photo credit: Sarah Shatz
You absolutely must try this recipe! Seriously, you must. In fact, you should make it tonight. It’s one of my favorites. I don’t make it that often – it’s a little decadent, that is, the quantity of butter is not exactly tiny (though, when it comes down to it, it’s probably still lighter than a cream sauce) – but whenever I do make it, I’m delighted afresh by how scrumptious it is! It has all the makings of a perfect weeknight supper, or an impressive meal for a date. It’s easy, fast, and tastes far more delicious than anything this simple has any right to.
Plus, if you make it with shrimp with their shells still on, which you definitely should because it will give you both little shrimpies that are more tender and succulent and a more flavorful sauce, then you will get to have the fabulously messy tactile experience of peeling saucy shrimp (saucy in both senses of the word), and of licking every last drop of sauce off of your fingers as you eat them. Then, you must follow this by dunking sturdy pieces of warm, crusty French bread into the sauce and mopping up every bit.
I got the original recipe for these shrimp from a college boyfriend. The moment we tasted it, I knew it was a keeper. You know, every old relationship has pieces you want to leave behind (sometimes far, far behind), but every relationship also provides you with something worth keeping, whether it is a revelation about yourself and how you relate to others, or a recipe for Cajun shrimp. (This particular relationship also provided me with a very excellent recipe for chicken Marbella, which I’m quite thankful for.) I’ve adapted and tweaked the recipe each time I’ve cooked these shrimp, but always tried to stay true to the fundamentals, since they were already perfect. Sweet, plump shrimp cooked in a tangy, garlicky sauce laced with the spirited flavors of the bayou. It’s hot, but not in a spicy sort of way, more in a thick, fragrant way. A humid heat, you could say, slicked with the irresistible silkiness of butter melted in at the very finish.
My final flourish on my most recent iteration was to set the whole thing ablaze (actually, it was Joel who was the intrepid flame igniter on this one). On purpose. (For once. I’m afraid small kitchen fires are a fairly regular occurrence when I’m cooking. Very small ones though – my reaction tends to be much larger than the flames.) It was Cajun shrimp en flambe! Which is a rather exciting thing to have for supper. The flambe step is completely optional, but it is quite fun if you want to put on a little show (just be careful, and have someone with a fan stationed under your fire alarm to keep it from overreacting). The fire burns itself out quickly and leaves the sauce with a sweet murmur of deep caramel cognac flavor without overcooking the shrimp.
Don’t forget to serve a lot of good fresh French bread for soaking up all the sauce. Then, just add a salad, maybe a cold beer or glass of white wine and you’re all set!
Cajun Shrimp (serves 2-4)
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 3/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- zest from one half lemon
- 25-30 large shrimp, shell on (though, I have discovered by necessity that it also does work with peeled shrimp, if you must)
- 5 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
- 4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon shallot, finely minced
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup cognac or brandy (optional)
- In a bowl, combine the shrimp with the spices and the lemon zest. Toss the shrimp to coat it well.
- In a large frying pan, heat 2 Tbs. of butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Stir in the garlic, shallot, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce. Sautee for about 2-3 minutes, until the garlic and shallot have softened. Then, add the shrimp and sautee until they just turn pink, about 3 minutes.
- If you wish to flambe your shrimp, carefully tilt the pan away from you, pour in the cognac with a ladle and use a long match or one of those lighters with a long handle to light the cognac. Let it blaze itself out – this should only take 15 or so seconds. I once had a friend add way too much cognac to a flambe and the fire kept going and going…if this happens, please just blow it out! If you’d prefer, you can just skip this step entirely.
- Take the pan off the heat and stir in the remaining butter until melted. Serve with lots of crusty French bread, a big green salad (and heck, why not eat that with your fingers too?!) and some cold beer.