Shrimp Cazuela

I realize I haven’t posted any new recipes in quite while, which is simply due to our currently boring eating regime. Sam is determined to lose weight, which he’s doing a splendid job at – already 23+ pounds in just a few weeks – so we’re not eating as adventurously as we normally like to. There have been a lot of vegetables in our diet from the garden, and a lot of Boca and Quorn entrees (vegetarian).

My butter tray has sat empty and neglected for weeks and I can’t even remember the taste of cream! But, in a moment of cooking withdrawal delirium, I pulled out my new Spanish cazuela dish and a bag of frozen shrimp and decided it was time to create a new recipe and give my heart a very (un) healthy dose of saturated fats!

Shrimp Cazuela is a fantastically wonderful dish I first tried on our tenth anniversary. Sam had made reservations for us to eat at the highly reviewed Canterbury Royale in Fort Fairfield, Maine. In a town with little selection and unimaginative cuisine this place is truly top notch. The setting is very quaint – it sits back off the road in this little cottage that has been set up to resemble a French bed and breakfast. Everything in the dining room is hand carved. There are antique silver tea and coffee sets, cut crystal stemware, brilliant decanters full of amber liquors, two hand painted (very) ornate fireplaces, all the tables are candlelit with silver candle sticks and candelabras and the floor is covered in antique hand woven rugs in deep blues and reds. I felt very much at home there, and it was also very posh in an Old World style.

It was going to be my first multi-course, traditional French meal, prepared by classically trained chefs, with specialty ingredients like fois gras, truffles and other exotic mushrooms, divine sauce reductions, handmade breads and pastries, and wild game; all served on antique bone china, with real polished silver utensils by people in white gloves. Each course of the meal is served to you by the chef who prepared it, complete with an overview of the ingredients, and all the fanfare surrounding the creation and inspiration for the dish. We happened to be the only couple dining with them that evening so we were given the royal treatment, and we actually had some time to talk to the chef about each course. The entire meal took approximately three hours to savor and when we left we had a huge doggie bag full of yummy leftovers that I have attempted to recreate at home. For me, the experience was once in a lifetime, and one I’ll always treasure; and the food was truly beyond my meager words.

I loved almost every dish I was served, but the ‘piece de resistance’ was the shrimp cazuela, which was my main course. It boasted huge, succulent prawns that were cooked to sweet perfection in a spicy, chili and garlic infused oil. and served on a bed of pearled rice, in a traditional Spanish clay cazuela dish. The entire dish was the highlight of my night; one I’ve talked about for over a year; and one I have been dying to recreate.

For those of you who aren’t fluent in Spanish and Mediterranean cooking, a cazuela dish is a simple earthenware dish that comes in many shapes and sizes. It’s unglazed on the outside, fully glazed on the inside and kiln fired to withstand very high cooking temperatures. Each region of the Mediterranean has its own unique style, color, and shape for their cazuela dishes; made using clay that’s indigenous to that region. Cazuela dishes were introduced to Spanish cooks by the Moers, who used them to cook over open fires as they traveled across the known world. The word “cazuela” comes from the Arabic word meaning “bowl”, which is representative of the traditional cazuela dish used by the Moers. Today, cazuela dishes can be used both in the oven and on the stove top, and most are even dishwasher and microwave safe.

For our cooking needs, I purchased a 15” round traditional style cazuela dish, which is what I used to make this recipe. Please note: a cazuela dish is not necessary in recreating this recipe, but it does add to the authenticity, and makes the cooking method more traditional. However, any large cast iron or deep sided skillet that can be placed in the oven will work, and the same basic flavor will be achieved. You also want to make sure you have all your components to this recipe prepared and measured before you begin cooking, as the cooking will go very fast once you begin.

Shrimp Cazuela

Component 1:
½ cup butter (1 stick)
½ cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, finely minced

Component 2:
¼ cup beef broth
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon paprika or bittersweet pimento
3 tablespoons red chili flakes, slightly crushed in your hand
2 bay leaves

Component 3:
½ cup sherry wine or white wine, or any Spanish wine such as Fino or Manzanilla
2 pounds whole shrimp – washed, peeled, and deveined
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup fresh chopped parsley or 3 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
2 cups Calasparra rice or pearled rice or any short grained rice – cooked with 4 cups of water or chicken stock for about 20 minutes, and set aside (Note: I used 1 ½ cup couscous, cooked in 2 cups hot chicken stock since I didn’t have Calasparra or pearled rice)

1. Place cazuela pan in oven and turn heat up to 500 degrees. Allow the cazuela to heat up with the oven.

2. While the cazuela is heating, in a small saucepan, bring butter, olive oil and garlic to a boil. Allow garlic to brown slightly and turn heat to low. You want to keep the butter hot, but you don’t want it to burn.

3. In another small saucepan, bring beef broth, lemon juice, paprika, chili flakes, and bay leaves to a gentle simmer over low heat. Do not allow the liquid to simmer away completely. You will need at least ½ cup of liquid for the recipe. If too much liquid has evaporated before you’re ready to use it, add ¼ cup more beef broth and bring to a boil for a minute, then reduce the heat again.

4. Once the cazuela is screamin’ hot, carefully remove it to the top of the stove and turn the heat onto medium-high (if you’re not using a cazuela dish, heat a cast iron skillet, or large, heavy-bottomed skillet with deep sides over high heat until the pan begins to smoke slightly. You want the skillet as hot as you can safely get it.)

5. Quickly bring the butter mixture to a boil and add it to the cazuela (or skillet), allowing it to sizzle in the pan for a few seconds – stirring with a wooden spoon the entire time. Do not allow the garlic to turn dark brown; otherwise the dish will be bitter.

6. Carefully add in the shrimp (be careful here – the butter will splatter and you could burn yourself pretty badly) and stir to coat with the butter and garlic. Cook the shrimp until it is just done, which will take about 3 – 5 minutes, stirring often – it will be slightly pink and opaque. Do not overcook it, or it will become rubbery.

7. While the shrimp is cooking, turn up the heat on the beef broth mixture, you need it to be boiling when you add it to the shrimp. Once the shrimp is just cooked, fish the bay leaves out of the beef broth mixture, add the broth and sherry to the hot cazuela (or skillet). Keep stirring. Give the mixture about 2 minutes cooking time together before you add the rice. You want the shrimp to take on the flavor of the beef stock and wine.

8. Add the cooked rice (or couscous) to the shrimp and stir to combine well. Stir in the parsley and taste for seasoning – add salt and pepper as desired. Carefully place the hot cazuela (or skillet) back into the hot oven and cook an additional 5 minutes. Serve with a crisp Spanish wine and crusty bread to absorb all the yummy juices. Enjoy!

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