Spicy Shrimp Tagine from Morocco

Jeff Koehler
Often called shrimp al pip-pil, this northern favorite can be either spicy in the sense of piquant, with plenty of cayenne pepper, or spicy in the sense of heavily seasoned, with garlic, cumin, sweet paprika, and a pinch of cayenne pepper, plus plenty of fresh cilantro and parsley. This recipe is the latter, though you can add firepower as desired. The shrimp can also be prepared in individual terra-cotta dishes and served as an appetizer.

Although I have eaten this tagine in numerous places along the coast, the finest was in Tétouan. It was in a small riad (guesthouse) called El Reducto, which had not long before been converted by a Spanish woman from a mansion that, in 1948, had been reformed for the Gran Vizier of Tétouan, Sidi Ahmed Abdelkrim Haddad. Wandering through Tétouan’s dense, ancient, and inward-looking city, it is easy to forget how near it is to the Mediterranean.

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 ripe medium tomatoes, halved, seeded, and grated (see Note)
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper or more to taste
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 lb/680 g large shrimp, peeled, tails left on (about 3/4 lb/340 g peeled)
  • 3 slices lemon, halved

In a tagine, flameproof casserole, or heavy skillet or sauté pan, add the olive oil, tomatoes, and garlic, and cook uncovered over medium heat until the tomatoes are a deeper red and pulpy, about 12 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low. Stir in the parsley, cilantro, paprika, cayenne, and cumin. Add the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Place the shrimp on top and cook for 1 minute, and then turn. Place the lemon slices around the edges of the tagine, dribble 2 Tbsp water in the side, cover with the lid, and cook for 10 minutes. Serve bubbling hot in the tagine.

Note: To grate tomatoes, halve the tomatoes crosswise. Place a small strainer over a bowl. Seed the tomatoes by running a finger through the cavity and into the strainer in order to catch all of the juices. Cup a tomato half in the palm of your hand and grate on a box grater, working so that the skin gradually flattens back as the soft flesh of the tomato comes away. All that should be left is the skin.
Prep time: 
15 minutes
Cook time: 
25 minutes
Total time: 
40 minutes
4 servings
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