Think of this as a fresh take on pasta salad. . . an elegant side to a summer buffet or an entree in itself. It derives from one of my favorite comfort foods - one I don’t make often: shrimp and grits. Shrimp and grits - Charleston-style - is a heaven-sent dish of creamy, buttery, cheesy goodness, topped with a spicy shrimp “gravy.”
My summer version here a far lighter dish than the classic Southern fare - substituting pearl (Israeli) couscous for the creamy stone-ground grits. The “dressing” is mayonnaise-based, doctored with lemon, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and fresh herbs from the garden. (Because I had a muffaletta-type spicy pickled olive spread on hand, I also added that to the dressing. Most recipes for the shrimp topping call for bacon. I recommend kicking it up a notch (as Emeril would say) with a few slices of Italian Tazzo ham.
Absolutely nothing stands in the way of serving this dish hot -- though an afternoon siesta in the fridge is recommended for optimal blending of the flavors. —Vivian Henoch
Test Kitchen Notes
This dish was a revelation! I can't wait to make this for a picnic dinner at an outdoor concert - it’s elegant, neither dry nor soupy, and all of the flavors pop, making it thoroughly delicious. The Israeli couscous is creamy to begin with, so only 1/4 cup of mayonnaise is needed for a perfect consistency. I used Italian sausage, but cubed ham would be just as good; I can also see using proteins other than or in addition to shrimp - perhaps chicken, other shellfish, or cold leftover pork or lamb. —Tarragon
Shrimp and Couscous
pearl (Israeli) couscous
uncooked shrimp, peeled an deveined
yellow bell pepper, chopped
sweet red pepper, chopped
garlic cloves, minced
Tazzo ham (substitutes: procuitto or sweet Italian bulk sausage)
To prepare couscous: heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium pan, add two cups of couscous. Stir until couscous is coated in warm oil - (do not let the mixture brown). Add chicken stock and water, and simmer for about twenty minutes. Or until couscous has absorbed all liquid and is done. Set aside.
In a sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil, add ham (or sausage) , garlic, shallot, peppers. Cook until vegetables are softened. Combine vegetable mixture with couscous.
To sauté shrimp, add 1 tablespoon olive oil in the pan used for the veg mixture (or use a separate pan). Cook about two minutes until shrimp are plump and tender. Remove immediately from heat.
To prepare dressing: in a small bowl, combine all six ingredients and whisk.
To assemble: stir dressing into couscous vegetable mixture, top with shrimp, garnish with chopped scallions or fresh herbs. Dish may be served hot, chilled or at room temperature. (It's all good.)