Here’s an easy one for Cinco de Mayo: chili-lime shrimp.
Not much to it, really. Start with big shrimp, shell-on but deveined. Mix a simple marinade of lime juice, chili flakes, garlic, and scallion. Let the shrimp mingle with the marinade for a few minutes, just long enough for the lime juice to penetrate the meat without turning it ceviche-mushy. Cook. Eat, preferably with fingers. It’s one of those deeply satisfying party foods, a reminder of how much shrimp and chili and lime adore each other.
I’ve recently gotten into cooking shrimp with the shells still on. There’s an obvious flavor boost, for one thing–the shells make the shrimp taste sweeter and sharper and altogether shrimpier, and they help hold some of the marinade against the surface of the meat. The shells also protect the delicate flesh, keeping it tender and moist and preventing the surface from picking up that odd rubbery stiffness. The shells are edible, if they’re cooked right–lightly charred and crisp all over, giving the shrimp a light papery crunch. But even if you overcrowd your shrimp, like I did, and end up with floppy pink shells, you can just peel the shrimp as you eat them, licking the marinade from your fingers as you go. The shrimp will still taste better than if the shells were never there.
Once the shrimp are marinated–if you can even call it that–there are a couple ways to cook them. Here in California, where we’ve been sweating through an August-strength heat wave, grilling is the obvious choice. Just wiggle the shrimp onto skewers, slap them on a moderate-hot grill, and serve with plenty of cold Mexican beer. In other places, where I’ve heard tell there’s still snow, grab a cast iron skillet and sear the shrimp over medium heat, then mix up a pitcher of margaritas and pretend you’re somewhere warm. Eating chili-lime shrimp will make that much easier.
Chili-Lime Shrimp (serves 4 as an appetizer)
Inspired by Eat the Roses
Note: Most places I’ve been to sell “ready-to-peel” shrimp that’s already been deveined. Deveining shrimp is one of my least favorite kitchen tasks, so I’m happy to outsource the job. If you want to devein your own shrimp, more power to you. You definitely want the shells split, though, one way or another, so that the marinade has access to the meat inside.
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 4-6 medium limes’ worth)
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, minced or finely grated
3/4 tsp crushed red chili flakes, or to taste
Salt to taste
1 lb large peel-on shrimp, thawed if frozen
Peanut, vegetable, or canola oil
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together lime juice, scallion, garlic, and chili flakes. Set aside to let the flavors meld for about 10 minutes.
Wash the shrimp and pat dry. If your shrimp aren’t already deveined, use a sharp paring knife or kitchen scissors to slit each shrimp down the back and pull out the vein. Add the shrimp to the bowl and toss to coat evenly with the marinade, making sure some of the marinade gets inside the shells. Set the shrimp aside to marinate for 5-10 minutes.
To grill the shrimp: Prepare a grill for moderate heat, and lightly brush the grates with oil. Remove the shrimp from the marinade, gently shaking off any excess. Thread the shrimp onto skewers (if using bamboo skewers, soak them for 30 minutes beforehand). Grill the shrimp for 3-5 minutes, until they are opaque halfway up the side and the shells are pink and lightly charred. Flip and grill for another 2-4 minutes, or until the shrimp are firm and just barely opaque all the way through. Remove from the pan and serve warm or at room temperature.
To pan-sear the shrimp: In a large, heavy skillet, heat about 1 tbsp oil over medium heat. Remove the shrimp from the marinade, gently shaking off any excess. Lay the shrimp in the skillet in a single layer, making sure not to crowd the pan (you may have to work in batches). Sear the shrimp for 3-5 minutes, until they are opaque halfway up the side and the shells are pink and lightly charred. Flip and cook for another 2-4 minutes, until the shrimp are firm and just barely opaque all the way through. Remove from the pan and serve warm or at room temperature.