shrimp cocktail

#27 shrimp cocktail relaxes me

Welcome to A Newsletter #27, the date of the full moon in February called “The Snow Moon” that Susan Miller says is going to be extremely lucky for me, a Virgo. If you’ve found your way over by some miracle but are not yet subscribed, here, let me help you with that:

I used to have a rule that I wouldn’t eat dinner with someone on the first date. Eating food is so important to me that I couldn’t imagine poisoning my unbridled enjoyment with nervousness, anxiety, or worse: boredom. Cooking for them was out of the question until maybe the fifth or sixth date, if we even got that far— to me, it’s essentially intimacy on par with ninth base, whatever that is (you get the point). Them cooking for ME? Well, we’d have to be already married, which I have never been. If it feels like I’m being dramatic, that’s because I am. But even still! Dinner, in general, is a true commitment. Not only is it prime time (7 pm, baby!), but dinner typically lasts upwards of TWO hours! Seated! Probably with tons of eye contact! With a stranger! Sounds like what I imagine hell to be.

I understand this is my own personal hang-up—eating dinner on the first date is not uncommon. In fact, “dinner at a restaurant” would likely rank as the top answer on Family Feud if the question “things to do on a first date” were to be asked. One might suggest that if a potential partner didn’t like food all that much, ordered with too many modifications, or was rude to a server, I’d want to know sooner rather than later. True, but not worth the anxiety of having to DINE with a STRANGER. I can not stress the horribleness of this enough.

(This resistance to the intimacy of even the mildest sort is very clearly “avoidant behavior,” which I will not be elaborating on at this moment-- this is my newsletter and if I want to avoid talking about my avoidant behavior, well, then so be it).  

I say “used to,” because this pandemic has changed things for dating, making a not-great situation very much worse. Now, even if just going to a bar (outdoors), you have to order food with your drinks per NYC law. Eating food! On the first date! The indignity of it all. How am I supposed to get charmingly drunk off two martinis because I skipped dinner to be there on time when I have to order something beyond a dish of olives just to sit there? (I do not begrudge the bars or restaurants for this, by the way– I understand why they have to do this, and I always happily order food with my friends! I want to spend money there! Take all my money! Please stay open and employed!). Beyond my own performance anxiety, this mandate moves things faster than I’d like, pushing me directly into a zone of deep and extreme discomfort.

The first date now runs on the timeline of a third or fourth date and I am not prepared emotionally but agree to it because it is our only option. We sit down and take our masks off, looking at each other’s full faces for the first time in person. Already a weird thing, and now there is the aforementioned eye contact. Everything is weird, even when it’s regular. There’s some small talk while I am also too aware of the server getting ready to come by and take our order from a menu we have not discussed. I can’t focus on our conversation because I’m too focused on what we are going to tell the server when they come over. We still aren’t ready and I’m worried they’ll be annoyed, and I’m worried I’ll get flustered at how concerned I am over the server getting annoyed. Are we getting entrées? I hate the word “entrées. I don’t even like entrées as a concept and never order them unless there are a lot of us and right now there are only two of us. I don’t want to say any of that yet. Too soon! Are we sharing? Do they share? Do we like the same things? Do we agree on the same amount of food? What if I am more hungry than they are? The server comes back and leaves at least two more times because the small talk is getting bigger. Do they like oysters? If they didn’t, I would be disappointed and not likely able to enjoy the rest of the date. I suggest oysters and they are also excited by them. The server returns, we order martinis, hope they like theirs with gin, too. They do. We order the correct amount of oysters (12) and also add on a shrimp cocktail although I can’t remember who suggests it. The promise of shellfish alone relaxes me. We end up doing one entrée but also agree to share. An emotional tie.

I get up from the table and walk to the restroom not because I have to pee, but because walking helps me feel less anxious and our martinis haven’t arrived yet. I don’t bring my phone to the bathroom because there is nobody I need to talk to at that moment, everything is too soon to tell and I have no news. I wash my hands and look in the mirror and think: I am now a person who eats dinner on a first date. What does that mean? Am I different now? Nothing and no, respectively. I take a deep breath and walk back, knowing that if nothing else, there will be shrimp cocktail.


makes 1.5 cups of sauce

There doesn’t need to be an occasion, reason or excuse to do this. The reason can be “I feel like eating shrimp cocktail tonight,” and that will be good enough. You can be alone or with a person, either will work.

While I do love a spicy cocktail sauce, I think Tabasco is a little *too* spicy and not flavorful enough (gasp!). I prefer things like yuzu kosho (a Japanese fermented chili paste made with yuzu, chiles, and salt. I have been using this green one for fifteen years and it’s still my favorite) and harissa (a North African chili paste made with hot peppers, garlic and sometimes spices. I like this one from Shuk), but feel free to experiment with any of your favorite hot sauces. While I typically do not abide the usage of ketchup under any circumstance, I find myself able to shovel cocktail sauce (90% ketchup) into my mouth when accompanied by a perfectly poached shrimp with reckless abandon. Please forgive me for my hypocrisy.

1 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons yuzu kosho or harissa, plus more (I like my cocktail sauce on the spicy side, so if you don’t start with one or two tablespoons)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more
2 teaspoons worcestershire or maggi sauce
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine ketchup, yuzu kosho or harissa, lemon juice and worcestershire sauce in a medium bowl. Season with salt, pepper and more yuzu kosho/harissa and lemon juice if you like. I like mine very lemony, very salty and very spicy— adjust to suit your own preferences. Serve with all the shrimps, or eat shamelessly with a spoon.

For the shrimp itself, I like large or jumbo and I always buy unpeeled, undeveined shrimp. Wild if it’s an option. You’ll want about ¼-½ pound per person, depending on what else you’re eating and depending on the person. Adjust accordingly.

Peel but do not devein the shrimp (otherwise they will get all curly when they cook. If the idea of eating undeveined shrimp really, really bothers you, yes, you can devein them, but it’s really not a big deal, I promise!). Working in batches as needed, lower them into a large pot of salted boiling water and cook until they’re bright pink and opaque, 3–4 minutes. Drain or remove them using a slotted spoon and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet so they can cool down as quickly as possible, then place that baking sheet in the fridge.

For serving, squeeze all of the shrimp with some lemon (this is an important step). Fill a large bowl with ice and then top with shrimp, no need to arrange them concentrically or anything, just however you think looks nice. You can scatter a few olives or tiny cornichons onto the ice as well, or just leave them as-is. Be sure to provide a little dish for the tails.

DO AHEAD: Cocktail sauce can be made 2 weeks ahead, shrimp can be poached a day or two ahead, both kept wrapped and refrigerated.

Watch White Tiger, fall deeply in love with Priyanka Chopra, and remember the time you saw her, Nick Jonas AND Sophie Turner at Emilio’s Ballato. Miss Emilio’s Ballato, but still know that even if you could go, you wouldn’t because it’s still A VERY BAD IDEA TO EAT INSIDE A RESTAURANT. JustBecauseYouCanDoesn’! Read Aminatou Sow’s latest newsletter which is really an advice column although she would not want me to say that, audibly cackle at the Filene’s Basement reference. Decide it’s time to take your baths more seriously, spend several hours doing bubble bath/bath salt research because you want something that foams like Dawn dish soap but made of natural ingredients and also makes your skin soft, find nothing that fits the bill (I am now taking bath accouterment recs). Watch Home Movies, like, and subscribe! Never watch Emily in Paris but still wonder how the fuck that got a Golden Globe nomination and how I May Destroy You….Didn’t? Stay off Twitter for five full days and find that the one gray hair you had disappears, wonder what would happen if you deleted it altogether.

Some FOOD THINGS for you to do: If you are in Brooklyn, please go visit my dearest Susan Kim at her Doshi pop-up, happening this weekend at the former Meme’s Diner space in Prospect Heights (MEME’S FOREVER IN OUR HEARTS). Her cooking is truly a gift to us all. If you are in The South, specifically near Savannah, you can enter a raffle to have dinner with me and some very special friends (outdoors! from a distance! with masks on!) to raise money for Neng Jr.’s, Asheville’s first Filipinx restaurant. [FYI: This dinner will be OUTDOORS, there will be masks required and it will be socially and responsibly distanced. Nobody who is cooking the dinner will be flying to get there, and we do not suggest anyone else fly, either. If you can get to Savannah safely and responsibly (a.k.a. you live close enough to drive or love a road trip), all are welcome!] Head here for details on Silver and Neng Jr.’s, and here for intel on how to enter.

For the month of Febuary, a portion of profits from paid subscriptions will go to Restaurant Workers Community Foundation, an organization assisting members of the restaurant community with a focus on wage fairness, gender equity, racial justice, and mental health. Learn more about them here.
Past supported organizations to consider for donations: The Okra Project / Food Issues Group / La Cocina / Heart of Dinner / ACLU / FAIR FIGHT / Feeding America