Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Recycling Food Scraps – Save the Shrimp Shells
Recycling Food Scraps – Save the Shrimp Shells

As a youth growing up in the land and time of plenty, I had never given much consideration to the food scraps my family tossed away. Bones, egg shells, vegetable peelings, and fat were considered garbage. But during my college years I discovered how food scraps that are often tossed away could be used in delicious and interesting ways.

I was working as a waitress in the dining room of a hotel where a large percentage of the kitchen staff, from sous chefs to prep cooks to dishwashers, came from the West Indies island of Barbados. Walking from the dark-paneled staid dining room filled with elderly Jewish couples, tired businessmen, and over-the-hill call girls, into the bright kitchen resounding with musical Caribbean accents and tinkling laughter was like emerging from a dark musty closet into an island vacation.

The Bajans would often make snacks from the food scraps that would normally be thrown away, and if they liked you, would share. I remember the first time Vanta, a prep cook, held out a sizzling broiler platter containing some tiny bits swimming in garlic butter over which she squeezed a bit of fresh lemon juice.

“Try this,” she offered, handing me a piece of bread to mop up the mysterious fragrant things.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Just try it,” she insisted.

I tasted it and it was good, sort of like shrimp scampi but without the shrimp. The little bits in it turned out to be the intestinal tracts of shrimp that had been removed from the shrimp during the deveining process and recycled into this tasty snack. Yucky, yes, but it really was good.

Another time I was offered a fried fritter. I didn’t ask what it was, not only because I knew it would be good but mostly because I was pretty sure I didn’t want to know its secret ingredient. It turned out to be a mushroom fritter, made from the stems of the mushrooms that were removed from the caps to make stuffed mushrooms for the dining room menu.

From then on I became curious about recycling food scraps and compiled lists of ideas on using meat bones, fat, chicken skin, and cheese rinds and I discovered how these item that were normally tossed away could lead a second life.

One of the most valuable kitchen scraps, I discovered, are shrimp shells. Never throw away raw shrimp shells! Whenever I cook shrimp for shrimp cocktail or shrimp salad, I utilize the shrimp shells to add an extra layer of shrimp flavor to the shrimp. Here’s how, along with my secret ingredient shrimp salad recipe.

How to Cook Shrimp for Shrimp Cocktail or Shrimp Salad

First, peel and devein the shrimp, leaving on the tail segment if desired. Toss the shells into a saucepan and add water just to cover. Add a spoonful of seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay, a couple of peppercorns, and a spoonful of pickling spices, if you have it. If you don’t have pickling spices, toss in a bay leaf, some mustard seeds, coriander seeds, or whatever flavorful whole spices you have on hand. Add a splash of a light vinegar, white wine, or a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice for some acid.

Simmer the mixture for about 20 minutes to extract the flavor from the shrimp shells and the seasonings into the broth. Strain the broth and return it to a simmer. Add the raw peeled shrimp, cover, and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to rest, covered, for five minutes. Drain shrimp and chill.

These shrimp are plump, juicy, and flavorful and have a great texture. I always use this method to cook shrimp for Shrimp Cocktail. Then if I have leftover shrimp and cocktail sauce, I recycle again to create this special shrimp salad.

Lydia's Recycled Shrimp Salad

cooked peeled shrimp, chopped in big chunks
finely chopped celery
finely chopped scallions

Hellman's or Best Foods Mayonnaise
Cocktail sauce
Old Bay Seasoning to taste
Worcestershire Sauce (just a dash or two)

Combine salad ingredients in a bowl. Mix dressing ingredients in a separate bowl, adding enough cocktail sauce to the mayonnaise so the sauce turns a pale salmon color resembling Thousand Island dressing. Pour sauce over shrimp and toss. Chill.

Serve shrimp salad mounded on bed of mixed greens and garnished with grape tomatoes, cucumber slices, and quarters of hard-cooked eggs.

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