This easy, tasty dish will elevate your Mardi Gras party fare
The second Saturday of each Mardi Gras, my friends Renee and Landon host an esplanade party. We arrive, chairs and assorted snacks in tow, at a pre-determined esplanade along the parade route. Someone totes a grill, another brings a speaker, more friends bring coolers and a pop-up tent. Once the parade passes by and the festivities begin to wane, we pick up and pack up. Without our photos as proof, it’s as if the party never even happened.
While I’ve never turned my nose up at the smorgasbord of offerings — everything from hot dogs to Cheetos to king cake — this year I want to bring an elevated but easy dish to one of my favorite parties of the year. Full of fresh seafood, a rich seafood stock and tiny, soft pasta, this satisfying stew would be a perfect fit for your Mardi Gras menu, too.
Shrimp Couscous Stew
2 pounds extra large shrimp, peeled and deveined, shells reserved
2 (8-ounce) bottles of clam juice
2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
4 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced in half lengthwise, and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup pearl couscous, toasted
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Combine the shrimp shells, clam juice, chicken broth, bay leaves, thyme and peppercorns in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes.
Pour the ingredients through a mesh strainer into a heat-proof bowl, reserving the liquid. Discard the solids.
Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. In a 6- to 8-quart pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add half of the shrimp and cook without stirring for about 3 minutes. Remove the shrimp to a plate. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and repeat with the rest of the shrimp. The par-cooked shrimp will finish cooking later in the broth.
Heat the same pot over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the tomatoes, onion, carrots and ½ teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and couscous, and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Add 2 cups of the strained broth and bring to a simmer. Cook over medium-low for 8-10 minutes, stirring regularly, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
Add 2 more cups of the broth and simmer while stirring regularly, for 8-10 minutes. Add the rest of the broth and cook, stirring constantly, for 6 to 8 minutes, until the pasta is tender.
Turn off the heat and stir in the shrimp, 1 tablespoon of the oil, lemon juice and parsley. Cover the pan and let it sit for 5 minutes, until the shrimp is fully cooked. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Alicia Cahill is the owner of The Kitchen Chick, 2402 Market St. in Galveston.