Pancetta Shrimp

Football Fare: Grilled Shrimp with Pancetta and Sage

Back when I was a caterer, I quickly learned that customers always loved big, juicy, grilled shrimp and when you wrap that big, juicy shrimp in pancetta (Italian bacon) they love it even more. I now serve those shrimp skewers at tailgates or on football afternoons for many of the same reasons it was a go-to when I was in the biz; because I can assemble it all ahead of time with only minutes to cook and have something fabulous to pop into hungry mouths.

Tossing the shrimp with olive oil, honey, garlic and lemon gets the flavor party started and helps keep them moist while cooking. The addition of fresh sage might make these crustaceans more stylishly fútbol Italiano but deliciously different can be a nice change of pace.  Why not shake up the old standard (bacon wrapped shrimp) and give your peeps a new taste sensation with pancetta and fresh sage tucked inside? Kind of like wearing a cashmere sweater instead of a sweatshirt to the game, it’s an upgrade but comfortably so.

This dish pairs up well with all the usual suspects on game day be it nachos, grilled hot dogs or just chips and dip. Plus, it’s gluten and dairy free. The answer to your game day prayers.

It’s that easy: Shrimp size is classified by the number of pieces per pound. So 16-20 shrimp means that there are 16 to 20 shrimp in one pound. I call out for larger shrimp than the usual medium (36-40) here for a few reasons. 1) Using large shrimp means you don’t have to wrap as many and so it cuts down on the handwork, which saves time. 2) Larger shrimp stay more moist and juicy when cooked on the grill than smaller shrimp. 3) And finally, who doesn’t get excited about big shrimp?

Start to finish: 30 minutes
Hands on time: 30 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon chile flake
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb 16-20 shrimp (see It’s that easy tip), shelled and deveined
  • 16-20 sage leaves
  • 16-20 thin slices pancetta
  • Sixteen to twenty 4-inch wooden skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes

Preheat a grill or broiler to medium heat.

Combine 2 tablespoons oil, honey, garlic, zest and juice, salt, chile flake and pepper in a large bowl. Add the shrimp and toss to combine well. If you’d like to marinate them for a while you can refrigerate for an hour or so but it isn’t necessary.

Lay the pancetta out on a work surface and top each with a shrimp and a sage leaf. Wrap the pancetta around the shrimp and thread it onto a skewer so that the pancetta stays put. You can assemble to this point and keep the shrimp wrapped and refrigerated on a sheet pan for up to 4 hours or arrange them in a large zip lock bag for transport.

Brush the grill with the remaining oil so the shrimp won’t stick. Grill the shrimp for 2 or 3 minutes, flip them over and grill another 2 or 3 minutes or until the pancetta is crispy and the shrimp is cooked through. Watch closely so that the pancetta doesn’t burn. If the fire is too hot and the pancetta is done but the shrimp is not cooked through, just move them to a cooler spot on the grill to finish cooking.

Or, if you don’t have access to a grill, preheat the broiler to medium. Arrange the shrimp on a foil lined sheet pan and broil the shrimp about 4 or 5 inches from the heat for about 3 minutes. Flip them over and broil another 2 or 3 minutes or until the pancetta is crispy and the shrimp is cooked through. Serve warm or at room temperature.

In the glass: If you’re making this for a tailgate, beer would be the logical choice but if you toss a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in the cooler I bet someone (like me) will drink it.

Pancetta Shrimp at tailgate

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