Mother Nature has provided us with a few perfect pairings. Pork and apples, lemon and fish, and rosemary and lamb are all examples of foods that grow apart on Earth but are combined in the kitchen. These flavors aren’t combined on accident. They compliment each other like the perfect old married couple (and not the bickering kind. The sitting on a porch swing holding hands, watching the sunset kind.) Chefs like to get creative and find new ways to pair flavors, but ultimately these perfect pairings (as I call them) need no help. That’s why we cook them over and over again. Because the flavors may not taste great alone (who wants to eat raw rosemary?) but together, they are perfect.
Garlic and shrimp is one of these perfect pairings. Shrimp is such a great protein. It’s great for us, and it tastes amazing. While shrimp can be made many different ways, few of those don’t include garlic. And the sweet, pungent, but still mellow flavor of garlic can be everything you need for the perfect shrimp. One note: please buy North American shrimp only. Imported shrimp, as of now (2011) is not fished sustainably and can ruin our oceans.
No matter what style of cuisine you are preparing (Mediterranean, Italian, or Asian inspired) there is a technique to get you the perfect garlic flavor infused into your shrimp. The trick is to get all three of the garlic flavors into your shrimp: The raw & pungent, the roasted & sweet, and the smooth & mellow.
First, you marinate the shrimp in chopped raw garlic. Then, you roast crushed garlic in oil to a nice dark brown, and finally, you poach (lightly cook) thinly sliced garlic into it’s nice mellow tones. Then, when you finally pop that succulent cooked shrimp in your mouth and it bursts on your tongue, it will release the full spectrum of garlic flavors all at once, leaving your palate tingling and wondering what exactly happened to it. (The flavors will be so satisfying, it will leave your tongue hoping that the shrimp will call the next day.)
This technique can be used to make a wonderful Sizzling Garlic Shrimp appetizer, a full meal when served over cous cous, or a wonderfully rich shrimp scampi over angel hair pasta (or cappellini as the Italians say. There must be some relation to capillaries here. One is the thinnest pasta, the other the thinnest veins, but I don’t know for sure. Anyhow, I digress, as usual…)
This may all seem like a lot to do, but it takes only a half-hour, and you will leave your guests scratching their heads, wondering why it never tastes this good when they cook with garlic at home.
Regardless of which variant you make below (I like to switch it up and make ‘em all. I’ll also keep trying new ways to make this technique work as well) serve it with a good rose wine. Believe it or not, some rose wines are good, you don’t always have to turn your nose up at them. Menage a Trois make a great rose with a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Gewurztraminer (No Zin to be found) and is very affordable.
Sizzling Garlic Shrimp
16 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1 pound medium to large shrimp, peeled and deveined, with tails removed
8 Tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
1 bay leaf
2 tsp dry sherry or sake
1 tsp rice wine or white vinegar
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped (otional)
1 tsp cayenne pepper or other chile powder (optional, but recommended. Can also use 1 dried chile, roughly broken. Also not to be mistaken for chili powder, you don’t want your garlic shrimp to taste of Texas chili. We’re looking for powdered chiles here.)
- Marinate shrimp in 2 Tbsp of olive oil, along with the salt and 4 minced or pressed garlic cloves for 30 minutes. This will give the shrimp a raw pungent garlicky flavor.
- Meanwhile, smash 4 more garlic cloves with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Heat the smashed garlic in remaining 6 Tbsp of olive oil over medium heat until darkly golden brown, 4 to 7 minutes. Remove pan from flame and allow oil to cool. Remove the browned garlic with a slotted spoon. This browned garlic will add the sweet garlic flavor.
- Thinly slice the remaining 8 garlic cloves. Return the pan to low heat and add sliced garlic, bay leaf, and optional cayenne or dried chili. Cook, stirring occasionally 4 to 7 minutes, or until garlic is poached, which means tender but not yet browned. (If the garlic has not begun to sizzle slightly after 3 minutes, increase heat slightly to medium-low heat.) This adds the final mellow garlic notes to the dish.
- Increase heat to medium-low and add shrimp, with the marinade, to the pan in a single layer. Cook shrimp, undisturbed, until oil starts to gently bubble, about 2 minutes. Using tongs, flip shrimp and continue to cook through about 2 minutes longer.
- Mix vinegar and sherry or sake together. Increase heat to high, and add sherry or sake mixture along with parsley. Cook 15 to 20 seconds until shrimp is pink and cooked through. Serve to guests sizzling.
Simply serve the garlic shrimp and it’s oils over your favorite cous cous.
Garlicky Shrimp Scampi Variant
Add 2 teaspoons of dried oregano to the oil in step three with the bay leaf in place of the cayenne, chile or chile powder. Serve over cappellini (angel hair pasta)