Shrimp on the grill have never been this good. This variation on a classic Vietnamese dish is easy to prepare and messy to eat! Look for good-quality shrimp at the fish counter of a reputable grocery store.
For the saffron aioli (optional):
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1/4 tsp. saffron threads, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
- 1 to 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
- 4 lb. large shrimp, peeled and thawed if frozen
- 2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
- 1 Tbs. coarse salt
- 1 Tbs. cracked black pepper (see note below)
- 1 Tbs. cracked white pepper (see note below)
- 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp. chili powder
- Dry vermouth, to taste
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for grill grate
To make the aioli, pour the canola oil and olive oil into a measuring cup with a spout. In a blender or food processor, combine the egg yolks, mustard, garlic, saffron, salt and white pepper. Pulse several times until the garlic is pulverized. With the motor running, add the oils in a slow, steady stream. Stir in 1 Tbs. of the lemon juice. Stir in the remaining 1 Tbs. lemon juice if needed to thin the aioli; it should be the consistency of mayonnaise. Spoon into a serving bowl or individual ramekins, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Put the shrimp in a colander, rinse under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
In a large bowl, combine the shrimp, lime juice, salt, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne and chili powder and stir to coat. Add a splash of vermouth and the 1/4 cup olive oil and stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.
Prepare a medium-hot fire in a grill. Brush and oil the grill grate.
Working in batches, grill the shrimp directly over medium-high heat, turning once, until bright pink and nicely charred, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer the shrimp to a platter and cover loosely with aluminum foil.
Transfer the shrimp to individual plates and serve immediately with the saffron aioli. Serves 6 to 8.
Tip: To crack whole peppercorns, lay a large sheet of parchment or waxed paper on a cutting board that sits firmly on a work surface. Place 2 to 3 Tbs. peppercorns in the center and fold the edges over to make a small pouch. Using a heavy sauté pan or Dutch oven, apply pressure and rock back and forth to crack the peppercorns. Strain the cracked peppercorns through a coarse-mesh sieve and repeat the process. Keep freshly cracked pepper handy for seasoning grilled steaks, seafood and chops and for garnishing salads.
Note: The aioli contains eggs that are not cooked. They run a risk of being infected with salmonella or other bacteria, which can lead to food poisoning. This risk is of most concern to small children, older people, pregnant women and anyone with a compromised immune system. If you have health and safety concerns, do not consume raw or partially cooked eggs; seek out a pasteurized egg product to replace them.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma On the Grill, by Willie Cooper (Oxmoor House, 2009).