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Summertime Slow and Easy Food

Summer is here, and as temperatures heat up, cooking thoughts turn from baking breads to grilling meats. For those of us cranking up the air conditioning, we'd rather grill than heat up the kitchen. While that's generally a good idea, there are ways to still use the kitchen without making things miserable in the house.

One of my family's favorite meals fits perfectly with the summer heat and slower tempos, and with slowing down to enjoy each other's company, sharing the dishes family style. We don't really have a name for it, but it usually centers around shrimp and includes a number of sides you'll find in Mediterranean diets. And while technically not a "Slow Food" meal featuring only foods locally grown (we don't really raise shrimp in Nebraska), the farmers markets and CSAs like Robinette Farms can definitely provide the rest of the food.

We start with decent sized shrimp, in the 16-20 per pound range, and with the shells on. This is key, because we're sautéing them in a cast iron skillet or braiser, and the shells serve two functions: providing flavor and preventing our seasoning from overwhelming the taste of the shrimp itself. We serve these shrimp "peel and eat," and if you've ever spent time on Florida's coast, you know the pure joy of sitting next to water with a cold beer and eating your shrimp like this. But I digress.

Here's what you need for what my daughter calls her favorite shrimp in her whole life (albeit at seven years old):

First rinse the shrimp and pat them mostly dry, then toss them in a mixing bowl and sprinkle in a generous amount of Old Bay seasoning. If you're not familiar, this is a Gulf Coast and Mid-Atlantic staple when it comes to seafood, especially shrimp and crab.

Let that sit for a little while, until they are at room temperature, and heat up your skillet or braiser with a little olive oil. Don't overdo it, we're not immersing the shrimp, just using enough oil to cook through the shells. We're going for medium heat since shrimp cook pretty fast.

Once that oil shimmers, throw in some shrimp, but don't crowd them too much. I can usually fit a half pound of this size shrimp in my 12" skillet at a time. After a few minutes of cooking and beginning to curl, drizzle some Spicy Sriracha vinegar over the tops and flip them over. A couple minutes more should do it, then drizzle with vinegar again and flip back to the first side for a few minutes to get some of that delicious browning that's happening on both sides. Scoop them into a clean bowl and add a tablespoon or more of butter, sprinkle in some garlic powder, and put your next batch of shrimp in the skillet.

If this is my last batch, I generally add the butter and garlic powder to the skillet when I flip them the first time, since I'll be turning off the skillet shortly anyway. Adding them in the first batch gums up the bottom of the skillet too much for the second batch, leading to smoking and a much worse mess to clean up later.

That's it for the shrimp, and if you'd like to have them warm, have the rest of this meal ready to go on a platter. Our standbys are:

  • French bread, sliced and warmed (Le Quartier preferred!)
  • Sliced buffalo mozzarella
  • Sliced home grown or farmers market tomatoes
  • Olives, preferably a mix of varieties with pits
  • Lemon wedges
  • Olive oil and plates for dipping bread

That's pretty much it, peel and eat shrimp and a platter of fresh sides that you don't have to cook, limiting the kitchen heat to about ten minutes of cooking in the skillet, or even cooking on the grill if your skillet is grill safe. Bring your platter and bowl of shrimp to a big outdoor table, make sure your guests all have a cold beer, sangria, or lemonade, and let the food and conversation flow. Simple and delicious. 

A great way to finish this meal is with fresh fruit, especially strawberries and pineapple, and maybe a little genuine hard parmesan with balsamic vinegar drizzled over the top...just saying.


Mentioned Above:

Are You Eating Old Bay? - Taste Magazine

Peel and Eat Shrimp - with the heads! - The Georgia Straight

Slow Food USA

Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet - BBC Good Food


Photo Credit: LaterJay Photography

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