Ask Chef Rachael - August 2013

Q. I love shrimp and read a lot of recipes that say it should cook in just a few minutes. Besides being afraid to undercook it, it never looks brown enough after only 1-2 minutes. Exactly how long should shrimp cook?

A. I do understand how frustrating it can be to read a recipe that won't tell you EXACTLY how long something should cook, but as a recipe writer, I can tell you that it is really important for several reasons, including but not limited to the type of equipment and cookware you are using, the size and shape of your food, ingredient differences and even the weather! Where judgment is required, you want to rely on the time indicated, but to a lesser extent than indications of color, texture, opacity, smell, etc. Shrimp do cook fast, and the smaller they are they faster they cook. Look for an opaque light pink, and remember that like all proteins, it will continue to cook when it is taken off the heat. I think it is really hard to get shrimp to brown no matter the cooking method, but adding even a pinch or two of sugar per pound to whatever seasoning you put on it before grilling or sautéing (even if it is just seasoned with salt and pepper) will really help. The sugar won't be noticeable because of shrimp's naturally sweet flavor profile.

Q. Can I substitute red onion for shallots?

A. I will leave the final yes or no up to you, but I'll explain what makes them different so you can make an informed choice. While they look and taste similar, a shallot is not just a small onion. Shallots are much milder than onions, and they have a distinctly more delicate texture. You often find them called for in recipes where you want a very mild oniony heat but minimal crunch factor – salad dressings, pan sauces and paired with mildly flavored foods such as fish. Onions, even when caramelized, have much more texture than shallots (a pan of caramelized shallots will become almost a smooth paste).

Q. I loved your recipe for Romesco Sauce on grilled pizza. Do you have any more unique ideas for more "gourmet" grilled pizzas?

Grilled PizzaA. I could go on and on! For starters, I like more interesting cheeses on pizza – blue, goat and fontina are among my personal favorites. I'm excited to try our new Monte Enebro (in the Imported Cheese Department), too. It's the best of all cheeses combined – smooth, creamy, salty, with that goat cheese tang and bluish flavor from the molds they make it with. It's next on my list for sure. I like greens on pizza, too – arugula and radicchio are my go-tos. I also like thinly sliced potatoes on pizza (you have to precook them). I make a cheese and herb pizza that's brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with (quite a lot of) minced garlic and shredded fontina cheese. I cover it with freshly chopped rosemary and thyme and crushed red pepper flakes. When it's done, I drizzle it with a touch more oil and season generously with freshly ground Kowalski's Sea Salt and Black Peppercorns. It's amazing!

Q. I've heard beer tastes better out of a glass than from a bottle or can. Thoughts?

A. Beer does have aromatic qualities that should be released when it is poured into a glass, just like wine. Don't believe it? Maybe some experiments are in order! Those aromatics will also be better appreciated when they warm up from the fridge a bit. Most of us keep our refrigerators between 35°-38° degrees, but beer is best tasted at between 48° and 54°.

Q. I'm hosting a bridal shower next month and the bride does not eat gluten. I've got most of the menu figured out, but not dessert. What do you recommend?

A. Without knowing the rest of the menu, I'll give you a few similar ideas and you can decide what works best. I've been enjoying a few very easy and lighter fruit desserts this summer. Pineapple spears sprinkled with chopped dried dates and roasted, salted pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and drizzled with a warm honey-ancho chile powder (be sure to get a gluten-free brand) mixture is great with or without ice cream or yogurt. I also like a Rosemary and Honey Syrup on strawberries or sliced peaches. To make the syrup, combine 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup each sugar and rosemary in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil; stir to dissolve the sugar. Add a few sprigs of rosemary; remove from heat and let stand until cool to room temperature. Remove the rosemary before using the syrup. You can also try my recipes for Spiced Orange Yogurt Parfaits, Lemon-Honey Yogurt Parfaits or Berries Romanoff.

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