roasted Shrimp with Mint-Chile Butter
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
For best results, allow frozen shrimp to thaw completely in the refrigerator and pat them very dry before tossing in the cornstarch. Serve the shrimp with plenty of bread to soak up the butter. Or pile them over cooked rice, or pile onto grilled bread, top with shredded cheese and broil to melt the cheese a bit for an open-face treat. There will be leftover butter; spread it on bread, or stir it into mashed sweet potatoes.
2 green onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 medium jalapeno pepper, stemmed, halved lengthwise, seeded, finely chopped, 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds jumbo shrimp (16 to 20 count per pound), peeled leaving the last part of tail intact, deveined
3 tablespoons expeller-pressed canola oil, safflower oil or sunflower oil
Thick slices toasted sourdough or country-style bread
1. For the butter, mix onions, mint, garlic, jalapeno and salt in a small bowl. Add butter and mix well. Use at room temperature.
2. For the shrimp, mix cornstarch, salt, sugar and black pepper in a large bowl.
3. Pat shrimp very dry with toweling. Add to cornstarch mixture, and toss to coat.
4. Turn on the exhaust fan. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, preferably cast-iron, over medium-high heat until hot (when a drop of water sizzles on contact). Add half of the oil and half of the shrimp. Cook, continuously moving shrimp around in the pan with metal tongs, until they turn pink, about 2 minutes. Immediately remove to a serving platter and dot the top with some of the mint-chile butter.
5. Repeat to cook remaining shrimp. Serve hot, sprinkled with more green onions. Pass napkins. Serve with toast to mop up the soft butter. (Refrigerate leftover butter up to a week or freeze for several weeks.)
Nutrition information per serving: 388 calories, 15 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 459 mg cholesterol, 6 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 57 g protein, 649 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
Moroccan Spiced Shrimp Over Couscous
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 roasted red bell pepper (from a jar), rinsed, diced
1 cup chicken broth
Pinch saffron threads or ground saffron or 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric, optional
1/4 teaspoon each: ground cumin, crushed red pepper flakes
Salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups baby spinach or baby kale or half of an 8-ounce bag frozen cut organic spinach, thawed, drained, about 1 cup
1 pound large (31 to 40 count) raw shrimp, peeled, deveined
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Couscous with butternut and chives, recipe follows
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1. For the sauce, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook until slightly crisp but still tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic; cook, 30 seconds. Add tomatoes with their juice, bell pepper, broth, saffron, cumin and pepper flakes. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until sauce is slightly reduced, about 4 minutes. Season with salt (about 1/2 teaspoon) and pepper. (Sauce can be made to this point up to several days in advance and refrigerated, covered. Rewarm before serving.)
2. For the shrimp, reheat sauce over medium-high heat to a simmer. Stir in spinach and heat through. Then stir in shrimp. Simmer, stirring often, until shrimp is cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice.
3. Spoon shrimp mixture over couscous on a large platter. Sprinkle with cilantro.
Nutrition information per serving: 240 calories, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 231 mg cholesterol, 8 g carbohydrates, 5 g sugar, 31 g protein, 918 mg sodium, 2 g fiber
Couscous with Butternut and Chives
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes
Stand: 5 minutes
Makes: 6 servings
Use diced butternut or sweet potato, sold fresh, in the produce section for speedy weeknight cooking. Alternatively, frozen diced squash works, too; simply adjust the microwave timing a bit.
1 pouch (12 ounces) diced fresh butternut squash, about 2 generous cups
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch saffron threads or saffron powder, optional
1 box (10 ounces) plain couscous
3 tablespoons fruity olive oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh chives or green onion tops
1. Put butternut squash and 2 tablespoons water into a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap vented at one corner. Microwave on high (100 percent power), stirring once or twice, for 4 minutes. Let stand. Drain.
2. Meanwhile, put broth, salt and saffron, if using, in a medium saucepan. Heat to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, stir in couscous and cover pan tightly. Remove from heat. Let stand until tender, about 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork. Stir in olive oil, then fold in the butternut and chives. Serve hot.
Nutrition information per serving: 267 calories, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 2 mg cholesterol, 42 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 8 g protein, 441 mg sodium, 4 g fiber
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