I was grown and married before I learned that spices have a shelf life. Thinking back on the kitchen of my childhood, I’d bet good money that there were jars of stuff in there at least twenty years old. You could actually trace the evolution of McCormick’s label design through the years in mom’s cupboard by starting at the back (vintage whole allspice) and working your way to the front (last week’s garlic powder).
That explains why I grew up thinking that paprika was a tasteless red powder that had one use in the world: looking nice when sprinkled on deviled eggs. Seriously.
The reality is that while the color is gorgeous, paprika also packs a ton of flavor. I just didn’t know that because Mom had purchased a half-gallon of the stuff in 1979 and we’d been using it ever since. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that the flavor departed somewhere around the time Reagan took office.
I learned of paprika’s true identity after reading about a rule of thumb: if you can’t tell what a spice is by sniffing it, without looking at the label, it’s old and should be tossed. So I went home and sniffed my paprika, and got nothing. The olfactory needle didn’t move a smidge. Unconvinced, I bought fresh paprika during my next grocery trip, just to prove the article wrong. I got home, stuck my beak in that jar, inhaled deeply… and almost passed out.
Why hello, Paprika. It’s nice to finally meet you.
Since then, I’ve learned that paprika not only has flavor, it has a family tree – sweet, mild, smoked, hot, Spanish, Hungarian. People in the know swear that it can revolutionize your cooking, like this guy (who, interestingly, also dismissed it as deviled egg dust before being converted).
And now, along comes Bon Appétit, with Grilled Shrimp and Sausage Skewers with Smoky Paprika Glaze. This is a big moment for paprika: a title role on the cover of a national magazine, instead of being relegated to also-ran ingredient status. Once I saw that sherry vinegar was involved, it was clear that the glaze would be the star of the show.
The shrimp and vegetables were completely reliant upon the glaze for flavor – there’s no marinade and no other seasoning in sight. The glaze required a bit of prep, but when it came together, it was a revelation: smoky, earthy, and amazingly complex for such a short list of ingredients. In this way, it was much like the Salmon with Sweet Chili Glaze from April – delicate protein, layered glaze, few ingredients. Very nice.
There was only one problem: the sausage. Actually, it was an execution problem, and not a sausage problem at all.
The recipe calls for “andouille or other fully cooked smoked sausages (such as linguiça)”. I didn’t notice the linguiça shout-out until just before it was my turn at the meat counter, and at that very moment, what did I see nestled between the bratwurst and the chorizo? Why it’s a pork/lamb linguiça! So I nabbed it and bustled along to my next stop.
I haven’t yet mentioned that Andy was there for dinner, along with his wife Paula and my dad. The skewers were already on the grill when Andy asked if I was concerned at all about the timing of the sausage vs. the shrimp. Not an issue, I said, because the sausage was already cooked… and as the words came out of my mouth, I realized that the sausage wasn’t already cooked. I just thought it was because the recipe had suggested it. Well, poo.
We grilled the skewer just long enough to cook the shrimp, and then cut through the sausage. No go. So I snapped a few photos of the beautiful yet undercooked specimens, and then proceeded to dismantle them and finish the sausage with a quick sauté. No harm, no foul, but if you plan to make this, be warned! I don’t know if all linguiça is fresh instead of cooked, but mine was.
And although the properly cooked linguiça turned out to be delicious, we thought it had a little too much flavor for this dish, and wound up competing with the glaze. Next time, I’d probably just stick to my favorite andouille. But I loved having an excuse to try it, and I’ll be using it again – just not with Spanish style surf-n-turf.
All in all, I had a lot of fun with this dish, and given the relative ease of prep compared to the punch of flavor and presentation, I’d make it again. We’ll call it an A-.
Bring on the July cover! (Fingers crossed for homemade ice cream…)