Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, November & December 2001. One of our favorite dinners. On the rare occasions we entertain anyone who is not family, we serve Shrimp Fra Diavolo–what is known around here as “the one with the fire,” though the Italian translation is “Brother Devil.” Our guests, family or not, are always delighted. The recipe has the added benefit of dramatic flames so we always have our fire extinguisher nearby.
You are going to put a lot of effort into this dish so get some good shrimp! The brandy doesn’t have to be anything fancy–I use Paul Masson Amber Brandy.
1 pound medium-large shrimp, peeled
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more, to taste)
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons salt (plus a tablespoon of salt for the pasta-cooking water)
¼ cup cognac or brandy
4 tablespoons garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 12 medium, 8 large, or 5 extra-large cloves)
½ teaspoon sugar
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup medium-dry white wine, such as a sauvignon blanc
¼ cup minced fresh Italian parsley leaves (the flat-leaf kind)
1 pound linguine or spaghetti
Do your mise en place to get everything ready before turning on the stove:
• Thaw, peel, and devein shrimp.
• Drain shrimp.
• Put ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and ¾ teaspoon salt in medium bowl.
• Add shrimp to medium bowl and toss to cover them with oil mixture.
• Measure ¼ cup brandy into measuring cup or small glass.
• Mince or press 4 tablespoons of garlic.
• Mix together in a measuring cup (or other pourable container) 1 cup white wine, ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon sugar. Make sure the salt and sugar are dissolved.
• Open the can of diced tomatoes.
• Mince ¼ cup Italian parsley (the flat-leaf kind).
Now you are ready to cook!
• Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil in your pasta pot, a large Dutch oven or stockpot. Put serving bowls in 200°F oven.
If cooking two things at once is more than you can handle, cook the pasta first, take out 1/3 cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside, drain the pasta, run a little warm water over it to prevent it sticking together, put it in a bowl and cover it with aluminum foil. Put it in the oven until you are ready for it.
Make the sauce next.
• Heat 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat for 4 minutes.
• Add shrimp to skillet and quickly spread in single layer. Cook, without stirring, until bottoms of shrimp turn spotty brown, about 30 seconds. Do not overcook the shrimp.
• Turn off heat, stir to turn shrimp.
• Here comes the show! Add ¼ cup brandy to shrimp; let stand off heat until cognac warms slightly, about 5 seconds. Wave fire lighter over skillet until cognac ignites; shake skillet until flames subside. Put shrimp back in medium bowl, and set aside.
• Off heat, cool now-empty skillet 2 minutes; return to burner and reduce heat to low.
• Add 3 tablespoons olive oil and 3 of the 4 tablespoons of garlic to skillet. Cook on low, stirring constantly, until garlic foams and is sticky and straw-colored, 5 minutes. Add the mixture of wine, pepper flakes, salt, and sugar. Add the can of diced tomatoes.
• Increase heat to medium-high and simmer until thickened and fragrant, about 10 minutes.
• Remove about ½ cup of this tomato sauce and set aside.
• Stir in the shrimp and accumulated juices, remaining 1 tablespoon garlic, and ¼ cup minced parsley and simmer until shrimp have heated through, about 1 minute longer. As always, be careful not to overcook shrimp.
• Off heat, stir in remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.
• While sauce simmers in the skillet, add linguine or spaghetti and 1 tablespoon salt to boiling water in the pasta pot, stir to separate pasta, cover, and cook as long as the pasta package says to cook. (Unless you have already done this.)
• Before draining pasta, take out 1/3 cup pasta cooking water and set aside.
• Drain pasta.
• Put drained pasta back in pasta pot.
• Add the ½ cup of tomato sauce you took out and 2-3 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water you set aside earlier to the pasta; toss to coat.
• Divide pasta among warm serving bowls, top with sauce and shrimp.
• Serve immediately to your grateful guests.
You can use 1 pound sea scallops in place of shrimp, or 1 pound monkfish fillet cut into 1-inch pieces which is amazingly good too.