Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 40 Issue 1 • April 22 - May 5, 2010
now in our 40th season

Picnic Time!

by Jenn Farmer
Chef, Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm 

Daffodil weekend is upon us, and, too, the kick-off to the season.  Yes, it is picnic season!    I can just envision all the classic cars and outrageous attire, and, of course, the great picnic food.  I am not certain why, but I maintain that food tastes better when eaten outdoors.  Nantucket can boast of many things, but I believe one of its greatest assets is the salt air. 

Shrimp is a wonderful Daffodil Weekend picnic food!  It can be eaten hot or cold, at an elegant dinner party or on the beach.  If you enjoy savory or sweet, shrimp goes with both.  When purchasing shrimp it is important to know how to select what you want.  First if you are buying “fresh” (most shrimp has been frozen at some point during processing or shipping) smell it.  If it smells like the ocean or has a mild shellfish smell it is probably fresh.  Avoid rotting fish or strong shellfish odor.  Don’t purchase dried out shrimp, soft or soggy shrimp.  The flesh should be fairly firm, and the shells should be bright, with defined color (depending on the type of shrimp brown or grey and black shells - bright pink if cooked).  The longer they have been thawed, the more the color from the shells bleeds into the flesh and it looks blue or grayish brown in color.  When purchasing frozen, look for packages with few ice crystals, which could indicate freezer burn.  Shrimp can be purchased with shell on or off.  I like to buy them shell on, and when I am done peeling the shrimp I use the shells for stock and get one more meal from them.  Not everyone relishes the thought of peeling and deveining shrimp, so luckily P/D or “peeled and deveined” shrimp can be purchased.   In fact, fully cooked cocktail shrimp is also sold at most markets, which isn’t a bad product.

Another thing to keep in mind when buying shrimp is how much you need.  Fortunately there is a system that fishmongers use.  The shrimp size is often listed as 21/25 or 16/20 which can be a little confusing for the home cook.  This number refers to the amount of shrimp per pound.  So a 21/25 size shrimp is smaller than a 16/20 size shrimp.  In other words, expect to find between 21 and 25 pieces of shrimp per pound when purchasing 21/25’s. 

This year I decided to do a spin-off on an old favorite at the Daffodil Festival:  Curried Shrimp Cocktail.  It is traditional and elegant, yet has a spicy twist (not to mention an amazing brilliant yellow color).  I like to serve it with green chutney.  It adds a kick (like horseradish in traditional cocktail sauce), but also has a fresh and clean flavor, not to mention the bright green color, which goes well with the brilliant yellow curried shrimp.  Keep in mind, there are several ways to cook shrimp cocktail, this is just one quick variation.  Many cooks prefer to peel the shrimp after cooking it to retain more flavors. 

Curried Shrimp Cocktail

  • 6 cups water
  • 1 cup white wine
  • One half of a lemon
  • 2 T Pickling Spice, wrapped in cheese cloth
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 2 lbs. shrimp, Peeled and deveined (16/20 or 21/25 size are preferred)

Bring all ingredients except the shrimp to a boil. The liquid should be brightly colored.  Carefully add the shrimp to the boiling water, and cook for a few minutes, until the meat of the shrimp is opaque and firm.  Pull from the cooking liquid immediately, and chill in an ice bath or on a single  layer on a sheet tray in the freezer.  Please keep in mind curry can stain your hands, and just about everything else, so be cautious when working with it.  When the shrimp is completely cooled serve with a spicy sauce, like the following: 

Green Chili Sauce

  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed well
  • 1 T garlic, minced
  • 1-1/2 T ginger, minced
  • 1-2 small green chilies, minced
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • Salt to taste

Blend all ingredients in food processor until relatively smooth.  Enjoy!

Deviled eggs are another classic dish for picnics.  They are great finger food, not to mention fast, and relatively easy.   Cooking the eggs is often the biggest challenge.  To prevent their yolks from turning greenish or grey, do not overcook the egg.  The easiest method to cook hard boiled eggs is to simmer them for about 14 minutes.  I always start with the eggs in the pan, add cold water, and then bring the eggs to a simmer carefully.  I start timing when the water starts to simmer.

Alternately one could bring the eggs to a boil, then immediately cover the eggs with a lid, and set aside, off the heat for 20 min.  Regardless of your favorite method of making eggs, the eggs should be fully cooked, but not overcooked.  Another bit of advice I have is to peel the eggs while they are still a little warm (not hot), the shell comes off much easier than when they are fully chilled.  It seems like everyone has their own favorite method for making deviled eggs and for garnishing them. Here is a basic and very traditional method.
Midwestern Deviled Eggs

  • 12 eggs, hardboiled
  • 1/2- 2/3 cup mayonnaise-depending on your taste
  • 1 T yellow mustard
  • Salt
  • White Pepper
  • Pinch of Turmeric

Peel all the eggs, then cut them in half, and squeeze out the yolk— reserving it to make filling.  The whites should be arranged on a platter of spinach or lettuce leaves—or on an egg platter if you have one.  Mash the yolks, and then blend them well with the mayo, mustard, and seasonings.  If you have a piping bag and tip, use them to refill the empty dents in the egg whites.  If you haven’t a piping bag use a couple spoons to fill the voids.  Each egg can be garnished with brilliant fresh herb leaves, like chervil, parsley, dill, sliced scallions, or chives.  Some people even enjoy a sprinkle of paprika for color and flavor.  If you don’t enjoy mayonnaise, then use sour cream, crème fraîche, or yogurt as a delicious alternative.

Please remember to keep all your picnic foods well chilled and safe.  If in doubt about the quality of something, throw it out!  It is much better to be safe then sorry when dealing with food.  Have a fun and safe Daffy!


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