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Shrimp is a very versatile food that can easily be incorporated into most soup recipes as the featured ingredient. Substituting shrimp for clams in New England clam chowder, for example, creates excellent shrimp chowder. There are many soups in nearly all global cuisines, though, that have been developed for shrimp.
Another popular shrimp soup in the US is cream of shrimp. This is created by sautéing shrimp, chopped onions and butter and adding them to a thin Bechamel or white sauce flavored with shrimp or chicken stock. Shrimp gumbo is a thick Cajun soup, featuring shrimp, sometimes accompanied by other meats such as chicken or Andouille sausage, together with a variety of vegetables in a broth flavored primarily by shrimp. Most American shrimp soup offerings are relatively mild when compared to some of the very spicy offerings from other lands.
A popular Mexican shrimp soup is sopa de camarones, made with shrimp, potatoes and chunks of corn-on-the-cob in a milk-and-shrimp based stock. Chupe de camarones is a spicy Peruvian shrimp soup that combines shrimp with potatoes, beans, tomatoes, corn and onions in a complex shrimp-and-chili stock that includes evaporated milk and eggs. Brazilian shrimp soups employ coconut milk as a thickener, which also adds an interesting flavor variation. These tomato-based soups also include peppers and moderate quantities of rice.
There are countless European shrimp soups. Shrimp bisque, a soup generally served with whole or diced shrimp in a puree of shrimp, tomatoes, onions, carrots and many other ingredients, is served worldwide but traces its origins to French cuisine. An Italian soup combines small, cocktail-style shrimp with sweated vegetables, diced tomatoes and cannelloni beans in chicken broth. Crema de Gambas con Mejillones is a creamy Spanish soup. Similar to an American chowder in that it relies on milk and cream, it features mussels as well as shrimp.
Asian and Pacific cuisines rely heavily on shrimp for salads, soups and entrees. Ramen, the very popular Japanese noodle soup, is transformed to a very satisfying shrimp soup simply by the addition of a few peeled and deveined shrimp. Sinigang na hipon, or Pinoy-stype sour shrimp soup, is served in a clear broth with fresh radish, string beans and quartered tomatoes, and owes its unique sour flavor to tamarind. Shrimp won-ton soup is Chinese, and features whole or minced shrimp in won-ton wrappers served in a chicken broth with scallions and other seasonings. Tom Yum Goong, Thailand’s spicy shrimp soup, relies on a number of exotic ingredients for its flavor, including lime leaves, cilantro, and lemongrass.
Some shrimp soups are prepared in a shrimp stock. Many meat and vegetable stocks are made simply by simmering or boiling the ingredient until the liquid takes on the desired flavor. Shrimp stock cannot be prepared this way, though, because the meat will become very tough if cooked long and hot enough to produce a well-flavored stock. Thus, shrimp stock for soup or sauce is generally prepared by sautéing or simmering shrimp heads and shells and then straining off the solids. Beer is a favorite base for making shrimp stock.
Many other shrimp soups, though, don’t rely on the shrimp to flavor the stock. Instead, the shrimp is added to the soup as the very last step in the process. Shrimp cooks very quickly and toughens when overcooked; therefore, regardless of the stock, the shrimp itself shouldn’t be added to the soup until just a few moments before serving. Some restaurants serve shrimp soup with the entire shell, or the tail portion of the shell, still on the shrimp. These labor-saving shortcuts add little to the flavor of the soup and detract significantly from the dining experience, forcing diners either to peel hot, wet shrimp or discard a portion.