It’s Lent. A time of reflection and sacrifice. And frustration. I mean redemption. In this house that means no meat. None. Not even chicken. And that’s every Mom’s go-to protein. Chicken doesn’t even make it out of the freezer for 40 days and 40 nights. Jimmy and I always laugh at how all we want is super hot chicken wings. Not fried… baked, to a crispy, bone sucking engorgement. We have fish and lots of shrimp but after a while defeat and resignation set in and you don’t even try to pretend to be satisfied with panko shrimp, tarragon salmon or deep-fried, cornmeal dusted dolphin. Jimmy and I are meant for each other because he wants the drumstick part of the wings while all I want is that little, skinny, crispy, wing thing. But that’s not going to happen for a while. When I was growing up Lent was absolutely miserable. Dad and Grandpa would go every Friday to Bahia Mar where, at that time, they sold freshly caught fish to the public. There weren’t any charter boats, just fishing and pleasure. They’d bring home some fresh pompano or snapper, cleaned and fileted. Cynthia and I would just die. Mama would take that fish, put it in a Pyrex dish, dot it with a little “oleo” and put it in the oven for 45 minutes or so. Then she’d pull it out and look at it, we’d hear her murmuring to herself, “Well, you never know…it IS fish…I’d better bake it a little longer”. Half an hour later, “Everybody”, she’d sing out, “Dinner’s ready!!” It was just vile. Pair THAT with a few boiled wax beans or boiled broccoli florets and a glass of milk and that just about sums up a Friday night dinner at the Wattley’s. No salt, no pepper, no garlic, no NUTHIN’. It was grim. Tonight we’re having cold Old Bay shrimp with homemade cocktail sauce and Caesar salad. Way better than freshly caught pompano baked for an hour and a half…”oooohhhh, I don’t know…it IS fish.” I know I make Mama sound just awful but, other than her attempts at cooking, she was really terrific. She ALWAYS looked like a million bucks, lipstick and jewelry on, not a hair out-of-place. A rockin’ little figure, too, and that’s after FOUR kids. We had a carpool for school, and other moms would drive us with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, curlers in their hair and their bathrobes on. I’m talking about wealthy, socially prominent women, NOT hausfrauen. And they swore. They didn’t want to be there, probably had the hangover of death, and they had to drive children four minutes away to grade school. Mama didn’t smoke. And Mama never, ever swore. I remember one argument we had, we were always butting heads, and Mama raised her voice at me and said, “Do you want me to be like those OTHER mothers? HHHHMMMM? The ones who use that word, YOU KNOW”. And she spelled it out, “F-O-U-C-K!” That’s how foreign it was to her. She didn’t even know how to spell it, she would just as soon have stood on her head than say a dirty word. And Mama was the very example of decorum. Only don’t give her a piece of fish to cook. So, here’s to a Friday with flavor. Did I mention how much better Jimmy and feel going without meat? Unbelievably better. But no worries. We’ll be back to cow and pig soon enough.
You’ll want to make your cocktail sauce first so it can chill properly. It’s unbelievably easy and tastes a thousand times better than bottled stuff. I love ice-cold shrimp so I prepare both sauce and shrimp in the afternoon to give both enough time in the refrigerator. I buy the largest shrimp I can afford and try to get the e-z peel ones as they’ve been deveined as well. One less step for me. I lean towards pick-up food to serve with it, since your hands get a little damp from the shrimp. So asparagus chilled with a lemon vinaigrette or haricot vert with the same vinaigrette pair with the shrimp nicely. Some garlic, whole grain crostini and, baby, looks like you’ve got dinner.
Old Bay Shrimp with Homemade Cocktail Sauce
- 1 12 ounce bottle chili sauce, I like Heinz
- 1 5 ounce bottle prepared horseradish, NOT sauce. I like extra hot.
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
Mix one half of the chili sauce, 2 or 3 teaspoons of horseradish and the lemon juice. Taste and adjust to your liking. Chill until ready to serve.
Old Bay Shrimp
- 2 pounds of the largest shrimp you can afford, try to get e-z peel. If e-z peel’s not available you’re going to have to devein but leave the shell on all those shrimp. It’s a bit of work and you want to leave the shells on as they help keep the shrimp tender. If you do have to devein, using a small, sharp knife, cut just through the shell, from the outside, starting from the tail to the top. Carefully pull out the dirt line and move to the next shrimp. I’d REALLY try to get e-z peel if I were you.
- 2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
- 1-2 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup white or apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup water
In a medium, non-reactive pot, combine Old Bay, salt, vinegar and water. Bring to a boil and add shrimp making sure to cover shrimp well with liquid. Cover, turn off heat and steam ’til tender. It only takes a few minutes. Make sure not to boil or overcook. Oh my gosh, they’re so good! And cold the next day? Sublime.