Linguini with Saffron Shrimp

Linguini with Saffron Shrimp

Aromatic, light and fresh

Unless cooking shell-on, which lets the flavorful inner lining of the shell cook into the meat, I never throw away peeled-off shrimp shells without first using them for a stock. If I don’t need all the stock for the dish at hand, I freeze the rest to use later in other seafood dishes, especially Paella, where richness of the stock equals the perfection of rice in importance.

In this dish, it’s the shrimp shell stock that permits the light, thin, sauce base to shine without a creamy, cheesy or tomato-rich sauce base. The sparkling translucence of the aromatic liquid allows the lobstery flavor of properly seared shrimp to stand out, where shrimp in heavier sauces just become textured, flavorless morsels.


– 12 16-20 count/lb. (preferred) or 6 oz. of other size shell-on shrimp; thawed, peeled and de-veined at home, rinsed and patted dry, and their reserved shells in separate bowls.
-1 med small ripe tomato, plunged in boiling water, peeled and finely minced keeping all the juice, or 1/3 cup of canned, diced tomatoes.
-3 cloves sliced garlic
-olive oil
-1/4 cup bone dry artisan cider or white wine
-3 tbsp butter
-1 tbsp capers
-1/2 teaspoon saffron threads lightly crushed with the side of a chopping knife.
-1 1/2 tbsp freshly minced parsley
-3 small bay leaves
-black pepper
-2 rounded tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/8 cup water.


Add 3 tbsp oil to the sautée pan. Set the burner to med high. Add shells to hot oil, salt lightly and fry, crushing them all down flat, especially the denser tail part with the tip of a wooden spatula, letting them brown slightly before tossing to lightly brown both sides of flattened shells. Add 2/3 cup of water and bay leaves, bring to boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes. Uncover and crush down again as before to help release the shell lining into the water. Cover and simmer for ten more minutes covered if stock is well-colored, uncovered if color (as measure of flavor concentration) is weak, in which case simmer long enough to reduce liquid to a deeper tone.

Remove shells with a slotted spoon and strain in a wire strainer over a bowl, pressing the shells against the strainer to squeeze out all remaining juice possible. Pour the stock from the pan into the bowl and reserve.

Melt 3 tbsp butter in the same sautée pan and raise heat to medium high. Add sliced garlic, then remove to a saucer and reserve when it begins to become translucent but before it starts to burn. Distribute shrimp so that each lays flat directly on the pan Swirl the pan frequently to keep.the shrimp from sticking and losing their sear. Use a fine-bladed spatula to dislodge any shrimp that do stick. Flip a couple of shrimp to check sear and flip all to the second side when ready. A light sear is fine. Don’t overcook. Regardless of sear on second side remove and reserve shrimp as soon as none of their meat is translucent but they are still plump and juicy.

Deglaze still-hot pan at med high with cider or wine, scraping up and stirring in any stuck shrimp bits. Allow alcohol to evaporate and then add 3 tbsp oil, capers and parsley, sautée briefly to infuse flavors, stir-in tomato and garlic, simmer for 10 minutes adding some of the shell stock if needed to keep sauce from over-thickening and burning. Add the remaining stock and continue simmering until the sauce is reduced to a red but still soupy density.

Stir-in 2 tbsp of the starch solution, allow to thicken, then add 1 tbsp. at a time until a moderately viscous, translucent sauce is achieved.

Serve over linguini in broad, shallow soup plates.

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