Peppered Shrimp! Ric Orlando's Mardi Gras 2014 Recipes

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Cajun Peppered Shrimp is one the great messy dishes of New Orleans. I still eat these shrimp a couple of times a week and I've been making them for many years. Yes, they are hot and sloppy, but what's wrong with that?

The sexiest way to eat peppered shrimp is with your significant other.  Lift the shrimp by the tail with your fingers and suck off all of the sauce.  Get the good stuff that clings to the shrimp's legs, too.  Now peel the shrimp and swish the meat around in the sauce again. Suck it clean one more time before you bite! Dunk slices of baguette or other crusty bread into the sauce, too, or spoon it over rice. Get ready for a wonderful evening!

Head-on shrimp are traditional for this dish, but medium-large (16-20 or 21-25 per pound), unpeeled, headless shrimp work well too. I prefer the briny flavor and reliable quality of Gulf shrimp; ask your fishmonger for his best. Avoid tiger shrimp; not only are they bland, but often they are cultivated in water you wouldn't wash your car with.   

Try the sauce, too, with cooked crabs, crawfish and lobster tails. Serve with PLENTY of bread for sopping up the sauce!
Ric-ter Scale:  8
Serves 4

1/2 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup black peppercorns
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried savory
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon cayenne
1 tablespoon salt
8 cloves garlic
1/4 cup white wine (or a bit more, as needed)
1-1/2 pounds unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups shrimp stock, clam juice or chicken stock (canned broth is okay, but find one without MSG or preservatives)
1-2 pounds medium-large (21-25-count per pound) Gulf shrimp, unpeeled

Heat the lemon juice in a small pot until just hot. Add the peppercorns. Cover, remove from the heat, and let the peppercorns soak for one hour or overnight.

In a blender, puree the peppercorn mix with the herbs, spices, salt, garlic and wine. This should make a ruddy, muddy-looking paste. If it is too dry to puree smoothly, add a bit more wine.

In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the butter in the stock. When it begins to simmer, stir in the spice paste. Use a wooden spoon and stir gently for about 5 minutes or until the sauce becomes golden.

Add all the shrimp and stir gently. Let the shrimp cook in the sauce for 3 - 5 minutes or until just pink. 

Remove the shrimp from the sauce with a slotted spoon and pile them into a big, rustic-looking bowl. Ladle about 1/3 to 1/2 of the sauce over them and garnish with lemon wedges. Put the bowl in the center of the table and dig in. (You can also serve in individual bowls with sauce ladled on and garnished with lemon.) Be sure to supply bowls for the discarded shrimp shells.

The remaining sauce should be refrigerated in a reheatable container (not plastic). The butter will form a hard cap when it cools. As long as the cap is intact, the sauce will keep up to one month.  Just reheat and use again.

Drink a bright and fruity white with these shrimp. A Riesling or Pinot Gris will do the trick. Here in the Hudson Valley, Millbrook makes a great Tocai Friulano. Also, you can't lose with a cold, crisp, simple beer like Dixie, Lagunitas Pils or even Rolling Rock ponies served on ice.

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