Comeback Sauce is, according to my research, a specialty of Jackson, Mississippi. It apparently originated in Greek restaurants and is now found on restaurant tables all over the city. It really hasn’t made its way up to Memphis, but as you meander through the Delta, you do find in on some restaurant menus. That’s where I discovered it. And of course it shows up in community cookbooks in many forms with many uses.
Comeback sauce is a great dip for chicken tenders or fried catfish, but pairs wonderfully with big, juicy Gulf shrimp as the centerpiece dip in a Southern shrimp cocktail. I frequently serve it with shrimp that I smoke in rigged-up stove top or grill smoker. I had in mind sharing a shrimp remoulade recipe as a nice, cool summer salad. Then it occurred to me that I could make it a little more regional by using a comeback sauce dressing, and I haven’t turned back. The flavor of the sauce is so punchy, that I only add a little celery and some capers to the shrimp for crunch. Use beautiful wild-caught American shrimp – I prefer big chunks of juicy shrimp, but feel free to cut smaller pieces. I suppose you could use pre-cooked shrimp, but this beer boil does add a nice zing.
You can serve this on lettuce to be eaten straight up, but it makes a great filling for a po’ boy. Kind of a redneck lobster roll.
Comeback Shrimp Salad
For the Shrimp:
3 pounds shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails off
12 ounce bottle beer
1 lemon, quartered
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
2 bay leaves
3 celery stalks
2 Tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
For the Comeback Sauce:
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons chili sauce
1 Tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoons stone ground mustard
1 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
dash hot sauce
1 garlic clove
¼ a small white onion or a small shallot
½ teaspoon salt
several grinds of black pepper
For the Shrimp:
Place the beer, 2 cups of water, the lemon, peppercorns, mustard seeds and bay leaves in a large saucepan with a tight fitting lid. Bring the liquid to a boil, drop in the shrimp, then cover the pot and remove from the heat. Leave the shrimp for about 5 minutes, then remove the lid. The shrimp should be nice, pink and curled now. Leave them in the liquid, uncovered, for a further ten minutes. Remove from the cooking liquid and drain. I usually do this with tongs – you don’t want peppercorns or mustard seeds stuck to the shrimp when you make the salad.
Cut the shrimp into bite-size pieces and place in a large bowl. String the celery and cut it into a very fine dice and add to the bowl. Add the capers and toss to combine.
For the Sauce:
Place all the Comeback Sauce ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and combined.
Pour the sauce over the shrimp and gently fold everything together until thoroughly coated with sauce. Cover and refrigerate for several hours to let the flavors combine. The salad can be made one day ahead.
Many years ago, I picked up a recipe card in the checkout line at a grocery store in London. It had a complicated fish recipe, but what attracted me was the artichoke tartar sauce. That card sat in my recipe file for years, until I rediscovered it and decided to give it a go. The recipe was a complete dud. Weird ingredients, lengthy procedures and it just didn’t come together. It left me with a bowl of gloopy, oddly colored mess. So I threw the card away (and the sauce). But the idea stuck. A tangy, creamy sauce with a nice bite from artichoke hearts that would be a great accompaniment to seafood. So I persevered and came up with this version. I first took it to a friend’s house for a fish fry – they fried the fish caught that morning. It was a big hit, so I wanted to share the recipe.
But it has taken me another few years to figure out how to do it. I don’t particularly enjoy frying fish myself, so no duplicating the tartar sauce’s triumphant debut. Then it hit me – crab cakes. Like a semi-deconstructed crab and artichoke dip. I fiddled with a classic crab cake recipe, paring it down to basic flavors so the tartar sauce wouldn’t be overwhelmed. And pressing the mixture into little muffin tins makes them easier to cook and perfect bites for a party – they tins can be filled and refrigerated just until ready to bake. A little dollop of tartar sauce makes them pretty, and the mini-sized, crispy sides make them easy to eat.
Crab Cake Bites with Artichoke Tartar Sauce
For the Crab Cakes:
1 pound lump crabmeat (see note)
2 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley
½ cu panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
½ teaspoon mustard powder
For the Tartar Sauce:
4 medium sized whole artichokes hearts (see note)
2 egg yolks
2 garlic cloves
2 Tablespoons flat leaf parsley leaves
2 Tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
¼ cup safflower, grapeseed or canola oil
Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Pick over the crabmeat to make sure there are no pieces of shell, then add the crab to the eggs. Add the melted butter, mayonnaise and parsley and fold together gently. You want everything well combined but try not to break up the crabmeat.
Mix the breadcrumbs, baking powder, Old Bay and mustard powder together in a small bowl. Add to the crab mixture and gently fold through. Again, you want everything combined, but don’t break up the crabmeat. Refrigerate the mixture for at least an hour, but several is fine. This binds the mixture together and makes it easier to fill the tins.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray 24 mini-muffin cups well with non-stick cooking spray. Fill each cup with crab cake mixture, pressing it in to fill it well. Press a rounded teaspoon down in the middle of each cake to make a little well in the center (this will keep them from mounding up and create a nice flat surface for the tartar sauce). You can cover the tins with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for several hours at this point.
Bake the crab cakes for 20 – 25 minutes until golden brown, then cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Use a knife to loosen the cakes and remove them from the pan. Spoon a little tartar sauce on top of each cake and serve immediately, though these taste lovely at room temperature.
For the Tartar Sauce
Drain and rinse the artichoke hearts well and pat dry. Drop them in a food processor (I use the mini) and add the capers, egg yolks, parsley and garlic cloves. Pulse three to four times to break everything up into a rough paste; scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the motor running, drizzle the oil into the bowl in a thin, steady stream. Process until the sauce is thick and creamy. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl halfway through. Scrape the tartar sauce into a container and keep covered in the fridge until ready to use. It will keep overnight.
Makes 24 crab cakes
I prefer pasteurized lump crab meat that I find in containers at the seafood counter at better grocery stores.
I generally used canned artichoke hearts in brine, rather than the marinated, quartered ones in jars because the marinated ones have some flavor additions. If you can only find those, rinse them really well. If you can only find quartered, use 12 quarters.
It’s winter. Generally, it’s cold and grey, though here in Memphis, the months are punctuated with weirdly frustrating days of seventy degree weather. I love winter food, but I have souped and stewed and braised myself silly and I’m ready for something lighter and fresher. This recipe started as just that. A quick whip-up with the last citrus at the bottom of the fruit bowl and some shrimp from the freezer. But this good enough to share, and could not be a quicker family meal or company dish.
Big juicy shrimp remind me of summer, and citrus is sometimes the one spot of sunshine in the winter foodscape. Add a little garlic and fresh, leafy parsley and this is a bright, sunny dish. A touch of cream adds some body, but mostly this sauce just glazes the pasta and shrimp with zest. Use a high-quality olive oil to make sure the citrus really shines.
Citrus Shrimp Linguine
12 ounces linguine
3 garlic cloves
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup heavy cream
small handful flat leaf parsley leaves, plus more for sprinkling
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
salt and pepper
Cook the linguine in a pot of well-salted water according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water.
Grate the zest the orange, lemon and lime into the carafe of a blender. Juice the citrus to produce ¾ cup juice combined. Add the juice to the blender with the garlic, parsley, olive oil, cream, 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Blend until smooth.
Pour the sauce into a large skillet or pot that will hold the pasta. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes until the sauce is slightly thickened. Add the shrimp and cook, turning once, until cooked through. They will be pink and firm and curled tightly. Immediately add the pasta to the pot and a couple of Tablespoons of cooking water. Use tongs to toss everything together, coating all the pasta with the sauce.
Serve immediately sprinkled with a little chopped fresh parsley.
As Mardi Gras time comes around, I start to get a good craving for some Louisiana cooking. And what is more Louisiana than crawdads? This creamy crawfish spread is perfect for a Mardi Gras party, or any time you need a little Creole kick. I like to serve this as an appetizer or on the buffet with some thick rounds of baguette, but it ain’t bad over pasta!
Mardi Crawfish Spread
Look for frozen crawfish tails in the frozen seafood section.
2 Tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely chopped celery (about 3 stalks)
½ cup finely chopped green bell pepper (about 1 small pepper)
½ cup finely chopped white onion (about ½ a medium onion)
1 pound peeled, cooked crawfish tail meat (thawed if frozen, rinsed and drained)
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
3 teaspoon Creole mustard
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
In a medium sauté pan, heat the oil and cook the celery, pepper and onion until soft and translucent. Add the crawfish meat (if it is in large pieces, chop into bite-sized bits first) and 1/3 cup water. Bring to a boil and cook until the water has completely evaporated. Sprinkle on the Creole seasoning and cook one more minute, stirring. Add the tomato paste and mustard and stir to coat. Cut the cream cheese into cubes and add to the crawfish bit by bit, stirring until all the cream cheese is melted.
You can transfer the dip to a serving dish and serve immediately, or cool it and refrigerate, covered, overnight. Stir in a couple of Tablespoons of milk to loosen the dip and gently reheat in the oven, stirring occasionally. Serve with French bread rounds or sturdy crackers.
Serves 8 – 10, but can be easily doubled
Bag omelets, as we call them, are a favorite project for my family. The family legend behind this is that my Dad was watching some sort of hunting and fishing outdoor program on a Sunday afternoon and they demonstrated these as a campfire cooking idea. Dad called my Mom into watch, and they were so intrigued, they made them that night. Well, they couldn’t stop talking about them, and the next weekend had us all over for a bag omelet party. And so a family tradition was born.
I tell people about these all the time, but when I do, I can see them nod skeptically, and I just know they aren’t going to follow my advice and make them. Recently, I had a dozen gorgeous eggs from the chickens my friend Kristin lovingly raises, so I invited a couple of those skeptical friends for dinner, and they were finally won over. We all loved our omelets and the chance to get creative. They immediately started thinking of reasons to make them.
Bag omelets are a great project for any group meal. Everyone gets their own customized omelet, all ready at the same time. Interactive food and lots of choice are always popular with the kids in my family. And bag omelet party is a great way to jazz up a boring weeknight meal with a special breakfast-for-dinner treat. I can see this as the perfect project if you are stuck in the house on a snow day. They are a perfect clean-out-the-fridge meal – great during the busy holidays when you have lots of bits and pieces hanging around, or the night after a big party. Cut up the leftover vegetables from the dip tray, dice the ham or turkey, grate the bits from the cheese platter.
But this is also a great idea for overnight guests, adults or after a kids’ sleepover. The same goes for an adult dinner party. Everyone has fun discussing their creations and all the omelets are hot and ready at the same time. These work equally as well with leftover salami and string cheese as they do with shaved truffles and duck confit. The omelets slide out of the bags as elegant perfectly shaped cylinders. They are perfect on their own, or with some crisp toasted bread or a light salad.
Use a big Dutch oven or pot, nonstick if you have it. Fill the pot about three-quarters full with water. When you add the bags, the water level will rise, but you want as much water as possible. It shouldn’t be a problem if a little splashes over the side.
Use freezer safe bags, which are thicker and stand up to the heat. Don’t use the plastic slider kind, just the press together seals. You’ll want to squeeze out air so the bags don’t float too much.
Use a permanent marker to write on the bags. You don’t want the names to wash off – you might get the wrong omelet!
Set the timer and have it ready to start when to omelets hit the water. Use tongs to lift the bags out of the water onto a plate or platter.
Wear oven mitts or use a towel to protect your hands when opening the bags and sliding out the omelets.
You’ll need 2 eggs per person, and I always recommend the best eggs you can find. If you have a source at the farmers market or a friend for farm fresh eggs, that’s the way to go. Have a nice selection of protein, vegetables, cheeses, herbs and seasonings. Cut everything into small pieces, so when they are in the bag, they will mix together well, and be easy to eat. I could definitely see doing theme nights with bag omelets – all Mexican ingredients or all Italian. And don’t forget you can add some toppings on the top of the cooked omelet like and extra sprinkle of cheese, a spoonful of salsa or ingredient you may not want cooked in with the eggs, like diced avocado or some crisp diced tomato. Put out some salt and pepper as well, and maybe a few additional seasoning blends.
When I last made these for the photograph above, I created nice little spread of fillings, some grabbed off the salad bar to fill things out, some bits from my fridge. Here are some ideas from that meal:
crumbled blue cheese
grated cheddar cheese
finely diced bell peppers
diced red onion
finely chopped sage, parsley and chives
Salt and pepper
Bring a pot of water to a full boil. Each omelet-maker should write their name on the outside of a freezer-safe zip top bag. For each bag omelet, crack two eggs into a bag. Lightly seal the bag and squish the eggs around a bit to break the yolks.
Open the bag and add your choice of ingredients. Don’t use more filling than egg, you need a good ratio. Seal the bag three-quarters of the way and press out as much air out as possible, then seal the bag completely.
When everyone has their bags ready, gently lower them into the water, avoiding touching the bags to the side of the pan, and set the timer for 11 minutes. Use tongs to gently push the bags down into the water if needed. Do your best to keep the bags from touching the sides of the pot. I have done as many as 8 bags at a time.
When the timer beeps, remove the bags to a platter. Let them cool for a minute, then using oven mitts, gently open each bag and slide the omelet out onto a plate.
I dug into the archives for this recipe. When I was fresh out of graduate school, living in my first apartment, this was a dinner party staple for me. I guess I thought it was sophisticated, cooking with liquor. I always cooked it in my one ceramic baking dish, and served it with rice. I have no idea where the recipe came from, but I copied it out into my vine-patterned recipe journal, and the page has soysauce stains on it now. I am sure I used to call it something more sophisticated, like Whiskey Shrimp, or Bourbon Baked Shrimp. In my notebook, it’s written as Tipsy Shrimp, which sounds a little too twee for this bold dish. At some point, the recipe was stuck in my memory and I could make it by heart. I started thinking of it as Drunk Tank Shrimp, and the name stuck.
Like many early triumphs, this recipe eventually faded away, out of circulation, as I moved on to bigger and fancier things. But when I became the proud owner of both an indoor grill on my range, and a monster of an outdoor grill, I started digging through the archives for food to cook over fire. And this is a whopper of grill recipe. The sweet, tangy marinade gives simple shrimp a dose of bourbon fire and mellow stickiness. The reduced, syrupy sauce is half the joy. If you don’t have the grill going, this dish is also great baked in the oven. It’s a saucy version than the reduced-sauce grilled style, so I like to serve it with rice to soak up the goodness.
Drunk Tank Shrimp
½ cup bourbon
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup Dijon mustard
½ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire
½ cup finely chopped onion
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined (26- 30 count)
Combine the bourbon, soy, mustard sugar vinegar, salt and Worcestershire in a small bowl and whisk to dissolve the sugar and combine the marinade. Stir in the onions. Place the shrimp in a ziptop bag and pour over the marinade, tossing to coat the shrimp. Place on a plate in the fridge and marinate for 30 minutes, turning the bag over a couple of times.
To grill the shrimp, remove them from the marinade, and pour the marinade into a sauce pan. Bring the marinade to a boil, then lower the heat and cook until it has thickened and reduced by about half. Thread the shrimp onto skewers and grill over medium heat. Baste with the reduced sauce, turn the skewers over and continue cooking until the shrimp are cooked through. Drizzle over the remaining sauce, or serve it as a dip.
To cook the shrimp in the oven, pour off half of the marinade, then place the remaining marinade and shrimp in a 9 by 13 inch baking dish. Bake the shrimp at 350 degrees until they are cooked through and tender and the marinade is hot, about 20 minutes.
Serves 4- 6
Shrimp and Grits, technically the child of the South Carolina Low Country has been adopted by Southerners as their own. You will find shrimp and grits in homes and on menus from Florida to Misssissippi, and of course here in Tennessee. I bet most Southerners would put it on a grand list of Southern classics without even realizing its specific geographic origin.
And I imagine there are as many recipes for Shrimp and Grits as there people who cook it. You’ll find it in simple cafes and in upmarket restaurants. I have seen versions with mushrooms, burgundy wine, yellow tomatoes or hot chili peppers. I have seen grits flavored with all manner of things. When I was planning weddings, there was one venue whose most popular item was the Shrimp and Grits bar. Martini glasses with your choice of plain grits or cheese grits, covered in gravy and shrimp, with bacon, onions, herbs, hot sauce and the like that you could sprinkle on top.
I started making shrimp and grits as a dinner for myself, nothing fancy, no real recipe and it often depended on what I happened to have in the fridge. But when I decided to make it company-worthy, I tinkered around until I hit on this version, which is what I think Shrimp and Grits ought to be. It may not be truly authentic or the way you’ve had it at your favorite restaurant, but it is good. So I hereby claim these Shrimp and Grits for Tennessee, but hope you’ll share them with the world.
It’s important to use good grits and good shrimp. You need stone ground grits, not instant or quick-cooking. I hear there are many brands available, but my preferred version is Delta Grind, made in Mississippi on an old grist mill and available online. If there is a good source close to you or online, please share it with us. I buy fresh Gulf shrimp when I can (I freeze extras when it’s available in abundance) or buy frozen Wild American shrimp from reputable stores if I have to. Personally, I never use Asian farmed shrimp. The taste is not as good and they are questionably raised.
Shrimp and Grits
For the Grits:
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups heavy cream
¼ cup ( ½ stick) butter
1 cup stone ground grits (I use Delta Grind)
2 ½ teaspoons salt
Several grinds of black pepper
For the Shrimp
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined (I prefer fresh Gulf shrimp or frozen wild American)
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon regular mustard powder
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon salt
A few grinds of black pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper
6 strips of bacon, cut into small pieces
1 green bell pepper, finely diced
¾ cups chopped green onion, white, light green and a little dark green (from a big bunch)
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
2 Tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 quarter of a large lemon
Finely chopped parsley for garnish
For the Grits:
In a deep-sided large pan (grits tend to spatter), stir the broth, cream and butter together over medium high heat until the butter is melted and it all comes to a low boil. Stir in the grits, salt, and pepper and reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 30 – 45 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. The grits should be tender and the liquid absorbed. You may add a bit more broth if needed. When cooked, the grits can be kept covered for an hour or so, then slowly reheated over low, stirring in a little broth.
For the Shrimp:
Mix together the paprika, mustard, smoked paprika, salt, pepper and cayenne. Pat the shrimp dry if necessary and place on plate. Sprinkle the spice mix liberally over both sides of the shrimp, turning over to get a good coating. Leave the shrimp in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.
When the shrimp are ready, sauté the bacon pieces in a wide skillet over medium high until crispy. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels using a slotted spoon. Pour the bacon grease into a small bowl. Spoon 2 Tablespoons of grease back into the pan and heat over medium high. Sear the shrimp briefly – just a few seconds per side – to seal in the spice mixture. You do not want to cook the shrimp. Remove the shrimp to a plate (you can scoot the bacon to one side and use the same plate). Reduce the heat to medium and add more bacon grease to the pan so that you have about 4 Tablespoons, then drop in the green pepper and the green onion. Sauté until the pepper and green onion are soft. As they release some liquid, you can scrape the tasty brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
While the vegetables are cooking, drain most of the juice from the tomatoes into a measuring cup. You can just hold the top of the can askew and drain out what you can – no need to dirty a strainer. Add enough chicken broth to make one cup of liquid and set aside.
When the green vegetables are soft, add the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes are heated through and start to soften. Break up any large pieces. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir to coat. There should not be any white flour visible. Pour in the broth and tomato liquid and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat a little and let the mixture bubble away until it is nice and thick, stirring to avoid scorching. Squeeze over a quarter of a lemon (making sure you’ve removed seeds) and stir. Add the shrimp to the sauce in the pan, cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through. You can add a bit more broth if you like a saucier version.
Spoon the grits into shallow bowls and spoon over the shrimp and sauce. Sprinkle over the crispy bacon pieces and chopped parsley. Serve immediately.
You Might also like: Fresh Corn Grits
One of the best food discoveries I made travelling through Thailand was fish cakes. Lovely, light, fresh, crispy cakes with loads of flavor in one simple bite. These were a revelation, and something I was determined to master myself. One resort I stayed at in northern Thailand had a cocktail party for guests that featured a demonstration of fish cake making. I took notes. In an intensive cooking course, fish cakes where deconstructed, demonstrated and then we all went to work making our own, with hands-on help from the chef. I sampled fish cakes at the morning market it Chiang Mai (one of my very favorite eating experiences). I watched the stall vendor mix the cakes, form them and fry them. I took notes. I asked for tips on fish cake making at restaurants, and took notes. But when I got home, I was never able to duplicate the delicate treat myself. Maybe I used the wrong kind of fish, or got confused in converting weights. Or maybe I just don’t have the magic touch needed. Mine came out uncooked in the center, or not crispy on the outside, or just heavy and sodden. So I pretty much gave up.
But one day, faced with some leftover cooked shrimp, probably leftover from a party platter, and not much else in the fridge but some homemade curry paste, I decided to give the idea one more try. Using already cooked shrimp solved the problem of undercooked cakes, and the made-to-my taste curry paste put the flavor right where I wanted it. These simple shrimp cakes are know a staple for me – I whip them up whenever I need a little flavor boost to my regular meal rotation.
Simple Thai Shrimp Cakes
You can use purchased, jarred Thai green curry paste, available in the Asian section of most groceries, but taste it before adding to the shrimp cakes – some can be quite spicy. Add an amount that works for you. You will find Thai Sweet Chili Sauce in bottles as well.
8 ounces cooked, peeled and deveined shrimp
1 Tablespoon homemade Thai Curry Paste, or purchased Thai green curry paste to taste
1 egg yolk
2 Tablespoons torn mint leaves
4 Tablespoons torn cilantro leaves
1 Tablespoon torn Thai basil leaves, optional or use regular basil
1 teaspoon fish sauce\canola oil for frying
Thai Sweet Chili Sauce for serving
Place all the ingredients in a food processor (I use the mini). Process into thick paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times, until the paste comes together in a ball.
Scoop out the paste and form small patties, about 1 ½ inches in diameter. You should get about 8 cakes. Place the cakes on a plate lined with waxed paper until ready to use. The cakes can be refrigerated at this point for several hours.
When ready to serve, heat 2 – 3 Tablespoons of canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the cakes about 4 minutes on each side, until golden and crispy and warmed through.
Serve the cakes with Thai Sweet Chili Sauce for dipping.
Makes about 8 shrimp cakes
I am surrounded by good Louisiana cooks. My brother went to college in New Orleans, my close friend went to law school there, and many of their friends from the area have migrated up to Memphis. And they love to cook up a good bayou feast. So in all honesty, I don’t cook much Cajun or Creole food – I leave it to the experts.
My brother makes a mean gumbo, so I pretty much let him be in charge of that process. For my birthday last year, I was surprised with a homemade dinner party of grilled boudin, crawfish ettouffe and Doberge cake. I frequently get a call that one or other of the Louisiana natives has been back home and brought back a cooler of crawfish or gulf shrimp or other local seafood, so they are whipping up a party. When my brother visits Louisiana, he comes back with Natchitoches meat pies and crawfish pies. All of this is to say, I get plenty of good Nawlins’ food – from other folks.
But I felt I ought to have a least one good Creole recipe in my back pocket. And the quickie Monday red beans and rice I make for my self only just doesn’t count. So asked one of my friends, who is a native of Monroe, Louisiana, for a good recipe. And just like a man, he gave me a set of instructions, as if I wanted to build a set of bookshelves, more than a recipe. But God love him, he had the right idea, and a solid foundation. With a little work, I transformed his manual into a recipe that has become a favorite of mine when I need a little Louisiana fix. This Shrimp Creole has all the classic flavors of the bayou without having to master the art of making a good roux.
Wild American shrimp is by far the best choice for this Louisiana dish and is available fresh or frozen. For extra-authenticity, look for Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning.
1 ½ cups long grain white rice
3 ½ cups water
2 Tablespoons butter
3 celery ribs
1 green bell pepper, ribs and seed removed
1 medium white onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 green onions
1 Tablespoon Creole (or Cajun) seasoning
1 (16 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (10.5 ounce) can mild diced tomatoes with green peppers
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 pound uncooked, peeled and deveined shrimp fresh or frozen and thawed
Stir the rice into the water in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil and boil until almost all the water is absorbed and little air bubbles form in the rice, about 10 – 12 minutes, stirring a few times to prevent sticking. Remove from the heat and tightly cover the pan.
While the rice is cooking, finely dice the celery, green bell pepper, onion and green onion. Mince the garlic. In a large Dutch oven (4 to 5 quarts), melt the butter over medium high heat. Drop in the “trinity” – the celery, pepper and onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until all the vegetables are soft and the onion and celery are translucent, about 12 minutes. Stir in the garlic and green onions and cook a further 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the Creole seasoning and stir. Cook a further minute until fragrant. Pour in the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes and chicken broth, stirring to combine. Bring to a full rolling boil. Cook until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Drop in the shrimp, cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave covered for at least 10 minutes to fully cook the shrimp.
Fluff the rice with a fork and serve it in bowls with the Shrimp Creole ladled over the top.
The Shrimp Creole can be made up to one day ahead and keep tightly covered in the fridge. Gently reheat over low heat before serving over rice.
In restaurants throughout New Orleans, you’ll find Barbecue Shrimp on the menu; some restaurants are famous for their version. It is not barbecue in the sense of the thick, red, sticky sauce you normally think of, and certainly not barbecue like we revere here in Memphis. No, it’s a buttery, peppery batch of slap-your-mama goodness, just calling out to a big group of friends. Around here, a local community cookbook published in 1971 included a recipe for New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp, and it was a staple recipe at many parties for years – football games, summer get-togethers and such. But, like many old stand-by recipes, it fell by the wayside, replaced by other, newer recipes that at the time probably included pesto.
I hadn’t thought of these shrimp in years, until last summer for a lake-house weekend, a friend made a batch for dinner. It was a great evening, multi-generational, parts of families that have known each other since God was a baby. Spread out around a long table, talking gossip and politics (loudly) and kids and memories and plans, overlooking the sunset across the lake, butter dripping down our arms and chins and shrimp shells overflowing from the bowls placed to catch them.
All this summer, I have been thinking about those shrimp, craving those shrimp, and just dying for a reason to fix some up, partly because they are just so good and partly because of the laughter and camaraderie that seems to go along with them. So on a recent return to the lake, with some of that same original group, I got my chance and cooked up a big ol’ batch of Barbecue Shrimp. After a crazy, hectic, long, sunny day on the water, swimming and skiing and even sailing, pulling this dinner together was easy. We sat at the table with big dishes of shrimp bathed in peppery butter, lots of bread for sopping up the sauce, a crisp green salad with watermelon and rolls of paper towels, laughing and joking and generally cutting up, even debating the best way to eat the shrimp. It was just like I remembered, and I can’t wait for the next Barbecue Shrimp excuse.
I’ve considered fiddling around with this, making my own Italian dressing, adding herbs or spices. But that would just be stupid. When something is this good and this simple, why mess it up. I just replaced the “oleo” with butter.
So, Labor Day is coming up, and that always seems to be a great opportunity to gather friends and family around to, theoretically, say farewell to summer, though here in Memphis we’ve got a lot of hot left. Your holiday may be at a lake, a beach, a river, a mountain or your own backyard, but I wanted to share this recipe, like so many others before me have. This is a meal best eaten with people you know well and like, because it gets messy, but I promise, once you’ve done this, you’ll be waiting for an excuse to do it again.
New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp
Yes, use the whole can of pepper and all the butter. That’s the whole point of the exercise. Use regular old Italian dressing, which I found surprisingly hard to locate amongst the balsamic vinaigrettes and sundried tomato dressings, but it’s there. And I always search for wild American Gulf shrimp.
1 pound butter
1 (16 ounce) bottle of Italian dressing
Juice of four lemons
1 (2 ounce) can of ground black pepper
5 pounds of uncooked shrimp, peels and tails intact
Good French or Italian bread for soaking up the sauce
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan then stir in the dressing, lemon juice and pepper. Stir well and heat through.
Place the shrimp in a large roasting pan or two casserole dishes – they do not have to be in one layer, as many as will fit in the dish with the sauce is fine. Pour the butter sauce over the shrimp and stir to coat. Place the shrimp in the oven and roast for 45 minutes (they can stay in a bit longer or happily sit for half an hour or so out of the oven if you get distracted with a beer).
To serve, either scoop the shrimp into bowls with lots of butter sauce, or place the dish directly on the table family-style for everyone to dig into. You will need to provide lots of paper towels or napkins and some vessels for the shrimp peels to be tossed in, and lots of bread for sopping up the amazing sauce.
This is a big batch of shrimp and will serve a mess of people. I would have said ten to twelve, but six of us pretty much cleaned the dish. I’d say people just eat until there’s no shrimp left.