The Literate Chef

Brother Devil

In General Articles on July 27, 2011 at 4:27 PM

The first time I had Shrimp Fra Diavolo was about 45 years ago at a now defunct Italian restaurant on City Island, The Bronx. Fra Diavolo was not on the menu in our household, which is surprising, given that my mother loved hot spicy food, as exemplified by her homemade hot sauce. As pointed out by her granddaughters, she loved it so, that much to my embarrassment, she even carried a little jar of her hot sauce in her silver-metallic purse.

We took her to dinner once at Roberto, perhaps the best Italian restaurant in NYC, and she ordered a special homemade pasta dish for which Roberto is deservedly famous. Mom tasted it, said it was delicious and then proceeded to whip out her little jar and spoon some of its contents onto her pasta. Thankfully, no one other than my wife and I noticed this cardinal sin and when I commented that if Roberto had wanted it to be eaten spicy, he would have added the hot pepper himself. Mom completely unabashed merely smiled and said that’s the way she likes it and since she’s paying for it, what should he care! I didn’t bother pointing out that I was paying for dinner.

Fra Diavolo (Brother Devil) is the name given to a spicy hot tomato-based sauce that is usually married with some form of seafood: lobster, shrimp, calamari, scungilli, mussels or a combination thereof. It is also frequently served with a side of pasta, or over pasta, such as linguine. Purists will try telling you that you never add cheese to seafood pasta dishes. I was lectured about that once by a South American waiter in an Italian restaurant in Little Italy, NYC. I told him thanks for the advice, but I always eat my macaroni with cheese, even if it has seafood it in, so please bring some.

For Linguine with Shrimp, Fra Diavolo, I tried making it several ways. First I made a hot sauce similar to an Arrabiata and merely added the raw shrimp to the sauce to cook them. The shrimp were lost in the sauce. Then I tried sautéing the shrimp in garlic and oil and adding them to the sauce at the last minute. That was preferable to my palate. Finally, I tried making a basic marinara sauce and then sautéing the shrimp as before, but adding hot pepper and white wine to the sautéing process, this proved to be the best approach in that the shrimp stood out against the sauce. This technique has the added benefit that if one of your family or guests is not a seafood lover, you can merely serve them linguine with marinara sauce and avoid having to make two meals.

In my recipe connected with this article, you can prepare it either way, by adding hot pepper to the sauce and the shrimp, or just to the shrimp; however the circumstances dictate. Buon appetito!

Continuing on with seafood, since it is summer and the grilling season is well under way, please see: Catching Wild Salmon in Alaska and Cooking Wild Salmon at Home.

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