Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect - Shrimp & Lobster Fra Diavolo

You may have heard, I'm a touch bit neurotic. This will come as no surprise to the poor folks (friends, family, workmates, and strangers) who've endured my constant yammering about the fact that, for the third year running, I'm hosting our family's annual Christmas Eve meal - a traditional Italian multi-course  Feast of the Seven Fishes

Rock Shrimp & Lobster Fra Diavolo over Fettucine, Photo: NK

I yammer when I'm nervous. 

Even the most practiced cooks can come down with a case of stage fright around the holidays. I am no different. I like everything to come out perfectly seasoned and satisfying, and I often end up driving myself a bit bonkers in the process. But that's the good thing about this blog - I drive myself nuts so you don't have to! Our recipes are all tried and true, and where possible, I've added tips and tricks to increase the ease of each dish as well as minimize any potential for error.

Still, the number one way I keep my culinary cool is to try and practice new dishes in advance. There's nothing like the peace of mind that comes from having made a dish before. It's also true that the more you make it, the easier it gets until one day, it's become second nature. That's just what we're doing today as we try our hand at Rock Shrimp & Lobster Fra Diavolo over Fettucine. It's a lot like last year's Christmas Eve dish of Shrimp Arrabiata. I just happen to find pasta and spicy tomato sauce to be the perfect vehicle for seafood.

Now, a few words for Lidia Bastianich on her recipe that we've adapted today:

The amount of peperoncino you use to obtain the “Fra Diavolo,” or “Brother Devil”, is to your liking. Fra Diavolo sauce, originally used with lobster chunks still in the shell, is a creation of Italian immigrants in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century.

The Results:
Shrimp and Lobster Fra Diavolo is, as I predicted, pretty easy to make. After gobbling it all up ourselves last night, the husband and I feel pretty confident that it will be well received on Christmas Eve. I've included my "make-ahead" strategy below so you too can make this dish company-ready, although I think it could certainly be prepared fully and fridged for 5 or 6 hours in advance (just reheat low and slow so the fish doesn't get tough). Start to finish, it only takes about 35 minutes, so it's a great addition to your easy to execute repertoire. Stay tuned for the full play-by-play of our Feast of the Seven Fishes meal next week. Enjoy!

Shrimp & Lobster Fra Diavolo
Adapted from Lidia Bastianich
Serves 8 as an Appetizer or 6 as a Main Course

San Marzano Tomatoes, Photo: NK
1.5 Lbs Long Pasta of your choice - we used Fettucine
1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
6 large cloves of Garlic, peeled and crushed 
5 sprigs of Fresh Thyme
1 teaspoon Sea Salt, divided

1.5 Lbs Rock Shrimp OR 1 Lb Rock Shrimp & 1 8-Oz Lobster Tail, cut in bite-sized chunks

1.5 cups diced Celery (inner stalks)
1/2 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper or to taste
1 - 28 Oz Can Whole Peeled canned San Marzano Tomatoes 
1 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Capers, drained
1/4 Cup Italian Parsley, chopped 
Searing the Shrimp, Photo: NK

1. In a very large skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil and garlic cloves. As the garlic begins to sizzle, add the sprigs of thyme 

2. Now add shrimp (and the lobster if using). Season the seafood with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and toss it around the pan for about 2 minutes until shrimp and lobster are opaque and somewhat firm. Using a slotted spoon, remove shrimp and lobster to a plate and set aside.

3. Add the celery to the skillet. Cook until wilted, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the crushed red pepper and allow to toast about 1 minute. Pour in all the contents from the canned tomatoes plus about 3/4 cup water. Using a potato masher, crush the whole tomatoes a bit right in the pan. Season with another 1/2 teaspoon of salt. 

4. Now is the time to start some salted pasta water to boil. Once boiling, prepare pasta according to package instructions. 
Preparing the Sauce, Photo: NK

5. Bring the sauce to a simmer and allow to cook until the celery becomes tender and the sauce thickens - about 15 minutes or a bit more should do it. 
Now, stir in the capers and return the sauce to a boil. Add the shrimp (and lobster, if using) back into the skillet. Warm through, stirring, for another 2 minutes or more until fully cooked. Stir in the parsley. 

6. Plate each portion of pasta and top with a scoop of the sauce. Serve and enjoy!

Make Ahead Strategy:
To serve this meal for guests, I recommend preparing the recipe as above, all the way through, but skipping step two (where you cook the fish). About 20 minutes before you'd like to serve the meal, set a pot of water to boil for the pasta and put a low flame under your already prepared sauce. About 5 minutes before your pasta is finished cooking, cook the seafood in a separate saute pan with hot oil, tossing until cooked through. Add the fish to the pasta sauce, plate, serve, enjoy!

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