Renee's Messy Prawns

Adapted very slightly from A Boat, A Whale, and A Walrus, by Renee Erickson

Renee’s original recipe calls for spot prawns, but they’re highly seasonal and tough to find outside the Pacific Northwest, and anyway, this is delicious with any shell-on large (31/35) or extra-large (26/30) shrimp. Renee used local Baja shrimp to make the recipe at Rancho Pescadero.

In any case, eat these prawns from the outside in, sucking the sauce from the shell before peeling the shrimp, dredging it in the buttery sauce, and popping it in your mouth. As Renee says, “Start by making a mental commitment to getting a little messy. Suck on the open end of the shell first, then on the tail. Finally, uncurl the thing, so its legs are splayed out, the same way you used to eat an orange wedge when you were a kid. Only after you’ve sucked the juices and seasonings out of the legs can you peel and eat it.” Serve with a baguette for sopping up juices, and a wet towel for each guest, for cleaning hands.

Oh, and this recipe comes together very, very quickly, so be sure to prep all the ingredients before you begin, and keep them close at hand.

Note, also, that this recipe doubles easily – but you’ll want to cook the shrimp in two pans, so as not to crowd them.

1 ½ pounds (680 grams) shrimp or spot prawns, shells on
1 stick (113 grams) unsalted butter, divided
Kosher salt
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and very thinly sliced, divided
2 teaspoons piment d'Espelette or hot paprika (not smoked), divided
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
About 1/4 cup chives, snipped into ½-inch pieces

Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat. When hot, add half of the butter (56 grams) to the pan. When the butter is melted and bubbling, add enough shrimp to cover the pan in a single layer, using about half of them. (You don’t want to overcrowd the pan, because the shrimp need to brown, not steam.) Season them generously with salt, and let them cook for 1 minute on the first side. Sprinkle the shrimp evenly with half of the garlic and half of the piment d’Espelette, and flip them over in the pan. Add half of the lemon juice to the pan – this will prevent the butter from browning too much – and cook for another minute or two, until the prawns curl and the shells begin to brown.

Transfer the shrimp and Espelette butter to a large platter, and repeat with the remaining butter, prawns, salt, garlic, piment d’Espelette, and lemon juice, letting the pan come back up to temperature between batches, if necessary.

Serve the prawns hot, garnished with the chives, and go at it.

Yield: 3 to 4 servings