Straight up grilled shrimp is always a treat but pairing it with the vibrant herb sauce chermoula imparts a fresh and lively flavor. The ease of grilled shrimp with chermoula makes it a great choice for anything from a quick weeknight dinner to a large barbecue.
Grilled shrimp is best fresh from the fire, but it is still tasty at room temp. A food processor makes quick work of the chermoula, which I use as both a marinade and a sauce on the side.
While the shrimp marinates you can prepare some couscous (seriously, boil water or stock, stir in the couscous, cover and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes). Oh, you could also toss together a tomato and cuke salad.
Dinner is ready with about 25 minutes of hands on time. Not bad.
What is Chermoula?
Chermoula (also spelled charmoula) is a fragrant North African herb and spice paste that originated in Morocco.
Its herb base often consists of cilantro, parsley or a mixture of both. It’s brightened up with garlic and lemon and a touch of chili or cayenne and grounded with cumin. If I have preserved lemon lying about, I’ll throw some in but it’s perfectly fine without it. What’s so great about the recipe is its versatility—you can always add more lemon if you feel it needs it, or mix up the herb ratio based on what you have.
Recipes for chermoula vary depending on the country and region. It’s often used as a marinade, filling, baste, and/or a sauce. It’s additionally all-purpose by pairing well with seafood, meat, poultry, and vegetables. Think of it along the lines of pesto, chimichurri or zhoug, a Yemenite spicy herb sauce. Store it in the refrigerator covered with a slick of oil in a jar and it’ll hold for a week.
How to Buy Shrimp
Shrimp sizing terms are not standardized. What one purveyor may refer to as large may be called jumbo by another. However, shrimp are labeled by a standardized count per pound.
For the larger sized shrimp, the count is labeled with U in front of the number, such as U10. This label means that there are under 10 shrimp per pound.
In this recipe I’m calling for 16/20 shrimp. That means that there are 16 to 20 shrimp of the same size per pound. Many, but not all, purveyors refer to the 16/20 size as extra jumbo. If both a name and count size are provided, go by the count size.
The 16/20s are the largest size frozen wild gulf shrimp (my preference) stocked in my market so I tend to buy those. Unfortunately, that means I have to clean them myself, but the shells are great for making seafood stock. Feel free to use a larger size for this recipe, you’ll just have to grill the shrimp a little longer.
How to Thaw Shrimp
Pretty much most of the shrimp at supermarkets has been previously frozen. In a pinch, when I haven’t planned ahead to thaw my shrimp, I’ll buy already thawed shrimp, making sure they smell fresh.
Another plus for getting them thawed from the store is that you can usually find them already peeled and cleaned. However, I prefer to stock my freezer with frozen shrimp so I have control over how long they’ve been thawed.
Grilled Shrimp with Chermoula Swaps and Subs
You can change the flavor profile of the chermoula by adding any of the following:
- 1/4 cup mint leaves
- 1 teaspoon harissa
- 1 teaspoon tomato or tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- Pinch saffron
You can also: Use all parsley or all cilantro in the chermoula sauce.
Grilled Shrimp with Chermoula
This recipe calls for preserved lemon. If you can’t find them, feel free to swap with the zest of one lemon.
- For the chermoula
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 cups cilantro, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup parsley, coarsely chopped
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped preserved lemon peel (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- For the grilled shrimp
- 20 extra jumbo (16/20) shrimp, peeled with tail on and deveined
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Special Equipment
- 4 skewers, preferably metal, or 8 wooden skewers
Make the chermoula:
Pulse the garlic in a food processor until chopped. Add the cilantro, parsley, preserved lemon, if using, salt, cumin, paprika, and cayenne. Pulse until finely chopped. Add the oil and lemon juice and pulse until mixed.
The mixture will not be completely emulsified. The mixture will separate slightly with a layer of oil at the top and the slightly chunky mixture of herbs at the bottom.
Preheat the grill and soak the skewers:
If using wooden skewers add them to a wide shallow dish with water. Let them soak for 30 minutes. Preheat grill to medium-high direct heat. You want to bring it up to 450°F-500°F.
Marinate the shrimp:
In a wide shallow bowl or container, season the shrimp with salt and toss to coat in 3 tablespoons of the chermoula. Set aside to let marinate for 15 to 20 minutes. Reserve the rest of the chermoula sauce for serving.
Skewer the shrimp:
Thread the shrimp onto the soaked bamboo skewers through the top fatter section of the shrimp and through the section about 1/4-inch above the tail, adding five pieces of shrimp per skewer.
Grill the shrimp:
Using tongs, arrange the skewers of shrimp in a single layer on the grill. Grill shrimp until seared and slightly pink on the bottom side, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip, using tongs, and cook the other side until the shrimp is opaque, another 1 to 2 minutes.
Using tongs, transfer the skewers to a platter. Let the shrimp cool slightly, then serve with the remaining chermoula on the side.