This Valentines day had no advance planning. We don’t usually do anything special, but we’ll take any excuse to make an indulgent dinner. Mister and I had thrown around some ideas by email while we were at work, but nothing was really sounding great. We were both leaning seafood though, and when we got home and found the dregs of a bag of frozen shrimp that was nearing freezer burn we decided that a deeply unhealthy, creamy, dreamy shrimp alfredo pasta was in our future, but I still wasn’t excited. And then Mister pulled the trump card out of the pantry – a can of smoked oysters.
Ah, oysters, the food of love. Natures aphrodisiac. Yeah….ugly little suckers though, aren’t they? The shells are quite pretty, but take them out of there and you are left with what are essentially the ocean’s snot balls. (wonderful delicious snot balls) Smoke them, and they turn into the least appetizing looking things I have ever put in my mouth. But give them a saute and put them in your mouth anyway, because they are delicious.* Smokey, briny, firm but tender, they add a really special twist to an otherwise standard seafood dish. Just eat them with your eyes closed. Look it’s romantic already!
Smoked Oyster and Shrimp Alfredo
- ~1/4-1/2 lb medium sized shell on shrimp. (I’m guessing here on quantity, I was finishing off a bag of frozen shrimp and I think I had about a dozen of them. Exactness does not matter for this one.)
- 4 Tbsp butter
- ½ large yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 can smoked oysters
- black pepper
- 2 Tbsp flour
- ¼ cup white wine (I actually used champagne. It was open!)
- ~3/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan (freshly grated parm is very fluffy. I don’t pack it in at all when I measure it, so if you are smashing it down, or using non-freshly grated cheese, reduce it to more like 1 cup or even less. Add, taste and add more if needed. I don’t recommend the green can here, but feel free to try it and tell me how it turns out)
- ¾ lb long pasta of choice (we used thin spaghetti because that’s what we had. Any long noodle works)
- salt if needed
- Optional: fresh parsley. I was sad we didn’t have any, it would have been the perfect finishing touch.
Shell the shrimp and put the shells in a small saucepan with about ½ cup of water. Simmer the shells till they turn pink and then turn off the heat and let it sit while you prep everything else. Set the naked shrimps aside. Set a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
Melt the butter over medium heat in a deep sided skillet, and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are starting to get nice and brown. Add the garlic and cook another minute or two. Add the oysters, including all the oil from the can. Saute for a minute, mixing very gently to avoid breaking up the oysters. Add a good coating of black pepper.
Push the onion-oyster mixture to the side of the pan and sprinkle the flour over the remaining butter. Mix the flour and butter well and cook briefly to get rid of the raw flour taste, but don’t let it brown. Pour in the wine, followed by the strained shrimp-shell-stock (I just poured it through my wire mesh strainer straight into the skillet). Whisk, whisk to incorporate the flour-butter paste into the liquid. It might be lumpy at first. Just keep the heat on medium and keep on whisking. It will come together after a few minutes.
Now would probably be a good time to get your pasta into the hopefully boiling water.
Once you have the flour incorporated into the stock+wine, reduce the heat to medium low and mix the onions and oysters in from their lonely side of the pan. Gently stir it all together, and start adding the cream. Just add a generous splash at a time and mix it in. Keep adding until it looks good to you. We went pretty creamy, but if you were trying to be a little less indulgent you could use less cream, or use half-and-half . Add the cheese and mix well. Drop in the shrimp and let them cook, stirring occasionally until they are pink all over. This will only take a few minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt and more pepper if needed. Between the cheese and the oysters ours didn’t need any additional salt.
By this point the pasta should be done. You want it just shy of al dente – transfer it into the pan with the sauce, reserving some of the pasta water if needed to thin the sauce out a bit. Mix it all around to get all the pasta nicely coated, and let it cook for another minute and then remove it from the heat. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley if you’ve got it. And serve.
And then if you’re like us, go sit on the couch and eat your creamy smokey briny pasta with glasses of champagne while watching How I Met Your Mother. Mmm…now that’s romance.
*The saute part is mandatory. I won’t eat them straight from the can…the texture is weird at room temp, but it fixes itself when they are heated. I like them on toast, with some caramelized onions and maybe some ricotta cheese.