Shrimp Puffs

The canon of weirdo Gentile party foods I grew up blissfully unaware of—ambrosia; grape jelly meatballs; anything involving, dear God, gelatin—would not be complete without shrimp puffs, a delightfully ’50s canapé comprised of crappy supermarket sandwich bread that’s toasted, then topped with a mixture of shrimp, mayo, and cheese, then broiled to an appealing golden brown.

Despite its final coloring—especially when the toasts are, say, left to sit in a hot oven a bit longer than they should, thanks to a negligent and slightly tipsy hostess juggling too many things at her own housewarming party—this may in fact be the whitest food in history, culturally speaking. Though I guess hotdish, a Midwestern casserole that combines canned cream of mushroom soup with canned vegetables and hamburger meat and tops the whole thing off with frozen tater tots, might have a bone to pick with that appellation.

In any case: Nonnie’s shrimp puffs seemed downright bizarre to me until I did a little Googling and found out that, bless their hearts, housewives across our fair nation are actually still making the damn things, though they generally upgrade the recipe by employing pre-made biscuit dough instead of white bread rounds and slightly fancier cheese than neon-orange cheddar.

But honestly? Even without those tweaks, these toasts turned out eminently edible—tasty, even. Given the option, would I choose them over a slightly more contemporary, mayo-free hors d’oeuvre, or even another tried-and-true classic like pigs in a blanket or spinach artichoke dip? I wouldn’t. But if I ever find a lonely tray of these languishing at a kitsch-themed house party, I also won’t hesitate to pop one in my mouth, knowing that they’ll at least probably be better than the creamed chipped ham or jello mold.

Shrimp Puffs

12 shrimp
1 egg white, stiffly whipped
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon paprika
Cayenne pepper
1/2 cup Miracle Whip [Why Miracle Whip, and not generic mayo? Who can say. Related: anybody have any ideas for what I can do with the rest of this jar of Miracle Whip?]
24-36 bread rounds [I couldn’t find any pre-cut bread at my local grocery store, so I ended up buying the cheapest white loaf I could find—yes, it was Wonder Bread—and cutting them out myself with a small cookie cutter. It was tedious, but also less tedious than I thought it’d be.]

Cut rounds from bread with biscuit cutter or rim of glass. [After cutting the first round right from the middle of a slice, I discovered that I could actually squeeze two rounds out of each piece of bread, if I didn’t mind the second one being slightly misshapen. So I ended up with 13 regular-looking bread rounds, and 11 that looked like little Pac-Men. Luckily, Wonder Bread is squishy enough that I could just sort of mush the pointy part of each Pac-Man into the rest of the piece to make something vaguely resembling a circle.]

Toast lightly. [I put my tray of toast rounds into a 350° oven for about five minutes, which got them suitably toasty.]

Fold cheese, salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika, and Miracle Whip into egg white. Cut shrimp in half or quarters. Pile cheese mixture on each toast round; put a piece of shrimp on top, and put more of cheese mixture on top of that. [I didn’t have enough mixture to really make this work, so I ended up trying to cover each shrimp piece with the first layer of mayo goop; the process was only sort of successful, and more than a little gross.] Place on cookie sheet and broil until golden brown. [Which will be sooner than you think, as evidenced by my slightly charred shrimp puffs. What can I say—I was enjoying our party too much to check on them sooner.]

The Verdict: I was wrong! Most of these did, in fact, get eaten; reviews ranged from “not bad!” to “huh, that’s okay!” I still think it’s weird to eat shrimp with cheddar cheese, but really, the canapés were so mildly flavored that those two tastes hardly clashed; more than anything, they just tasted like burnt toast topped with something creamy and a tiny bit of shrimp.

The only real problem with the recipe is that it left me with a surplus of Wonder Bread scraps, which laid dormant in the fridge for a week or two before I finally figured out the best way to use it up. I tore the bread into pieces, let it get stale, then combined it with some sautéd onions, celery, apples, and chicken sausage, plus a couple of beaten eggs, a bit of stock, and a bottle of flat, leftover hard cider.

The result was a pre-Thanksgiving chicken-apple stuffing that blew away the shrimp toasts, though it would’ve been even better if I could have used real bread. (Wonder Bread + liquid = mush, which some people might like; I’m not one of them.) I like to think that the ghosts of housewives past would be impressed with my thriftiness and ingenuity—and might even ask me for the recipe, after offering me a spooky, mayo-topped canapé of their own.

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