In my four years at college in New Orleans, I fell in love with shrimp–they were fresh from the Gulf, abundant, and cheap (even for a poverty-stricken student)–so I cooked them twice a week or more. I still love shrimp today, but prices are a bit higher now that I’m farther from the coast, so I save by buying shell-on or even whole shrimp. Peeling the shrimp takes a little time, but it’s worth the better price.
Photo: Getty Images
| Credit: Getty Images

Problem is, I’m always left with piles of shells and tails, and it seems like a shame to just throw them out. That’s how I discovered the wonders of shrimp stock.

All the food magazines and cookbooks rave about how wonderful homemade stock is, and how important it is for proper sauces (and, sure, they’re right), but veal stock takes half a day to make, and chicken stock not much less time. The beauty of shrimp stock is it takes half an hour.

Next time you buy shrimp, get shell-on, and try this: roughly chop an onion (you don’t even have to peel it), and throw in a pot with the shrimp shells and tails and a little olive oil. Saute until the shells just begin to brown, then add enough water to cover (3-4 cups is enough for the shells and tails from a pound of shrimp) and a few whole peppercorns. Bring to a boil and simmer 30 minutes, then strain. That’s all there is to it. If you want to get fancier, you can add parsley or other herbs, carrot and celery, half a lemon, whatever you like. I like to pour the stock into ice cube trays to freeze so I can thaw out just what I need when I need it.

Now that you’ve got a supply in the freezer,there are all kinds of shrimp stock uses and recipes: Shrimp Paella (photo below), Shrimp and Bean Burrito Bowl, shrimp bisque, Shrimp and Chicken Gumbo, Lowcountry Shrimp and Grits, this great Chile-roasted Shrimp recipe where the stock makes a sauce, but my favorite use for shrimp stock, and my secret dish to impress anybody, is seafood risotto. Replace the chicken or fish stock in your favorite recipe with homemade shrimp stock for a big boost in flavor, combined with risotto’s natural creamy richness and plenty of seafood. I love shrimp, scallops, and mussels in my risotto, but clams, firm-fleshed fish, lobster–anything works. The best part is, risotto only takes about 25-30 minutes to cook, which makes an indulgent, restaurant-like dish like this one feasible even on a weeknight.

Shrimp Paella