I learned a while ago that wild American shrimp is some of the best seafood you can buy. They are sustainable, they are free of chemicals and pesticides, and the shrimping fishery is dominated by small family-owned networks that have generations of shrimping behind them. This would all be not-so-convincing if not for the fact that American wild shrimp taste amazing—sweet, succulent, and uber-shrimpy. And they can be had, frozen, at supermarkets across the country. (Don’t start getting all snobby on me, that they’re frozen. Pretty much all the fish you eat has been frozen.)
With this in mind, I might be asking you to step outside of your comfort zone. Because for this sauce, I like to cook the shrimp—and even serve it—in its shell. Those shells yield a few benefits—sautéing them first and then simmering them imparts a wonderful, sweet shrimpiness to the sauce, but also prevents the shrimp from sticking to the pan (and no, you can’t go with a nonstick pan, because then you wouldn’t get any tasty shrimp bits to deglaze afterwards); it also prevents the shrimp from overcooking in the sauce. You serve the pasta as they do in Italy: with a nice, pointy steak knife to aid in cutting away the shells right at the table. It might be a little splattery, but then, many tasty dishes are. If you find yourself a little grossed out by the idea of serving the shrimp in the shells, just think of it as training if you ever want to travel to Italy, where they serve it not only in the shell, but with the head on, and all those long, crazy antennae swirling over the top of your bowl like a red tumbleweed.
A little touch of cream is a common addition in pastas like this, including a scrumptious version with langoustines. Oh, yum. Indeed, perhaps my favorite thing about the texture and flavor of shrimp that’s been cooked in its shell is that you get a more than a little hint of the fact that shrimp are not too far from lobster and langoustines on the family tree.
Pink shrimp sauce
Thaw your shrimp-in-shells by placing them in a bowl and running cold water over them for about 5 minutes. If desired, snip down the backs with a pair of kitchen scissors and pull out that gross vein thing.
In a large, wide sauté pan, heat a nice amount of olive oil. Saute the shrimp until starting to color, about 2 minutes per side (you may have to do this in 2 batches). Transfer the sautéed shrimp to a plate. Add a few smashed garlic cloves and cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Add a nice amount of dry white wine and stir up all the browned bits on the pan. Add 1 large can of whole tomatoes in juice, and use a potato masher to smash them to bits. Simmer until the sauce thickens, then lower to a very low simmer and add the shrimp back in and stir while it comes back to a simmer, then turn off the heat (don’t you dare overcook these gorgeous creatures). Add a nice little slosh of heavy cream. Taste and add salt if desired. Serve over pasta (I like spaghetti alla chitarra) and shower with chopped fresh parsley.