Eric Akis: Shrimp makes for West Coast take on lobster roll

Eric Akis

I have been on a sandwich bender lately, with recent columns featuring recipes for vegetarian bahn mi, pork bunwiches with apples, sauerkraut and cheese, and gourmet breakfast toasts.

After the first two columns ran, a few readers asked if I had a good recipe for a seafood sandwich. I do and have decided to end my sandwich binge today by offering one for shrimp rolls.

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A shrimp roll is similar to an East Coast-style lobster roll except, of course, shrimp replaces the lobster. To make it, small, cooked shrimp is tossed in a tangy mayonnaise-based mixture with celery, green onion and a chopped fresh herb, which could be tarragon or dill. The shrimp mixture is then stuffed into warm buns with lettuce.

I’ll often use shrimp instead of lobster in these types of rolls for four reasons. It’s a West Coast product, it’s more budget-friendly than lobster, it’s easier to prepare and, like lobster, it tastes quite splendid.

In grocery stores and seafood shops, those small Pacific shrimp are sold fully cooked and most often labelled hand-peeled shrimp or machine-peeled shrimp.

“Hand-peeled” means that after cooking, they are peeled by hand. Doing that results in a product with a firmer texture, brighter pink colour, fuller flavour and, because of the labour involved, a higher price.

“Machine-peeled” means the shrimp were mechanically peeled, making them less expensive to process and thus cheaper to buy. It’s a good product, but the taste, texture and colour are not as robust as hand-peeled shrimp.

You can use either style of shrimp in the rolls. When buying them, the shrimp should have a mild sea-like aroma, not an overpowering one with hints of ammonia, a sign they are past their prime.

Fresh cooked shrimp are quite perishable and it’s best to buy them the day you will eat them. But, if need be, they could be stored in the coldest part of your refrigerator for one day. If packaged in a plastic bag, transfer them to a bowl and cover before refrigerating. Fresh shrimp does not store well in those bags.

You can also buy small cooked shrimp frozen. If you decide to use them in the rolls, the safest way to thaw them is overnight in a sided dish in the refrigerator.

If you have ever had an East Coast-style lobster roll, you will have noticed the type of bun used is soft in texture, making it easy to bit through and quickly get to the yummy filling. The bun is also baked in a way that allows it to be buttered and toasted on the sides. Doing that nicely warms the bun and the butter gives it a richer taste, making the seafood-stuffed roll taste even better.

I have not seen that style of bun for sale in Victoria. So what I did in my recipe was trim a bit from the sides of a large hot dog bun to create one that could be buttered and toasted on the sides.

Shrimp Rolls

Succulent shrimp, tossed with a tangy mayonnaise mixture, stuffed in warm, toasted buns. Make a casual meal by serving the shrimp rolls with potato chips and pickles.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: About two minutes

Makes: Two servings

175 to 200 grams hand-or machine-peeled cooked shrimp

3 Tbsp mayonnaise, or to taste

1 tsp lemon juice, or to taste

1 tsp chopped fresh tarragon or dill, or pinch of either dried

• hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, to taste

1/4 cup finely chopped celery

1 large green onion, thinly sliced

2 large hot dog buns

• soft butter, for spreading

1/2 cup shredded head or leaf lettuce

Pat the shrimp dry with paper towel, if there’s excess moisture on them. Place mayonnaise, juice, tarragon (or dill) and hot pepper sauce in a medium bowl and mix to combine. Now mix in the shrimp, green onion and celery. Refrigerate shrimp mixture until needed; it can be made an hour or so in advance.

When ready to make the rolls, set buns on a cutting board, domed-side up. Use a sharp serrated knife to trim 1/2-inch or so off the sides of each bun.

Spread cut sides of each bun with butter. Set a skillet over medium heat. When hot, set the buns in the skillet, one of the buttered sides down. Cook the buns until golden on that side, about one minute. Now turn each bun over and cook until golden on the other side. Set buns back on the cutting board and make a deep slit into the top of each one. Put shredded lettuce into that slit, and then divide and spoon in the shrimp mixture. Serve shrimp rolls immediately.

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

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