If ever there were a dish loaded with meaning, it would be this one. Not just this particular recipe, but this particular occasion. The recipe itself was a long time coming. It belonged to my childhood best friend, who I've written about before (and to understand the meaning of this recipe, you'll need to know that she has since died). At any rate, my friend used to make this recipe in college, but only for boys she fancied. It was inexpensive, took no time to make (so she still looked fresh when she sat down to dinner) and was impressive enough to warrant another date. She would go on and on about how wonderful this meal was, but stubbornly refused to hand out the recipe. She never once made it for me. I was equally stubborn, and refused to ask her for the recipe more than once.
More than a decade later she had ovarian cancer and was fighting a losing battle. She came to visit me in Los Angeles, and one afternoon she silently placed her coveted recipe card on my refrigerator. It was in that darkly comic moment - one that can only happen between true friends - that we both acknowledged her gift as a sure sign she was dying.
Whenever my husband and I make this dish we talk about my friend. It's another way we keep her with us. Far from a somber occasion, we always find a reason to laugh - which is exactly what she would have wanted. And I'm pretty sure that wherever she is, she's annoyed that I'm handing out this recipe on the Internet. I'm definitely having the last laugh.
But it was hard to laugh when I went to the local seafood market today to purchase these shrimp. I had been putting off buying and eating seafood, as if somehow my denial could make the oil spill disappear. I realized that denial was exactly what I'd engaged in when I pulled into the market and saw that only a few vendors remained. Far from the usual laughter and banter, the vendors were mostly silent and somber, their demeanor relieved only by the sight of a little girl working her family's seafood stand, gathering blue crabs for the few customers there. I felt teary. This was not a part of the process that I was prepared for. If I return in a week - will there be even fewer vendors? This is something I have never even considered before - our city, no seafood. I can't even begin to comprehend that possibility.
Our dinner was wonderful, despite the mixed emotional baggage. It was shared by family and friends, as all the best meals are.
1 lb. large or extra-large shrimp (preferably with heads on, but at least with the shell on)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup clam juice
1/4 cup beer, room temperature
1/4 lb. + 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter (melted)
1. Rinse the shrimp and drain. Pinch off the heads, leaving as much of the orange shrimp fat from the heads as possible. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, combine the seasoning mix.
3. Combine 1 stick (8 Tablespoons) butter, garlic, Worcestershire, and seasoning mix in a large skillet over high heat. When the butter is melted, add the shrimp.
4. Cook for 2 minutes, shaking the pan (versus stirring). Add the remaining 5 Tablespoons of melted butter and the clam juice; cook and shake pan for 2 more minutes. Add the beer and cook and shake pan 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat.
Serve immediately in bowls with lots of French bread on the side.
(Do not double the recipe - cook each batch separately. Also, shaking the pan keeps the sauce from separating.)