The Dean is obsessed with the killer Gambas al Ajillo her host made in Merviel, France. The classically simple Catalan recipe is the perfect treatment for the #1 ingredient in Lowcountry cooking: SHRIMP. We suggest you use the peels to make a fantastic starter soup, perfect for appetizing your dinner party guests when you are still at the stove...
- Remove heads and shells, leaving tails on, of 3 lbs. shrimp. Put the peeled shrimp in one bowl, the heads and shells in another. Toss peeled shrimp in 2-3 teaspoons of coarse salt and refrigerate for 20 minutes. (This step makes the shrimp tastier, crustier when cooked, and removes any water shrimp might be holding.)
- In the meantime, prepare a stock using the heads/shells and equal parts water and white wine to barely cover the shells. Add a little salt and simmer until all "shrimpiness" is released from the shells. In 15-20 minutes the liquid will taste like fish stock. Strain. To finish, measure six demitasse cups of strained stock back into the pot. Taste, and a stronger flavor is needed, boil the strained liquid for a few minutes to concentrate the flavor. Add a tablespoon of heavy cream, or more to taste. The goal is to add body and creaminess but not too much, or the cream will take center stage. Finally add a capful, or two, of Pernod.* Grind a few black peppercorns and your miniature cup of sensational soup is ready to go. Guests can sip while watching you stand in front of the stove sautéing your shrimp...
- Slice large garlic cloves very thin.** Slice cloves longways because you want as much garlic surface as possible in the oil for release the most flavor. Pour 1/4 inch of Spanish olive oil to cover bottom of a large sauté pan. (The oil and garlic is a fantastic sauce for dipping bread into, but in this case more is not more. If an abundance of oil is used to make 'extra sauce' the shrimp flavor will be masked). Over medium high heat, add the sliced garlic and a sprinkle of espelette (or a whole red hot pepper) until garlic is lightly browned, about one minute. Add all the shrimp and stir until just pink, two to three minutes depending on size of shrimp.
Serve immediately with a loaf of crusty bread and plenty more white wine! There is not an easier or more delicious dinner party to be had, on either continent.
*TIP: When adding cream and Pernod, remember you can always add more but cannot take out.
**Another TIP: Try to find large fresh garlic bulbs, some of our papery ones are basically tasteless.