31 July 2013

Algerian Peel-and-Eat Shrimp


I have spent a lots of Ramadan's in a lot of Muslim countries by now, and I've had all variety of experiences. I've had the Ramadan where you're surrounded by your local friends and colleagues, attending everyone's iftar dinners and sampling so much delicious food that you end up fasting during the day because you're still so full. I've had Ramadan's in unfamiliar countries where you don't know anyone and desperately wish there was a place you could just get a sandwich for lunch. I've had Ramadan's in the winter, when everyone tucks cozily into dinner at 5 pm, and now in the interminable miserable heat of summer. There are the Ramadan's where a young child came every night beating the drum and chanting to remind people of the suhour, or where there's public dissent over how long the tarawih prayer can be.


This year, I've really come to enjoy Ramadan in Algiers. It is miserably hot and the fasting time is terribly long, but the city just explodes at night. There are great night time concerts starting at midnight, with guys like Tinariwen and Nadir L'Eghrib. There are special pastries and endless amounts of kesra bread, and after your concert the gelato place is open at 3 am. Sadly, I can't sleep at my desk at work during the day like apparently the rest of Algiers, but nonetheless.


The high temperatures (40C last weekend!) have meant there's not a ton of seafood available from our usual guy. But last weekend there were some good looking head-on red shrimp to be snatched up, and asked the vendor how he likes to prepare them. After explaining that he didn't know spices in French (no problem, I said), he gave me the following recipe. We made it that night, in the midst of a blackout, and ate it by candlelight with bread and a tabboule salad. I tend to think anything you eat during a power outage is always going to be memorable, but these shrimp really were pretty awesome. Be sure to have plenty of bread to soak up the sauce!


Algerian Peel-and-Eat Shrimp
I am pretty old school about this and really think there's no other way to do garlic justice in this recipe but in a mortar and pestle. I've seen a chopping technique where you finally mince garlic while also smushing it with the back of your knife, which gives you a similar garlic paste result, but I haven't tried that personally. Serves 2.

1 generous kilo, 2 1/2 pounds, head-on shrimp, legs trimmed
cloves from 1 whole head garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large tomato, diced (small dice please!!)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon harissa or chile paste of choice (ours is extremely strong, if yours is more mild you can increase the amount accordingly)
juice of 1/2 a lemon

1. Place all the garlic cloves into a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt and smash away until you get a pretty smooth paste. Transfer the garlic paste to a very large bowl and add in the olive oil, tomato, cumin, coriander, paprika, and harissa, mix to combine. Add in the head-on shrimp, sprinkle lots of salt over top, and then turn very gently to coat the shrimp in the garlic mixture. I do this with my hands because it's the gentlest way.
2. Heat a large cast iron skillet over the stove top on medium high heat (you can also do this in a skillet placed on a grill if you're so inclined). My skillet is pretty well seasoned so it doesn't need extra oil, but add some to the pan if you think you need it. Add in the shrimp all at once. Cook the shrimp, stirring very gently, until the juices release and the shrimp are plump and curled together. It should only take about 7 minutes. Serve the shrimp immediately, with lots of bread to dip into the juices, and plenty of napkins.

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