With a bit of strong alcohol, virtually any dish can be set on fire. For this flambe, plump shrimp are quickly simmered in a fragrant tomato-saffron sauce. A minced shallot perks up the sweetness of the shellfish and butter ensures the silky sauce clings to every bite. Cognac adds a warming note at the end, and allows you to light the dish aflame. Served with crusty bread, over rice or even mashed potatoes, the dish makes a hearty appetizer or main course.

Look for wild-caught domestic shrimp that have been eco-certified by an organization such as the Marine Stewardship Council, whose mission is to promote sustainable seafood and healthy oceans. Fishmongers and good supermarkets will be able to tell you where their shrimp comes from and how it’s harvested. Feel free to use shell-on or tail-on shrimp for a more hands-on affair.

Finally, a few things to keep in mind if you plan on flambeing: Setting food ablaze is an exciting affair, but it must be approached with caution, whether you’ve done it a hundred times or never before. Make sure to leave space for the flames above and around the dish; keep long hair and drapy clothing tucked away. Pour the alcohol into a heat-resistant cup before adding it to the dish; it’s much safer if you don’t pour it in directly from the bottle. Keep a pot lid handy — you can use it to cover the pan in case you want to quickly put the fire out.

If you’re not a fan of booze or fire you can skip both. With or without the flames, the smell of saffron, warm and seductive will fill your home.

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  • 3 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1 pound peeled, deveined white shrimp (about 20 large), thawed if frozen
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 2 pinches saffron, divided
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup water or white wine
  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) cognac or brandy (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves, preferably curly
  • Crusty bread, for serving

Step 1

In a large cast-iron or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, add the oil. Add the shallot and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp to the pan, nudging them into a single layer; season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle 1 pinch of saffron on top of the shrimp and cook until they are just beginning to blush, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, flip the shrimp and cook until pink and completely opaque, about 2 minutes. Stir in water or wine, forming a sauce with the tomato paste.

Step 2

To flambe: Remove the skillet from the heat. Have a lid or pot cover handy to douse flames if necessary. Pour the cognac or brandy into a small cup and then pour it over the shrimp. Return the skillet to low heat. (Never pour the alcohol directly into a hot pan from the bottle.) Using a long-handled lighter, carefully set the alcohol aflame. Allow the flames to die down. Stir in the butter and the remaining saffron, allowing the butter to melt completely. Sprinkle with the parsley, and serve hot, with bread.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 263; Total Fat: 20 g; Saturated Fat: 6 g; Cholesterol: 165 mg; Sodium: 860 mg; Carbohydrates: 4 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 1.3 g; Protein: 16 g.

Recipe from staff writer G. Daniela Galarza.

Tested by G. Daniela Galarza; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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