shrimp with plum salsa

July 22, 2008


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I was recently tempted by a packet of spices. When people serve me taste samples I can never pass them up. The mouthful of rubbed-down shrimp I had was so good that I actually bought what they were trying to sell me: a packet of Chipotle, tomato and basil rub and a pound of shrimp to go with it. I took my prizes home and invited my friend over for some supper. Then, I read the rest of the ingredients that went into my little bite of shrimp: 2 c heavy cream, 3 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp olive oil. Plus a pepper. Deception! It had seemed like such an innocent shrimp. I was not about to invite a gal over and make her eat a full cup of heavy cream. So I changed the plan and made something more suitable for the 111 degree weather. I steamed the shrimp and threw them in a salad with balsamic vinaigrette, toasted almonds, raspberries and a few slices of avocado. As a garnish, I made plum salsa with cilantro, lemon juice, peppers and a bit of mint. I also made a cold cucumber soup using 2.5 cucumbers, half an avocado, a cup of Greek yogurt, half a jalapeno and lots of sautéed shallots. With that, I served oven-roasted asparagus with garlic and a side of tarragon yogurt sauce (2 tbsp plain yogurt; 1 tbsp Dijon mustard and a few tarragon leaves.) Everything was generously dusted with chunks of sea salt and crushed black pepper. It was delightful. Except that I got severely ill. Have you ever cleaned a shrimp? I had not—at least not thoroughly, which is a seriously nauseating thought in retrospect. I stood at the sink, peeling the shrimp, while my friend sat on the counter, drinking wine and filling me in on the details of life. For a while all was well with the world, even if peeling away the little legs and slicing at the main artery of my edible friends was a tad disconcerting. I' ve just finished reading Heat, and considered what Bill Buford must have gone through while butchering a hog in his apartment. I reminded myself how mild these shrimp were in comparison. Or were they? I noticed that one seemed to have a dark spine. Naturally, I had to cut it out. So, I sliced down the arched back of the thing and began pulling out what looked like little strands of sausages.“Funny,”I thought. “This must be a little boy shrimp with some strange, crustacean anatomical difference.”As I rinsed the brown goop off of my finger, I realized what I had just extracted from the critter. I imagined someone pulling out a strand of half-processed food from the length of my digestive tract. I had to sit down. I got up and finished the process, but my work was interrupted every few minutes by severe lightheadedness and nausea. There was a moment when I thought that the entire meal would go unfinished. I did manage to complete it, tossing our pound of shrimp into the steamer with one hand over my nose. This morning I woke up feeling like a real barbarian. I had nightmares of shrimp wailing in the depths of me and dreamed that some strange beast came to save them—with a human deviener in hand.

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