Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

Off With Their Heads!

Actually, myMEGusta prefers that her crustaceans – prawns and shrimp and langoustines – arrive intact, spiny heads and all.

Shrimp at the Seafood Market in Venice

When impeccably fresh and properly cooked, the heads of these little animals are briny and sweet, meant to be tasted then tossed.  When the little beasts need to be cleaned before cooking, the heads and shells can be saved, accumulating in the freezer until critical mass is achieved and a delicious shrimp stock is in the offing, perhaps as the base for a bouillabaisse or seafood risotto.

There’s a lot of confusion about what the difference is among these animals, if only because they look a lot alike.

First, shrimps and prawns are separate species from the langostino/langoustine group which, include spiny lobsters which are only distantly related to North Atlantic, or “Maine” lobsters. And this is why so many Northerners complain about the “lobster” in Florida and “lobster tails”. They are different animals with different flavor characteristics.

Scampi? Shrimp? Prawns?

The main difference between shrimp and prawns lies in who you are talking to.  In reality, they are two species, differentiated by the shape of their claws and other details, but constantly interchanged in the real world of fish markets and restaurants. In the US, shrimp tend to be smaller, but giant shrimp are often marketed as prawns on menus, especially Chinese. In the UK, they’re all called prawns.

Scampi used to be large shrimps (or prawns) grilled in butter or olive oil and garlic as they might be when freshly caught from the Mediterranean Sea in Italy.  Now the word connotes anything with those ingredients, even the tiniest of shrimp or chicken, cooked in any fashion and sometimes with wine, breadcrumbs or other ingredients in addition to the basics.

Langostinos are not widely known in the US, usually found clean and frozen, ready to toss into the pan.


Langoustines on a Seafood Salad with Cucumber Mayonnaise

I discovered my favorite way to eat langoustines years ago in Paris: Presented on a giant platter, heads on and fresh from the market with a bowl of freshly made mayonnaise for dipping.  First break off the head (taste and toss), then liberate the tail meat and dip. Perfection.

What is the Difference Between Hot Gazpacho and Tomato Soup?

Answer:  About $10


It’s easy to abuse gazpacho.  After all, it’s just pureed raw vegetables, their quality making the difference between being delicious and being just glorified V8 juice. Made with sun ripened, local tomatoes at their peak of flavor in the summer, it is a super simple treat.

Like many beloved food names, the word gazpacho has come to mean something other than its original connotation. Today it can be any pureed vegetable concoction, usually served cold, but sometimes not.

The word’s origin is lost in history with various scholars attributing it to Arabic, Greek, Hebrew or Latin.

There are white gazpachos and green, but the classic has a tomato base, sometimes embellished with a little vinegar or olive oil. Easily made in these days of blenders and food processors, it’s a cold mélange of tomatoes (maybe seeded and/or peeled), maybe peppers, garlic, onion, stale bread, olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice (depending on how flavorful your tomatoes are). To be really authentic, and have a coarser texture, pull out the mortar and pestle.


Believed to have originated in Spain, gazpacho recipes vary by where it is made and the tastes of the person making it.  The Andalucía and Catalonia regions (and maybe others) claim to be its birthplace, but it surely originated earlier, perhaps in the Middle East or ancient Rome. Whatever your favorite Mexican haunt wants you to believe, it is definitely not of Latin American heritage, other than by way of the conquistadors.

Regardless of where it was invented, I was delighted with the version presented at an “authentic Slow Food” Catalan restaurant in Barcelona on a hot summer’s day: Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho. Bright red and extremely light with no bread or other thickening, it was poured over a tiny garnish of red watermelon and tomato cubes resting in a pool of Spanish olive oil, which rose to the shimmering surface making little dots. I later learned that a friend from Madrid (who is an excellent cook) routinely puts melon into her gazpacho blend.

Gazpacho at the Supermercado

You can occasionally find pre-made gazpacho in US supermarkets, but in Spain, there are whole sections devoted to it.

White gazpacho is made from pale ingredients like cucumber, garlic, almonds, lemon, maybe a little parsley or cilantro or white grapes, and is often served with a seafood garnish.

White Gazpacho with Olive Oil

The green version is a puree of raw green vegetables with a little vegetable or chicken stock, or a little cream.

Green Gazpacho

On a totally inauthentic, but probably delicious, side are things like mango gazpacho, to which I say, why not call it cold mango soup?

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