Monday, August 3, 2009

Shrimp Swarm

I experienced a shrimp swarm on Sunday. It's a phenomenon that occurs, usually at weddings or other catered events, in which the moment the shrimp comes out, throngs of people come out of the woodwork and swarm the shrimp table. After years of barbecue catering, where there are usually no shrimp present, I'd forgotten about the Shrimp Swarm.

Here's the setting: I was doing a barbecue demo at Mrs. Cook's at University Village on Sunday from 1-3pm. A huge THANK YOU, by the way, to those of you who came by. I had set up a Weber Smokey Mountain and popped in an already-smoked brisket to talk about technique, dry rubs, and managing a low fire. While the brisket was "finishing", I made my Texas All-Nighter Barbecue Sauce (it's in the book) to show everyone just how easy it is to make your own sauce. Throughout the rest of the time I sliced brisket for samples and talked about barbecue and the book.

Then I made shrimp. A grilled shrimp salad. It was hot so I wanted to do a light, grilled item. I also knew this would draw people in, but, as stated, I'd forgotten just how much. When I took those skewers off the grill, I felt like the sample lady at Costco. I don't know where all the people came from, but suddenly I was flanked on all sides and couldn't get the little paper cups of salad with one shrimp per person out fast enough. I think some people were taking two.

My sister-in-law calls them little "sea bugs". She lives in a land-locked nation and does not understand the Shrimp Swarm. I'm not sure why, but shrimp makes people forget all about manners. It's every man for himself. I've seen a guy stuff 5-6 shrimp in his cheeks at a buffet, knowing full well that someone in the crowd behind him won't get any because it's two per person. And it's not just big guys. Little old ladies are the most experienced in Shrimp Swarm techniques. They'll use their bony little elbows to razor their way through the line if you don't watch out. There was one such little old lady at Mrs. Cook's on Sunday. She didn't speak English, but she directed her entire family of 15 to belly up quick to my demo table.

Maybe it's because we've all been to those weddings or other catered events wherein the shrimp makes a brief appearance, gets devoured by locusts, then disappears before we can get our hands on the tasty little sea bugs. In fact, it's a rule in catering that you NEVER PUT OUT THE SHRIMP FIRST. You sneak it in quietly, after people have a least gulped some food down their gullet to damper the impending crush to the shrimp table. There never is enough shrimp. No matter how many a client may order, people eat shrimp as if it were their last meal. Period.

I don't have pictures because the salad disappeared before you could say "shrimp dilly-icious", so I'll post the recipe next. But first, admit it, have you ever been in the middle of a Shrimp Swarm? Were you like the big guy, with shrimp-filled cheeks? Or perhaps your method was old school, and you went with the elbows. How many times have you finally made it to the shrimp table as the empty platter was taken away?

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