Recipe from The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert (Ecco, 2011)Casa Pepe was a fun, modest café-restaurant in the small Atlantic town of Asilah, a half-hour drive west from Tangier. In season, the specialty there was delicious angulas, tiny eels cooked in peppery olive oil. We used to go and eat them every Saturday during the season.
Off-season, Pepe served an Andalusian-influenced shrimp dish, pil pil, that soon became very popular along the coast. Whole peeled shrimp are quickly sautéed in a tomato sauce infused with red pepper, cumin, cilantro, and parsley. Pepe used the Moroccan fefla hamra harra, a mildly hot red pepper. I use the robust Basque piment d'Espelette as a substitute.
Pil pil is great with rice or slices of soft Moroccan bread.
Serves 4 to 6 as a first course
- 1 pound peeled medium-large shrimp (24 to 36), deveined
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, preferably Moroccan
- 4 garlic cloves
- ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
- ¾ teaspoon piment d'Espelette or other mildly hot red pepper (see Sources)
- 1 tablespoon saffron water (see below)
- 2 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1½ tablespoons chopped cilantro
Recipe from The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert (Ecco, 2011)1. Rinse the shrimp and wipe dry with paper towels. Leave the shrimp at room temperature so they are not ice-cold when they hit the skillet.
2. Crush the cumin seeds, garlic, and coarse salt to a paste in a mortar. Add the piment d'Espelette and saffron water and stir until smooth.
3. Put the tomatoes, garlic-spice mixture, and olive oil in a large skillet, set over high heat, and fry for several minutes to develop the flavor. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until they are firm and curled, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle with the herbs, stir once, and serve immediately.
MAKE SAFFRON WATER
Nearly all the recipes in this book that use saffron add it in the form of saffron water-crumbled, dried, and crushed saffron threads soaked in warm water. Using saffron this way is economical, and it brings out more of the spice's aroma and flavor than simply adding a few strands to a dish. In fact, I've discovered that if I soak all the ground spices called for in a recipe in a little saffron water before adding them to the dish, their combined flavors are intensified and better distributed.
So, do as many Moroccan cooks do, and prepare a small jar of saffron water. Dry 1/2 teaspoon crumbled strands in a warm (not hot) skillet. Crush again, then soak in 1 cup hot water and store in a small jar in the refrigerator. This will keep for up to a week.
For longer storage (my favorite method), quadruple the recipe quantities above; pour the saffron water into a plastic ice cube tray and freeze into cubes. Once they are frozen, shake out the cubes and store in a freezer bag. Each cube will be equivalent to 2 tablespoons saffron water or a good pinch of dried saffron threads.