This is an iteration of a simple but hauntingly addictive dish from Andy Ricker’s latest cookbook, The Drinking Food of Thailand, which chronicles the rustic, flavor-packed food found in street-side stalls and dive watering holes across the northern part of the country.
Mr. Ricker is probably the most honest and thorough translator of the spicy, salty, tangy, sometimes bitter cuisine of Northern Thailand, and this is an easy one to make at home (preferably with a charcoal grill).
Beautiful jumbo shrimp or prawns are marinaded quickly then grilled over high heat and served with Naam Jim Seafood dipping sauce, a ubiquitous condiment for any sort of grilled seafood in Thailand (pictured below)
For the shrimp:
- 2 lbs jumbo shell-on shrimp (preferably with heads still attached if you can find)
- 3 TBSP fish sauce
- 6 cloves garlic
- 8 thai bird chiles, finely chopped
- Juice from 1 lime
- Pinch of black pepper
- 2 TBSP canola oil
For the Naam Jim dipping sauce:
- 2 TBSP fish sauce (more to taste)
- 6 cloves garlic
- 8-10 whole thai bird chiles, stemmed
- Juice from 1 to 1.5 limes (more to taste)
- 1/2 bunch cilantro
- 2 tsp granulated sugar
- Pinch of coarse salt
- Whisk all the ingredients for the shrimp marinade together in a large bowl and add the shrimp, tossing and mixing with your hands to coat. Leave at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour.
- Place a small fine-mesh grate or cooling rack directly over a medium flame on a gas stove and, using tongs or kitchen tweezers, add the thai chiles, flipping frequently until about 75% charred on all sides. Let cool and roughly chop. (I have a ton of these sorts of racks that I get frequent use out of, this being the most abusive task!)
- Cut 1/4″ pieces from the bottom of the cilantro stems, about 2″ up the stem. Add to a mortar and pestle with the garlic cloves and a big pinch of coarse salt. Pound into a fibrous paste, about 2 minutes.
- Add chiles and pound for another 2 minutes. The paste will still have some texture to it. Transfer to bowl, and stir in lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar. Taste for personal preference. I like the tartness of this sauce for the shrimp, so sometimes I’ll add a bit more lime juice. Let sit for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours at room temperature, then stir in a small handful of finely chopped cilantro leaves and thin stems at the last minute.
- Light your coals and spread out when glowing hot. Remove shrimp from marinade and grill for about 2 minutes per side over direct heat until they turn a beautiful pink and are no longer translucent. Add to a large bowl and grill your next batch.
- Serve shrimp in a couple smaller bowls alongside the dipping sauce. This style of hands-on, peel-and-eat shrimp is a lot of fun. Be sure to have empty bowls to discard the shells. If your shrimp have the heads on, don’t forget to suck out that gorgeous, umami-rich liquified brain from the head!