When I was 10 or 11, my family took a trip to Club Med. It was my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary (!); to celebrate, they brought their whole brood—four sons, three daughters-in-law, a whopping 12 grandchildren—down to Florida, where we enjoyed a week of sun, sand, and scheduled group activities.
Years later, I can only remember bits and pieces from the trip: the thrill of taking a ride on the flying trapeze, my cousins’ brief but passionate obsession with bocce ball, seeing a group of leotard-clad women (who were either much younger or much older than I am now) perform a passable rendition of the “Cell Block Tango.” (I think I laughed pretty hard at “Lipschitz!”)
Mostly, though, what I remember is New Year’s Eve dinner. It was one of those big, tacky buffets that strikes a child as impossibly glamorous; there were carving stations and men in toques and a dessert selection that would have put Hogwarts’s Christmas feast to shame. The part that stuck out most to me, though, was a table absolutely brimming with whole, cooked lobsters, fanned out from their tails—bright red, motionless, staring deep into my soul with their beady little insect eyes.
The image freaked me out so much that I didn’t eat lobster until I was in college; I’ve still never cooked a whole lobster myself (just the tail), because even though I’ve always eaten meat, I’ve never really had the desire to personally murder a living thing before devouring its very flesh. Maybe this is why, generally, I’m not so into shellfish, which doesn’t allow you to forget the fact that you’re eating something that was breathing and moving and shitting itself, not so long ago—well, that, and the fact that my Jewish family never cooked shellfish growing up.
Shrimp, though? Shrimp, it turns out, I can handle, especially after purchasing it from a fish place that’ll do all the icky peeling and de-veining for you. (I would never have known that this was a possibility if the lady in front of me in line hadn’t asked for her shrimp “cleaned”—the things they don’t teach you in Hebrew school!) Especially when it takes, like, five seconds to cook, thanks to the recipe your other Jewish grandmother inexplicably included in her cookbook. And especially, especially, especially when it lends itself so easily to becoming tacos—which certainly wasn’t Nonnie’s intention, but I won’t tell if you won’t.
Shrimp in Beer
1 lb. medium raw shrimp [You are, technically, supposed to cook it still in its shells, I suppose—but again, if you take the lazy route, I’ll keep my lips zipped]
1 tablespoon celery seed
1 quart beer [What kind of beer should you use? As you can see, I went with Pennsylvania’s finest; generally, I think, the kind of beer that doesn’t require a bottle opener is what you’re going for here. No sense in spending money on something you’ll just be pouring down the drain.
Also: You know how many standard bottles are in a quart of beer, a.k.a. 32 ounces? 2.75, which means you’ll have to drink that last four ounces of beer yourself rather than tossing it into the pot. Oops!]
1 onion, sliced
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 drops Tabasco sauce [I love Nonnie’s insistance that a single drop of Tabasco has enough flavor to spice an entire dish. It was a different time!]
6 whole cloves
Place all ingredients in large pot, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. [I… didn’t exactly follow this instruction, because I wasn’t about to ruin a bunch of expensive shrimp by overcooking it. Instead, I brought everything to a boil, then added the shrimp; as it turns out, a five-minute boil was just enough to cook them perfectly.] Drain in colander and refrigerate.
The verdict: I had visions of Old Bay-drenched crabs dancing in my head when I decided to make this—but the shrimp were actually a lot more neutrally flavored than I thought they’d be. They taste like celery seed, sort of, but mostly, they just taste like shrimp, maybe because the boiling time is so short—which is actually a good thing, since it makes them a lot more versatile than they might’ve been otherwise.
You could serve them with corn on the cob and red potatoes for a New England-style shrimp boil; you could peel them and serve them as shrimp cocktail; you could place them on top of some cheesy grits, or chop them up and toss them with mayo and more celery for a shrimp salad begging to be loaded into a hot dog bun. Or, you could do what I did, and transform them into slightly celery-tasting tacos.
I think you know what the correct decision is.