Eric Akis: Holiday upgrade: prawn ring with trio of sauces

Eric Akis

In December, during the Christmas “holiday season,” every major grocery store flyer will offer shrimp rings for sale. I know people buy them by the boatload, because at every potluck party I go to at this time of year I see one or more being served.

I have to be honest, and sorry to sound like food-snob Scrooge here, but from a culinary point of view, I find them uninspiring.

article continues below

Overly packaged, cooked shrimp served on the black plastic ring it was sold in. In the middle of the ring is a spot to put the small plastic tub of often lifeless-tasting cocktail sauce the shrimp ring was sold with. To me, there’s nothing seasonal, palate-pleasing or eye-appealing about that.

Now I realize everyone is busy at this time of year, and those shrimp rings are very convenient — thaw, open and serve. You can also buy pricier shrimp rings that do feature pretty good quality shrimp on them. But, unfortunately, you can also buy ones featuring overly processed, small, spongy-textured shrimp with not much flavour at all.

The latter qualities are, not surprisingly, especially true for shrimp rings being sold at prices that seem too good to be true. Where, for example, if you buy two of them the grocery store selling it might offer up a second one for free or 50 per cent off, depending on what their sales pitch is.

I guess what I’m leading to is that, if you have a bit of time, why not make your own more elegant version of a shrimp ring and serve it on a real plate with simple, but flavourful dipping sauces you make yourself?

I did that in today’s recipe that I called a holiday prawn wreath because, as you can see in the photo, it does have that festive, seasonal look to it. I used the term “prawn” because in B.C. that’s what most stores call large shrimp not sold on a plastic ring.

Many grocery stores do sell good-quality, wild or sustainably farmed, already cooked and peeled prawns, and you could certainly use them in the recipe. But, for the richest seafood taste and, again, if you have the time, cook and peel your own prawns as described in today’s second recipe for poached and chilled prawns.

Note: If it’s too late and you have already purchased a shrimp ring for the holiday season and you want to fancy it up, set out a nice serving plate. Line the plate with frilly lettuce, artfully arrange the shrimp on the plate, and then recycle the plastic packaging the shrimp was sold in.

If the shrimp ring came with cocktail sauce, put it in a nice bowl and set on the plate. Garnish the shrimp with lemon slices and Italian parsley sprigs and serve.

Holiday Prawn Wreath with a Trio of Dipping Sauces

Here’s a festive way to serve cold, cooked, tasty prawns. You can arrange the prawns on the serving plate many hours before garnishing and serving. Cover and keep refrigerated until ready to do so. The dipping sauces can also be made and kept chilled many hours before serving.

Preparation time: 30 to 60 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: 42 to 46 prawns (about 10 to 12 snack-sized servings)

For the cocktail sauce

3/4 cup ketchup

1 Tbsp horseradish, or to taste

1/2 tsp Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce, or to taste

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce, or to taste

1 Tbsp lemon juice, or to taste

Combine ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes about 1 cup. Recipe could be doubled if you love cocktail sauce.

For the creamy dill and lemon sauce

1/3 cup sour cream or thick, plain yogurt

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 tsp horseradish

2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill

1 Tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard

• lemon juice, salt and white pepper, to taste

Combine ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes about 1 cup.

For the Japanese-style ginger sauce

2/3 cup mayonnaise

1 tsp finely grated, peeled fresh ginger

2 Tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp wasabi powder or wasabi paste, or to taste

1 Tbsp sesame seeds

Combine ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes about 1 cup.

For the prawns and to serve

8 or so frilly lettuce leaves, such as escarole or leaf lettuce

42 to 46 large cooked, peeled, cold prawns, store-bought or prepared at home (see recipe below)

• lemon slices and Italian parsley sprigs, for garnish

Cover the bottom of a wide, decorative, at least 12-inch wide plate with lettuce leaves. Set three small decorative bowls for the dip in the centre of the plate. Press down on the bowls to make them sit flat.

Arrange prawns in a ring around the bowls. Fill the bowls with the dips. (You can always refill the bowls if the dip does not all fit).

Garnish the prawn wreath with lemon slices and parsley sprigs and it’s ready to enjoy.

Poached and Chilled Prawns

This is how a restaurant would prepare prawns for a classic prawn cocktail. Poaching them, shell on, in court bouillon — salted, flavoured water —enhances their texture and flavour and makes them also nice to use in my prawn wreath recipe.

Preparation time: 30 to 40 minutes

Cooking time: About 20 minutes

Makes: 42 to 46 prawns

12 cups water

1 large lemon, thinly sliced

1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced

12 whole black peppercorns

3 bay leaves

1 Tbsp coarse sea or kosher salt

42 to 46 large, raw, unpeeled prawns (about 2 lbs; see Note 1)

Place the ingredients, except prawns, in a tall pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Now lower the heat until this court bouillon gently simmers. Simmer the court bouillon five minutes. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice cubes and cold water.

When court bouillon has simmered five minutes, add the prawns. Heat and cook the prawns three to four minutes, or until just cooked through.

When cooked, drain the prawns. Submerge them in the ice water to cool. When cold, peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the tip of the tails intact (see Note). Set prawns on a plate, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Prawns can be prepared many hours in advance of serving.

Note 1: Prawns (and shrimp) are sold according to size and count per pound. The large shell-on ones used here were 21 to 25 prawns per pound.

Note 2: When testing prawns for doneness, lift one out of the pot. When cooked it will turn bright pink and feel just slightly firm to the touch. If the prawn feels overly soft, it’s not cooked through. If it has become very firm, the shrimp is overcooked.

Note 3: To peel a prawn, hold the end of the tail in one hand and use your other hand to grab onto its swimmerets, the little legs under the shell. Pull off the shell, leaving the very bottom portion of the tail intact. If the prawn was not sold deveined, now use a small paring knife to make a lengthwise slit along the back of the prawn. Pull out, or rinse out with cold water, the dark vein, if there is one, pat the prawn dry, and it’s ready to eat.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

Read Related Topics

© Copyright Times Colonist