Recently I made a dish that I hadn’t made in years. It’s a pasta dish featuring shrimp and bacon, along with tomatoes, herbs, cheese, and of course garlic.
I learned this recipe many years ago while working at the Mackinac Island Yacht Club in Michigan. I started out there just working in the kitchen as an extra pair of hands. As the years went by I went up the ladder and eventually became the club chef . One of the guys I worked the line with made this dish one night for the Thursday night club dinner.
That was a tough service, because everyone wanted to eat at the same time and be done in time to catch the last boat leaving the island. I will admit that on a couple of occasions, kitchen errors causes some folks to miss the last boat. They received a free night’s stay at the club and caught a boat back to the mainland the following morning.
These things happen. Imagine yourself working a hot line. The printer is pouring out tickets until they are hanging all the way to the floor. You might miss a steak. When I call for that steak to finish an order and you realize you don’t have it, a fear might set in as to what I might say next.
No, I’m not going to hold bread to your cheeks and make you call yourself an idiot sandwich. Instead, I’m going to look at all the tickets and see if there might be another steak on order that could be switched out to complete the order that needs to go right away, and then fast-track another steak to catch up to the order I just stole from. Just a little insight as to what a line cook will go through.
Back to this pasta dish: First of all, you can’t go wrong with shrimp and bacon together in almost anything, and especially pasta. Start with the bacon and let it render down until cooked about halfway. Next you add the shrimp, followed by tomatoes and onions. Allow them to cook together while you sauté.
Sauté is my favorite station to work in a kitchen — it has so many moving parts. You must pay close attention to how hot your pan is as well as how long food needs to be in the oven while finishing what you just sautéed. Not staying on top of all these moving parts will result in disaster. Your station will sink like a boat without the plug in it. Another bad thing that could happen is over-searing one side of something, causing it to cook unevenly.
I used to have a guy work for me years ago that I called “Chef Burnt Side Down” because he kept giving me fish that was hard-seared on one side and baked on the other. I tried to help correct this problem, but he just couldn’t do it, so he didn’t last long in my kitchen.
Now that you have an idea of how things might go wrong, here’s what to do correctly while you cook this one dish and not 25 different ones at the same time. First, don’t walk away from that pan while it’s cooking. Sauté means to fry quickly in hot fat. Keep that hot pan moving so your food gets cooked the right way.
When your bacon, tomatoes and shrimp are just about cooked, add some garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Remember garlic cooks super-fast and no one wants burnt garlic. It tastes awful and will overpower all the other flavor layers that you have built up until this point.
Time for the pasta to go in. I like bowtie pasta for this dish. Cook it ahead of time and set it aside until you’re ready to finish the dish. Add the pasta and continue to sauté until you can see a shine on the pasta from the bacon fat. At that point, the flavors are evenly spread throughout the dish and it’s almost ready for plating, but it still needs two things: Cheese and herbs.
Herbs should be added late because if you put them in too early, you’ll cook the flavor right out of them and all you will be left with is little green specks in your dish. The cheese is the last thing to add. Don’t over-cheese this dish. It’s a garnish. The cheese can take over the dish like burnt garlic, and again all your efforts will not have the expected outcome.
And why no sauce? Well, when you finally sit down to eat, you’ll realize why I said that no sauce was needed. Bon appétit.
Chef Tim Spain is a Florida native and has years of experience cooking professionally, both in restaurants and in private settings. He offers private catering and personal culinary classes. For more info, visit ChefTimSpain.com or call 406-580-1994.