Shrimp Fra Diavolo

All, Italian, Pasta, Seafood

I think if I could only have one shrimp recipe from now on, this would be it. And after serving it the other night to the family, it’s clear they all feel the same way. “Fra Diavolo” means “Brother Devil”, and is a classic Italian dish. It’s spicy, so it’s not for wimps and sissies. But man, is it good. Maybe keeps the devil happy.

There are probably hundreds of recipes, but this one is the best. Cook’s Illustrated, as usual, put a lot of research into this method, and I recommend it highly. As you already know, I also recommend Cook’s for everyone who likes to cook. I made very little modification to their recipe.

I always recommend getting the ingredients ready before you start to cook, but it’s especially important this time. You don’t want the shrimp to cook to ashes while you rummage through your liquor cabinet looking for that bottle of cognac you’ve put somewhere. In fact, don’t just find it, put it in the measuring cup and have it sitting there with the other ingredients. You also don’t have time to mince the garlic after you start cooking. This dish goes fast.


1 lb. large shrimp (31 to 40 per pound)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cognac or brandy
12 medium garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
1 pound linguine or spaghetti


Put four quarts of water in a large pot, add some salt, and drizzle in some olive oil, and start heating it up. By the time you get the shrimp ready, it’ll be ready to cook the pasta.

Get a skillet hot, and while it’s heating, mix the shrimp, half of the red pepper flakes, two tablespoons of the olive oil, and the salt in a bowl. Toss gently to evenly coat the shrimp. When the skillet’s hot, add the shrimp in a single layer and cook without stirring until they turn pink and get brown spots on the bottom. This only takes about a minute or so, depending on the heat of the skillet.

Take it off the heat, stir the shrimp, and add the cognac. Give it a few seconds to warm the cognac, and then wave a match or barbeque lighter over the skillet to ignite the cognac. Shake the pan a little to make sure it all gets a chance to burn. If you own a restaurant, you should do this tableside with the lights dimmed…

After the fire goes out, put the shrimp back in their bowl temporarily. Heat three tablespoons of the olive oil in the skillet, add 2/3 of the garlic, and cook, stirring constantly, for five or six minutes, until the garlic gets light brown. Don’t let it burn. Add the other 1/2 teaspoon of the red pepper flakes, the salt, sugar, tomatoes, and wine. Simmer this sauce for ten minutes or so.

Hopefully before the sauce starts to simmer the pasta pot is boiling, so you can sprinkle the pasta in the pot (not all in one blob — you want the oil on the water to touch each strand), and start it cooking. The pasta package will say how long to cook it, but it’s probably about 12 minutes. Stir it now and then to keep the strands separated while the sauce simmers.

When the pasta seems soft, take out a strand, let it cool a little, and taste it. You’ll know when it’s too raw and when it feels “al dente”, or chews properly. Scoop out a half a cup of the water with a coffee cup while it’s cooking; you’ll add that water back in later.

When the pasta is done, drain it well, and add the 1/2 cup of pasta water you saved earlier. Also add a few tablespoons of the sauce, and toss to coat the pasta. Now let the pasta sit covered to keep warm while you finish the dish in the skillet.

Put the shrimp, the rest of the garlic, and the parsley into the skillet with the sauce, spread it out gently, and cover it to re-warm the shrimp. After a couple of minutes, it’s time to serve. If you go off and gab on the phone now, when you come back the shrimp will be very small, and your guests will think you are too cheap to buy decent shrimp.

Serve the shrimp over the pasta with some good bread and wine, maybe a little salad, and get ready for the compliments!

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