The other day I was shopping at my neighborhood supermarket, looking for a little dinner inspiration. I meandered past the seafood department without a thought. Usually, I don’t even bother to look in that direction. I live in Florida, less than a mile from the Gulf of Mexico. The last thing I am interested in is defrosted frozen shrimp from Indonesia, artificially colored, farm-raised salmon, or some ubiquitous white fish filets from South America. Sadly, those are nearly always the only kinds of seafood my local supermarkets carry. So, I pass on them and buy my fish at one of the few and far flung fish markets in the area, which are not great, but at least do offer some local selections. But, this time something in the display case caught my eye. It was fresh rock shrimp. Rock shrimp? Wow! I hadn’t seen fresh rock shrimp anywhere around here in a very long time.
Rock shrimp (Sicyonia brevirostris) are deep-water cousins of the more commonly known pink, brown and white shrimps. They have a hard, spiny shell more like a lobster rather than a traditional shrimp. Their shells are “hard as a rocks”, hence the name rock shrimp. They have a fresh, clean, sweet taste, very much like lobster. Rock shrimp live and spawn in warm deep waters between 120 to 240 feet and are mostly harvested off of the east coast of Florida.
When I was growing up, rock shrimp were plentiful all over Central and South Florida. You could regularly find them in area fish markets and on the menus of many local restaurants. Sadly, that has changed. Many of the local shrimpers have been crowded out of the ports, at least in part, because they can no longer afford to pay the exorbitant prices for berthing space that have been driven up by the cruise ship industry and waterfront condo developers. Now, there are only a handful of shrimp boats left in what was once a thriving shrimp fleet on the east coast of Florida. As landings for rock shrimp from Florida shrimpers have decreased, the harvest has decreased as well. This has forced the shrimpers to focus on selling their product in larger markets outside of Florida where they can get higher prices. Sigh….. Unfortunately, this is not only the case with rock shrimp. It also applies to a large degree to other kinds of native Florida fish, beef and produce. (You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to find a decent orange here in the “Sunshine State”! All the best “Florida” citrus is shipped out to the rest of the country. Most of our oranges come from California!)
So, now you can understand why I got a little excited to see rock shrimp at the market.
I bought a few pounds and took them home to keep company with some plump bay scallops that I had picked up somewhere else. After playing around with some different ideas, I decided to turn my seafood bounty into a pasta dish based on one of Lidia Bastianich’s recipes from Lidia’s Italy. The original dish is called Shrimp Buzara. The sauce is a variation on a traditional scampi sauce which is made with butter, wine and garlic. This one has olive oil in it instead of butter, and also a little tomato paste. I adapted the recipe, using my rock shrimp and scallops, to make a tasty sauce to serve over pasta.
Take a look at that beautiful, fresh seafood!
Now, let’s start cooking…..
Once your Buzara sauce is finished, all you need to do is toss it in with some nice, hot pasta and drizzle a little more olive oil over the top. I’d never made this particular dish before, and I have to say, it was absolutely delicious. Both the shallots and the tomato paste added a nice touch of sweetness to the sauce that really complimented the brininess of the seafood. The tomato paste also gave a little extra body to the sauce, making it seem kind of creamy – except there was no cream in it. All in all, I would definitely make this one again, with or without the rock shrimp, because let’s face it. Who knows when, or if, I’ll ever luck upon rock shrimp around here again!
Seafood Pasta alla Buzara
adapted from Lidia’s Italy by Lidia Bastianich
1 pound spaghetti, linguine or other long pasta
1 pound shelled and cleaned rock shrimp*
1 pound bay scallops
8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste
3 plump garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
1 cup white wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups of seafood stock or clam broth
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon bread crumbs, or more if needed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, prepare the seafood and sauce.
2. Lay rock shrimp and scallops on a baking sheet or tray lined with paper towels. Blot until dry. Season with a little salt and pepper.
3. Heat 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan, and set over medium high heat. Sear the rock shrimp and scallops in batches until lightly golden, about 1-2 minutes per side. Don’t cook them too long, because they will added back to the pan later. Remove and set aside
4. Heat 2 more tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan, and set over medium high heat. Scatter in the shallots and garlic and cook until sizzling. Take care not to burn the garlic. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 cup of the wine. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the wine is nearly completely evaporated and the shallots have softened. Add the tomato paste and stir it around the pan for a minute, coating the shallots.
5. Pour in the rest of the wine, stock and another 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let the sauce gently simmer and reduce for about 5 minutes. With the sauce still bubbling, add the seared seafood back to the pan and mix to coat them all with sauce. Stir in the pepper and the tablespoon of bread crumbs. If the sauce seems too thin add a little more bread crumbs. Cook for another 2 minutes, then turn off the heat.
6. Pour the seafood and sauce over the cooked pasta. Drizzle in the remaining olive oil and mix well. Sprinkle parsley on top and serve immediately.
*If you can’t find fresh rock shrimp, feel free to use large peeled and deveined regular shrimp.