Shrimp Sauté au Citron

Oo la la!

What, exactly, is “shrimp sauté au citron”? Is it a rustic French classic, a recipe passed from peasant housewife to peasant housewife to cartoon food critic to, improbably, my Jewish, Pittsburgh-born grandmother? Is it a home cook’s approximation of a fancy restaurant entree, something you might find in Chapter V of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1? Or is it, perhaps, a made-up name meant to gussy up a dish that might better be described as “shrimp in a frying pan”?

I think, perhaps, that you know the answer. Far as I can tell, there’s nothing particularly French about this Nonnie shrimp recipe, much as there’s nothing particularly Norwegian about her “Norwegian” salad and nothing particularly Mexican about her chicken tostada. (Credit where credit’s due: the bouillabaisse seems fairly authentic, as these things go.) Though there’s no shortage out there of recipes for lemon shrimp, I couldn’t find anything else called “shrimp sauté au citron” in the annals of the internet; “au citron,” it seems, is a designation reserved mostly for tarte au citron, a.k.a. lemon tart.

But what’s in a name, anyway? (Well, plenty; we’d all be a lot less inclined to eat shrimp if they were called “dead-eyed ocean roaches,” right?) What matters here is this: one, this is a pretty foolproof way to cook some shrimp, especially coming from a woman who was kosher until she tried bacon and decided God was dead; and two, if it makes you feel a little fancier to call something by a made-up French name, so what? Who cares? Certainly not the French, even if their legendary cool is as big a marketing scam as “shrimp sauté au citron.”

So come: let us partake of a tasty lie, something that won’t make your kitchen too unbearably warm as we approach the dog days, and won’t lie too heavily on your abdomen at a time when Bikini Season (another marketing scam!) is in full swing. There are crevettes to sauté and citrons to zeste (which, I swear, is how you say “zest” en français, hohn hohn hohn). Bon appetit.

Shrimp Sauté au Citron

2 lb. medium raw shrimp
2 cloves garlic, minced
The zest [which, as Nonnie helpfully points out, is the yellow part]  of 1/2 lemon, minced
Dash salt
2 tablespoons parsley
5 tablespoons oil
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
2-3 drops soy sauce
Dash pepper
2 tablespoons fresh dill or 1/4 teaspoons dried dill weed [an herb name that will always, always make me laugh]

Peel, clean, and wash shrimp and pat dry. [This will take for-ev-er, especially if you don’t have the manual dexterity of a gentile; persevere, and don’t be afraid to leave some shell by the tail, because honestly who has the time?]

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan. Add garlic and lemon zest and toss for several seconds. Add shrimp and toss (swirling pan by handle) over high heat for 2-3 minutes, or until shrimp have curled and feel springy to touch. [Needless to say, they’ll also turn from an unappetizing blue-gray color to an appealing, sacrelicious shade of pink.]

Remove from heat and toss with lemon juice, soy sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Then toss with 2 tablespoons oil, parsley, and dill. Brown under broiler to heat through before serving. Serves 6.

The verdict: You know, this was… fine. The shrimp itself was well-cooked, and you can kinda-sorta taste the minuscule amounts of seasoning Nonnie calls for in the final product (two to three drops of soy sauce?!). But there’s not enough garlic, or salt, or lemon, especially for a recipe that so boldly calls out that ingredient in its very name. And in French, no less!

So after making the sauté as written—and learning how bland it was—I went rogue. I sautéed a little more garlic—fine, a lot more garlic…

… added red pepper flakes, salt, and a lot more lemon, then tossed the whole thing with a summery pasta: sugar snap peas, roast zucchini and red onion, and oven dried tomatoes. It was, dare I say, magnifique, if not precisely what Nonnie or the French ordered. But doesn’t the shrimp look cozy there in its little rotini blanket?

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