Inspired by the classic Spanish tapas of shrimp and chorizo, I like to pair shrimp with sausage, lemons and insanely moreish fried orzo. The dish takes a bit of choreography as there are a few moving parts, but the result offers certain reward.
Servings: 4 to 6
Fennel Garlic Shrimp with Chorizo and Fried Orzo
12 ounces shell-on shrimp, see note
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water
1 cup orzo
6 ounces Spanish (smoked) chorizo sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon plus 1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons medium dry sherry
Freshly ground black pepper and flaky sea salt
Grilled lemon wedges
Finely chopped parsley
Pat the shrimp dry, then peel, leaving the tail intact and reserving the shells. De-vein the shrimp if necessary (see note). Toss the shrimp with kosher salt and keep at room temperature while you get the pasta sorted.
Boil the orzo in salted water until quite al dente, at least 1 minute less than package direction. Reserve 2 cups of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and set aside.
In the same pot in which the pasta was cooked, fry the shrimp shells in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Keep the shells moving as they cook, until brightly pink and starting to blacken in spots, around 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, and carefully pour in reserved pasta water. Turn the heat as low as possible to maintain a simmer and cook until the liquid has reduced by half.
While the stock is bubbling, set a wide, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Tumble in the chorizo and fry, flipping now and again, until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Move the chorizo to a shallow bowl. Pour the remaining oil into the same skillet. Once the oil is hot, carefully slip in the shrimp, along with the garlic, chile flakes and fennel. Cook, turning often, until the shrimp is barely blushing and cooked through, about 2 minutes. Spoon the shrimp into the bowl with the chorizo, taking all but about 2 tablespoons of the oil with it. Off the heat, stir the orzo into the oil left in the skillet. Strain the stock through a fine-meshed sieve onto the orzo, making sure to press on the shrimp shells with the back of a spoon extract as much flavour as possible (you could do this into a small jug or bowl, but I do it directly over the pan). Put the skillet back on the heat, and cook for about a minute; fold the orzo a few times, then leave it be. You want the pasta to form a crust against the pan as the water cooks away completely. Things should be crackling and sizzling in about 7 minutes. Flip the orzo so that new noodles are now against the hot pan and leave for 3 minutes more.
Splash in the sherry, and as soon as that has steamed away and gone sticky, the orzo is done. Serve either family-style or in individual servings, with the shrimp, chorizo atop the fried orzo, grilled lemon wedges alongside, with a generous seasoning of pepper and flaky sea salt. Stir the parsley through the shrimp-infused garlic oil left in the bowl and anoint all on the plate.
Shrimp is sometimes sold in size categories such as “small, medium, large, jumbo” et cetera. However, those labels are not regulated and so purveyors’ definitions often vary. Count per pound is the more reliable classification, and for this recipe I prefer around a 30/35-count, sometimes called large. But, as the availability of North American shrimp can be tricky, use what you can get, and adjust cooking times accordingly. If they’re not sold de-veined I would advise against going too small, as the work can be tricky (in that case, I would use scallops instead).
To de-vein shrimp, after peeling use a sharp paring knife to slit the centre of the back of the shrimp from head to tail, cutting one-third to halfway into the flesh until a dark vein is made visible. Use the tip of the knife to get under the vein and then remove it completely.
If your chorizo includes the pinched ends from tying off, trim off those nubs and add them to the shrimp shells while frying.
Resist the urge slice the garlic gossamer-thin; it will burn.
I sometimes use a vegetable peeler to cut a wide strip of lemon zest that I add to the oil when frying the shrimp.