There are hundreds of varieties of shrimp harvested commercially around the world. They're crustaceans, like crabs, lobster and crawfish, and like their cousins they are prized for their sweet flesh and firm texture. Because of their relatively small size, shrimp are ideal for use as appetizers. Here are a few suggestions to spark your creativity.
Dips, Spreads and Salads
Dips, spreads and salads are easy options for entertaining. The three are similar in their preparation method. Combine chopped or minced shrimp with mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese, creamy dressing or other ingredient as a binder, and then add your flavorings or vegetables. Spreads are usually minced the finest, and spread on crackers or toast. Dips are chunkier, and can be served hot or cold with crackers, toast, bread or raw veggies. Salads leave the shrimp in larger pieces, and mix them with ingredients such as cucumbers, avocados, fresh tomatoes and creamy salad dressing.
A simple and fuss-free way to prepare shrimp for the appetizer table is by marinating them. Some recipes call for cooking the shrimp in their marinade. Shrimp "a la Grecque," for example, simmers them briefly in water with lemon juice, olive oil and Mediterranean herbs, then refrigerates them overnight in the marinade. Southern-style "pickled" shrimp calls for cooked shrimp, tossed in a marinade of vinegar, oil and lemon juice with a variety of zesty spices. Use rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and ginger for an Asian version, or limes, chilies and cilantro for Mexican. Serve cold, with toothpicks.
Grilled shrimp can be served as part of a main course, or as appetizers. The only difference is the size of shrimp you choose, and how many you serve. Shrimp are sized by the average number per pound, so the smaller the number the larger the shrimp. For a grilled appetizer, 36-40 or 41-45 is a good size. Grill them on skewers, to prevent the shrimp falling through your grill. The shrimp can be removed from the skewers for service, or use small skewers holding one or two shrimp. Serve them with a zesty, creamy dipping sauce.
Pastries and Rolls
Many shrimp appetizers call for the little crustaceans to be wrapped in some form of pastry or other wrapper. Cooked shrimp in dill, lemon or ranch-flavored sauce, for example, could be used to fill small patty shells or vol-au-vents. The same filling could be used in savory tart shells, or finger-sized "cigars" of phyllo pastry. Shrimp with fresh herbs, ranch seasoning mix or julienne vegetables can also be made up into pouches, or shepherd's purses, of phyllo pastry. For a different approach, roll cooked shrimp with cilantro and julienne vegetables in rice paper wrappers, for Thai or Vietnamese-style salad rolls.
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