SUNDAY SUPPER Page 2
From Chapters 29 & 31 of the House of Roses
SEASIDE PASTA SALAD
Go ahead and make your pasta according to the directions on the package and set aside to cool. You can do this while you are preparing the other ingredients. I suppose any kind of pasta shape will do in a salad, but I prefer bow ties because that's what I grew up with. Also, since it's a fairly thick pasta, it will soak up all of the flavors and won't get mushy while it chills in the fridge before you serve.
The shrimp is the thing that makes this salad different from all the others in the world and the type of shrimp you choose is going to make or break this dish. While you can certainly use pre-cooked or canned, I wouldn't bother making this unless I have fresh shrimp available. If you're lucky enough to live on the river and catch your own, use them. If not or if it's not shrimping season, then definitely check out your local seafood market. They might be a tad bit more expensive than what you get in your grocery store, but the flavor really makes it worth it. Also, no matter what I'm cooking I always try to get wild caught versus farm raised shrimp. If you do a taste test, you really can tell the difference. Farm raised just don't quite have the full flavor that wild caught do. And, in a lot of cases, great wild caught shrimp can almost taste like lobster.
For a salad, I prefer using 51/60 Key West Pinks. The 51/60 part just means that you will get approximately 51 to 60 shrimp in a pound. This is a fairly small, almost bite sized shrimp. If you're just going to steam shrimp to peel and eat, go for the larger size, 26/30, for better eating. As for cooking the shrimp for the salad, it's pretty easy. Boil them in a pot of water seasoned with the Old Bay, shells on, until they are pink. This usually takes 3 to 5 minutes. Be careful not to over cook them as this will make them tough and less flavorful. Speaking of flavor, the key here is to boil the shrimp with those shells on them. There is a ton of flavor in shrimp shells. In fact, a lot of traditional recipes for making Cajun Gumbo call for using the shrimp shells when you make the base or roux for the stew. So make sure to leave those shells on while cooking and then peel them off when cooked and cooled. Also, when peeling the shrimp it really helps to remove those little black veins running down the backs of the shrimp. You can use a small knife just to scrape them out. Doing so will make for cleaner, fresher tasting shrimp and also a prettier presentation.
Go ahead and chop up your onion and red bell pepper and put into a good size mixing bowl. Add your peeled, clean shrimp leaving about half of them whole and the other half slightly chopped. Throw in salt and pepper based on what you like, mix in your bow ties and then add in the Duke's mayonnaise. Hope all of you can get Duke's because that's what really makes this dish genuinely southern. Hate to sound like a commercial, but Duke's is the best mayonnaise going. The only thing more like Mama's cooking is homemade and even that isn't as good. If you can't get in your local grocery store, try ordering it online. Trust me, it's worth it!
Sprinkle your salad with a little Old Bay on top and refrigerate overnight. One more tip is to pull it out of the fridge about a half hour or so before serving to allow the salad to come closer to room temperature. Depending on how far in the south you are, will determine how long to leave it out. Don't want any food poisoning or such, but letting the pasta warm up a bit really lets the flavors come through better. Too cold equals too bland.