Friday, December 12, 2008

Shrimp al Ajillo

For over 3 years I've been making a shrimp dish whose recipe I skimmed from a New York Times Magazine article that was a kind of meditation on garlic. It's a simple shrimp dish, very much like the garlicky shrimp found in tapas bars all over Spain, and now found in all of the Iberian-themed restaurants that have been sprouting up all over Philadelphia. I've found the best versions of this dish at Amada restaurant in Philly, and the Spanish Tavern in Newark, NJ's Ironbound neighborhood. And over the past three years, I've tweaked the dish, adding diced green peppers on one occasion, scallions and parsley on another, upping the garlic sometimes, ramping up the heat at other times. But last night, I think I found the best version to date, adding green peas and diced roasted red peppers. Total time for preparation and execution is about 30 minutes, depending on the starch you choose to serve with the shrimp. If you make this for a party, a day of football or just potluck somewhere, you're talking 15 minutes start to finish. It's the simplest dish to prepare that you could ever imagine.

Owing to its heritage, it will always go well with a nice, dry fino sherry. But it also pairs well with a German or Washington State riesling, an Oregon or California syrah or even petite syrah, as well as any good Oregon pinot noir. I recently opened a bottle of Kaiken Ultra Malbec from Argentina with this shrimp, and the two danced beautifully together. A crisp pilsner, from Brooklyn Brewing, Victory, Stoudt's or Pilsner Urquell will also pair superbly with this shrimp. But be forewarned: this stuff is scarily addictive. 2 pounds may not be enough.

1 c olive oil
3 tbs chopped garlic, or more to taste
2 lbs medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tsp hot red pepper flakes
1 tsp Tabasco or other hot sauce, to taste
1 tsp sweet or hot paprika, to taste

1 c finely diced red and green peppers, scallions, carrots or onions (optional)
1/2 c chopped parsley (optional)

Heat a large lidded wok or dutch oven over low to medium heat. When the pot is hot add olive oil and garlic; cook until garlic softens but do not brown, about 2 minutes.
Raise the heat and add the shrimp; stir and saute for about 2 minutes, until all start to turn pink.
Sprinkle in the pepper flakes, hot sauce and paprika. Season with salt to taste. Cover the wok or pot and reduce heat to low. Cook until the shrimp are firm and opaque, about 5 minutes. Taste sauce and adjust heat to your taste. Transfer to a warm bowl. Serve by itself or with fried potatoes, white or saffron rice.
TWEAK NOTE: Add 1 cup of finely diced veggies like peppers, carrots, scallions or onions, or a cup of cooked peas when you add the pepper flakes, hot sauce and paprika, and gently stir into shrimp. Add chopped parsley in the final minute of cooking, if no chopped veggies are being added, or if you just like more color.

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