Thursday, February 6, 2014

Spicy Cuban Shrimp with Garlic (Camarones al Ajillo)

camarones al ajillo
Camarones al Ajillo is a classic old Cuban recipe that traces its roots back to Spain. The traditional recipe is audaciously rich and unabashedly garlicky, with even more olive oil and garlic than my zesty version -- and I use more garlic than called for in most modern-day versions found in Cuban cookbooks. The crushed red pepper flakes are my own touch, as Cuban food generally doesn't include hot chilies. You can omit the red pepper flakes, or add more for a hotter dish.

Another change I made to the classic recipe is that I used peeled, deveined shrimp rather than shell-on shrimp, primarily because I was serving this dish to guests and did not want them to have to go through the trouble (and the mess) of peeling the oil-coated cooked shrimp at the table.

Cuban shrimp with garlic sauce traditionally is served with a crusty loaf of bread such as Italian bread or a French baguette, and diners tear off chunks of bread to mop up the pungent sauce. Another traditional presentation for camarones al ajillo is over cooked white rice (I served it over cooked brown rice). For a no-carb or low-carb dinner, you can simply serve the shrimp and sauce in a bowl or over cooked spaghetti squash that has been chopped into short, rice-like strands.

2 lbs raw, peeled & deveined shrimp, preferably large or extra-large
1/2 cup olive oil*, preferably Spanish olive oil
15 large cloves of garlic, peeled
Cuban shrimp with garlic sauceJuice of 2 limes (reserve some of the zest for a garnish)
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley (plus more for garnish)
1/2 tsp Kosher or sea salt
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

*A good-quality virgin or pure olive oil is better than extra virgin olive oil for this recipe because it will stand up better to cooking than will EVOO, but you can also use EVOO.

Using a very sharp knife or a single-edge razor blade if you dare, slice the garlic cloves as thinly as possible (you can also use a mandolin or a truffle/chocolate shaver if you have one -- the goal is to get paper-thin slices without shedding your blood in the process). Heat the oil over medium-low heat until shimmery and fragrant. Add the garlic and cook, stirring regularly for just a few minutes until you can smell the garlic but it has not begun to turn golden, e.g., 3 to 5 minutes max. Bring the heat up to medium, add the shrimp and cook, stirring regularly, until the shrimp just turns pink (about 5-7 minutes). Stir in the remaining ingredients and cook until heated through and all the shrimp is pink but being careful not to overcook -- this should take only another minute or two. Remove from heat and serve immediately, garnished with lime zest and/or parsley if desired. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Zestfully yours,

PS: To see more of my authentic and innovative Cuban recipes and Cuban-inspired creations, visit my Cuban Recipes board on Pinterest.

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