Sunday, November 05, 2006

Wiggle, Wiggle, Wiggle You Got Nothing to Lose:

The name inspires a haughty smirk, a touch of smug food snobbery, yet this past week the media coverage may have exceeded that of John Kerry. Yes, the 1931 classic recipe “Shrimp Wiggle” is back, courtesy of the “Joy of Cooking” 75th anniversary edition.

The news left many staunch foodies scratching their heads. Shrimp Wiggle was a revered standard in the original “Joy” but was unceremoniously axed from the 1975 and 1997 editions. There were plenty of reviewers who seemed to feel it was better that way. I wondered why? So I headed for Google in search of answers.

The name intrigued me. It sounded like something out of Beatrix Potter. Such a moniker can’t help but inspire a smile and isn’t that what dinner is all about? What’s more fun than food that wiggles? It is, in fact, the ultimate pantry supper, with all ingredients freezer safe or shelf stable until you are ready to cook. And there’s nothing we suburban gourmands love more than convenience – we who were reared on Betty Crocker and Pillsbury Poppin’ Fresh Dough, and still show traces of Chef Boyardee in our blood.

I found a surprising number of recipes online and many varieties, some simple and others more elaborate. But they all centered on the idea of a few sea-worthy crustaceans doing the backstroke though a creamy pink lagoon of sherry, lemon and petite pois.

If that’s not enough, the venerable authors of “Joy” add the ultimate retro touch in presentation. The dish is served in “toast baskets,” crispy little containers described as “delicious and utterly charming” and whipped up by spreading white sandwich bread with butter, pressing each slice into a muffin cup and toasting in a 275 degree oven until golden. It is so faux-elegant, so suburban-stylish to transform white bread into something it’s not.

I just had to try it. So here I stand solemnly at the stove, the Sunday Supper tradition weighing heavily on my shoulders. Surprisingly, there are classic culinary techniques stirred into “Shrimp Wiggle.” The base of the sauce is a roux, and a standard reduction method concentrates the flavor. But, be sure to season generously, as roux-based sauces can be notoriously bland and those little wigglers do love the taste of the sea.

The result? Why, Neptune himself would salivate at the velvety-smooth, coral-pink sauce with sprightly shrimp and bright green peas bobbing throughout. The sherry lends a nutty taste, and there’s a slight tang from the lemon. The crisp, buttered toast adds an appealing crunch and nicely soaks up the delicious deep-sea sauce.

I’m a convert, and in true blogger fashion, I’m now planning to sample all of the additional 65 recipes in the “Brunch, Lunch, and Supper Dishes” chapter of “Joy of Cooking” for my Sunday Supper. I might even invite a few guests. My study should be completed in early 2008, but heck, there is Welsh Rarebit and Johnny Marzetti Spaghetti Pie in my future!

Welcome back, “Shrimp Wiggle.” It was worth the 75 year wait. (With thanks to Bob Dylan for today's title.)

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

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