The potatoes I roasted buried in salt a couple of weeks ago got me fired up about salt cooking. I revisited a shrimp-cooking method I devised years ago: roasting them in their shells on a bed of hot salt. It renders them moist, perfectly-seasoned with a pure concentrated ‘sea’ flavor. They are meant to be eaten with one’s fingers, dipped into a sauce, in a slightly pagan summery ritual that’s a pleasure in winter. (Snipping the shells up the spine beforehand with a scissors makes pulling the shells off easy.)
Aioli, the garlicky Mediterranean sauce, is my favorite for Salt-Roasted Shrimp (the recipe I’ve relied on for years, adapted from Alice Waters, is below; if you’re feeling lazy try my Faux Aioli here) but there are endless options: plain melted butter is always good (even better —and suprising —steeped with a split vanilla bean); Fragrant Fennel or Chive Oils, or Brown Butter and Caper Sauce (recipes here); Yogurt Sauce with Toasted Spices, Lime Peel and Basil recipe here; or improvisations you come up with (coconut cream/curry/cilantro/lime?….)
Method: Salt Roasted Shrimp
Make whatever sauce you wish before roasting the shrimp, since they take only a few minutes to cook.
You can clean the shrimp up to 6 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 1/2 hour before cooking and pat dry well with paper towels.
1 1/2 pounds large or medium shrimp, in their shells, rinsed and patted dry
About 1 1/2 pounds coarse (Kosher) salt
Preheat the oven to 400’F. With a scissors, cut down the back of each shrimp, through the shell, and remove the vein. Gently loosen the shell from the flesh but still keep it attached. Rinse the shrimp well and pat dry well with paper towels.
Pour about an inch depth of salt in a large baking dish or sheet pan OR in two 10-inch skillets OR in six 5-inch shallow baking dishes (for individual servings). Place the pan(s) the oven to heat for 7 to 8 minutes.
Arrange the shrimp on their sides on the salt, nestling them into it slightly, but leaving one side exposed.
Bake for 5 to 6 minutes until they are opaque and slightly under-cooked; they will keep cooking on the salt. Serve at once.
This lovely aioli is based on Alice Waters’ method I learned years ago. It is best eaten within a couple of hours of being made and will keep a couple of days covered in the fridge. You can use it like a spectacular garlicky mayo.
2 cloves garlic (or to taste), peeled
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten, at room temperature
About ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
A few drops of lemon juice (optional)
In a mortar, mash the garlic to a smooth paste a pinch of salt; set aside 1/3 of the paste. To the garlic in the mortar stir in 1/2 teaspoon room-temperature water, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the egg yolk. Slowly whisk in the olive oil, a few drops at a time. As the mixture begins to thicken, begin adding the oil in a slow, steady stream.
If the aioli becomes too thick, thin it with a bit of water, and continue. After all the oil has been mixed in, taste for salt and garlic, and adjust accordingly, adding a few drops of lemon juice, if necessary, to brighten the flavors.