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Drench shrimp in buttery sambal sauce

Susan Selasky
Detroit Free Press

Re-creating a restaurant dish is something many people would like to do, but it can be tricky.

One reason is that a lot of restaurants don’t want to give up their secrets. But sometimes, you get lucky.

Today’s Yucatan Shrimp is one such dish. While on a trip to Fort Myers Beach, Florida, our group shared this dish at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille. For those who know the area, this Doc Ford’s restaurant sits just under the Mantanzas Pass Bridge that connects San Carlos Island to the mainland. It’s near the shrimp docks, so it’s no surprise the menu has several shrimp dishes.

At Doc Ford’s, Yucatan Shrimp is described on the menu as shrimp in a dressing of real butter, mild Colombian chilies, fresh cilantro and key lime juice.

Real butter? Is there any other kind? And the mild Colombian chilies stem from sambal oelek (ground fresh chili paste). (Look for it in the ethnic aisle near the Asian ingredients. Huy Fong Foods is one common brand with the green cap and the gold label.)

This dish, of course, was delicious.

I called the Fort Myers Beach restaurant and spoke with executive chef Greg Nelson, who created the dish. He told me that people frequently request the recipe for Yucatan Shrimp.

“It’s the sauce that totally makes the dish,” Nelson says. “You can put (the sauce) on pasta, you can serve it with chicken or on chicken tenders. It’s good on toast in the morning.”

This shrimp dish consists of peel-and-eat shrimp drenched in the citrusy, spicy, buttery, rich sauce. Once you taste it, you get citrus from the lime, a kick from the chili paste and a bite from the garlic. But everything is well balanced.

An Internet search turned up a recipe the New York Times adapted several years ago in a feature on Doc Ford’s. With a few tips from Nelson, I came close — very close — to duplicating the dish I remembered having at the restaurant. The staff loved it.

The secret is in the sauce, not in how you cook the shrimp, says Nelson, who suggests using wild-caught shrimp and cooking them with their shells on.

“There’s a lot of flavor in the shell,” Nelson says.

It’s also a dish where dipping a piece of crusty baguette in the juicy and buttery broth is a must. You will use every last piece of bread to soak up the sauce. I guarantee it.

Serve this dish as an appetizer to share or in individual portions or as a main dish over rice or pasta.

“The best part of it is when you first take the shrimp, suck the juice out of the shell before peeling,” Nelson says. “That’s the best flavor you’re going to get.”

Yucatan Shrimp

Note: Look for sambal oelek in the the Asian section of most grocery stores. Be sure to buy the paste that does not have garlic.

Serves: 4

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, divided

1/4 cup minced garlic

1/3 to 1/2 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup sambal oelek (ground fresh chili paste) or to taste

Salt to taste

1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped (a good 3/4 cup chopped — more if you like)

11/3 pounds shell-on large shrimp (21 to

25 count)

1/2 baguette (about 8 to 10 ounces) cut in slices

Put a large pot of water on and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet melt one stick of the butter over low to medium heat. Add the garlic and saute about 1 minute or until it just begins to brown.

Reduce heat slightly and add the remaining 1 stick of butter. Don’t let it melt completely; it should look foamy.

Stir in about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice. Add about half of the sambal oelek, salt and cilantro.

Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more of the sambal oelek. The sauce should have a spicy kick to it.

Add the shrimp to the boiling water and cook about 3 to 4 minutes, just until the shells are pink and the flesh is opaque.

Drain the shrimp and transfer to a serving bowl. Pour the butter sauce over the shrimp.

Serve with crusty bread slices for dipping.

The sauce makes about 11/2 cups.

Nutritional analysis (based on 5 large shrimp and 2 tablespoons sauce): 421 calories (42 percent from fat), 20 g fat (10 g saturated fat), 32 g carbohydrates, 28 g protein, 750 mg sodium, 192 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber.

Adapted from Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, Ft. Myers Beach, Florida, and tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.