Making Fast Work of the Maine Shrimp Season
February 08, 2012
Sometimes I don't feel like cooking. Like the day after our eight-course Groundhog Day celebration of local food over at Preservation Hall (a few photos are over here on FB). But I'm not one to let that stop me from eating. So I took home a pint of Maine shrimp from our Eastham store. Give them about a minute with butter, garlic, and white wine and you have one fine dinner-in-a-skillet.
The inspiration here is straight out of Boston's North End, where, for me, eating Italian used to mean ordering "Shrimp Scampi." Later I was taught that scampi was the what Italians called their langoustines, and that in Italy those shrimp were typically pan-sauteed this way. So the Italian-Americans who opened restaurants here coined "Shrimp Scampi" as a way of saying shrimp cooked scampi-style. Now I hear that putting it on your menu is so unfashionable that it's actually hip.
All I can say is it's the right thing to do with Maine shrimp.
Maine shrimp, also called "northern shrimp" (Pandalus borealis), are a winter treat in New England, nothing like the bigger warm water shrimp we import. They seem delicate because they're so small, but they're surprisingly firm, sweet and flavorful. The season is going to be short this year, according to Talking Fish and other sustainability reports we follow, because after years of good harvests, landings were down last year. The idea is to support the population by limiting the number of days of fishing this time around.
The simplicity of a "scampi" sauce treats these shrimp with the respect they deserve. And then there are the pan juices: you will want crusty bread or a plate of pasta to sop up every last drop of them.
Maine Shrimp, Scampi-Style
If you're serving this on pasta, you can have all the prep work done in the time it takes a pot of water to come to the boil. I even give the pasta a head start, because the scampi will come together in just a few minutes. One small step that's worth a lot of flavor: drain the pasta when it's al dente, then add it to the sauce in the skillet to simmer for a minute or two before you serve it.
1 pint peeled Maine shrimp
1 small shallot, minced
4 fat cloves garlic, minced or sliced
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
a big pinch of dried red pepper flakes
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons butter
a big handful of Italian parsley (about 1/4 cup minced)
1 tablespoon breadcrumbs
4 wedges of fresh lemon
1 pound linguine or a loaf of crusty country bread
Drain the shrimp over a small bowl and reserve any juices to add to the pan sauce later.
Warm the olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the shallot, garlic, thyme, and the pinch of red pepper flakes. Watch and stir the mixture for just a minute or so, until the garlic begins to soften and get aromatic––don't let it brown.
Sprinkle the salt on the shrimp and toss it into the pan. Sauté the shrimp, turning it in the garlic and herbs for a minute or two, until it's just opaque. Then remove the shrimp to a bowl and set it aside, but keep your skillet going.
Pour the white wine into the skillet. Add any shrimp juices that might have accumulated when you drained it. Simmer to reduce the liquid in the pan by about half.
Add the butter and whisk it into the pan juices to create a sauce. Whisk in the minced parsley and the breadcrumbs. Then either add the pasta to the sauce, let it a simmer for a minute, and toss in the shrimp, or skip the pasta and just stir the shrimp into the sauce and serve it with bread.
A last-minute squeeze of fresh lemon juice adds a nice bright note to the dish.
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