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Chef Jay Pierce delivers big flavor recipes in little cookbook



Most folks who grew up in the Triangle, or have come to call it home, have enjoyed sweet North Carolina shrimp. You might even have a go-to way of cooking it, like a quick boil in Old Bay-spiked water or a sauté in garlicky butter for scampi. It's all good, especially as our state rolls with the tide toward peak shrimp season in July and August.

Chef Jay Pierce of the new Rocksalt in Charlotte applauds home cooks who make the effort to seek out locally sourced fish, but he'd like us to get a little more creative with the most consumed seafood in America.

"So long as you start with real, wild-caught shrimp, the sky's the limit," says Pierce, author of Shrimp, a recent release in the Savor the South series from UNC Press. The book includes about 50 recipes, several of which he'll prepare Saturday for a special brunch event at 18 Seaboard in Raleigh. The menu will feature hors d'ouevres with Bloody Marys or champagne, two shrimp courses paired with wine and a dessert course to close out the event.

Among the easiest to make at home is the shrimp ceviche, a dish so pretty and delicious that I made a huge batch for our son's beach wedding last month. Despite an initial reluctance among some guests to eat "raw" seafood, there was hardly any left at the end of the party.

Pierce developed the recipe when he was executive chef at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen in Cary and Greensboro. The beer-friendly nibble debuted at an event featuring Raleigh's Big Boss Brewery.

"It was really popular," says Pierce, who bisects the shrimp to create two thin curls that cure in an acidic citrus brine. "It's not cost effective to have on a standard restaurant menu but it's something wonderful to make at home. It really needs to be shared in a moment of time."

Pierce persuaded UNC Press to include him in its roster of all-star chefs and cookbook writers taking on single topics in the Savor the South series. Having grown up in New Orleans, where he learned to catch and cook shrimp with his father, he felt a particular connection to his assignment.

"I grew up thinking they weren't even special and now I know how important they really are," says Pierce, who addresses the challenges Southern shrimpers face in competing with cheap farmed shrimp grown in Asia. "As a chef, I feel that I have a responsibility to help people make good food choices."

Inspired by Paul Greenberg's book Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, Pierce is gratified to be one of five North Carolina chefs featured at a Farm to Fork dinner Friday where Greenberg will speak about the state of the U.S. fishing industry. Pierce will prepare a complex Carolina Bouillabaisse made with sustainable fish from Locals Seafood.

"For me—and I feel safe in saying, also for Paul Greenberg—the bottom line is that the American consumer has the ultimate power in the marketplace. They should demand better, more responsible food," Pierce says. "Always ask where your shrimp comes from. Don't pay for food that you don't ethically support."

Pierce is starting to develop a second cookbook based on the creative seafood he serves at Rocksalt. The Richmond, Virginia-based chain plans to open another location this year in Asheville, with others to follow.

"So many people say they've never been to a place like it that is so focused on ingredients," says Pierce, whose book concept has attracted interest from a top agent. "I'm told there is a book-buying audience for the kind of food we're creating, which is great. Now all I have to do is write it."

Shrimp Ceviche

Reprinted with permission of UNC Press from Shrimp by Jay Pierce.

Makes 4 appetizer servings. (Note that the recipe easily doubles for a party-size batch.)

1 lb. large shrimp (21-25), peeled

1/4 cup seeded, small-diced Roma tomatoes

4 tsp. seeded, minced jalapeños

1 cup lime juice

1/2 cup small-diced red onions

2 Tbsp. packed cilantro

2 Tbsp. orange juice

1/3 cup lemon juice

2 tsp. kosher salt

Plantain crisps or tortilla chips

Hot sauce (preferably Valentina or Bufalo)

Cut the shrimp in half lengthwise. Place in a bowl and cover with water. Swish around well, then remove the shrimp from the water. Combine the shrimp with the remaining ingredients in a shallow pan or bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and press it down onto the surface of the ceviche. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, stirring halfway through and replacing the plastic wrap.

To serve, use a slotted spoon to transfer the ceviche to a serving dish. Serve with plantain crisps or tortilla chips and a bottle of hot sauce. Some folks like to serve the juice separately as shots of "Leche de Tigre."

This article appeared in print with the headline "Shrimp supporter."

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