Long ago, I lived in Astoria, Queens, the Greekest neighborhood in New York City. It’s where I fell in love with mounds of garlicky taramosalata, giant bowls of tomato, cucumber and red onion chunks studded with slabs of feta, and whole, grilled fish served with potatoes swimming in lemon juice. But my go-to order was always shrimp saganaki.
Saganaki is, at its most basic, just griddled molten-chewy halloumi. At the restaurants I went to, they’d add shrimp and tomato sauce to the hot cheese — like a relative of shakshuka, but with shrimp and cheese in place of eggs.
My at-home version of shrimp saganaki has morphed over the years. I now use mostly cherry tomatoes in the sauce (instead of canned) because their sweetness plays better with the shrimp. When tomato season is in full swing, I mix different varieties for a colorful, textural contrast. And, though it’s not at all Greek to me, I stir in a bit of harissa paste to give the sauce a little heat and complexity. Finally, I use head-on shrimp and add them right at the end, so they stay juicy.
Making the dish this way — with large shrimp sticking out of a spicy sauce — reminds me of another favorite shrimp-in-a-skillet dish, New Orleans-style barbecued shrimp, so I serve my not-quite saganaki with a crusty baguette, perfect for tearing off chunks and sweeping through the sauce. Twist off the heads and tail shells, dip the shrimp back in the sauce, and follow it with a shooter of crispy halloumi. Tear more bread and repeat, repeat, repeat.
Shrimp Saganaki with Halloumi and Harissa
35 minutes. Serves 4.
This dish’s success relies on the quality of the shrimp, so splurge on the best you can find, ideally fresh, whole ones, but thawed frozen tails are fine too. Season the sauce sparingly with salt, as the shrimp and halloumi bring their own salinity to the dish.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons harissa paste (not the watery, salsa-like stuff)
- 2 pounds mixed tomatoes, cut to the same size as cherry or grape tomatoes
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 12 head-on, shell-on extra-jumbo or colossal shrimp
- 1 package (8 to 10 ounces) halloumi cheese, drained and torn into bite-size chunks
- Crusty bread, for serving
- Heat the broiler to high and place a rack in the top position, 4 inches from the broiler element.
- Heat the olive oil in a large, high-sided, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and caramelized at the edges, about 15 minutes. Add the harissa and cook, stirring often, until it is fragrant and coats the onions well, about 30 seconds.
- Stir in the tomatoes and garlic, reduce the heat to medium, and cover the skillet. Cook until the tomatoes are lightly broken down and saucy, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the honey. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
- Tuck all the shrimp into the sauce, spacing them evenly throughout the pan, then lightly shake the pan to settle the shrimp under a blanket of sauce. Scatter the halloumi on top, then place the pan under the broiler. Cook until the halloumi is darkly caramelized on top and the shrimp are cooked through, about 5 minutes.
- Serve hot in the pan with crusty bread on the side for dragging through all the sauce.