Mardi Gras is around the corner again, believe it or not, so I am dusting off one of my favorite classic New Orleans dishes – Barbecue Shrimp. Now, as a born and bred Memphian, I am very particular about what is and is not barbecue, and by that reckoning, this is not. No slow cooking, no smoke, no grill, no tomatoes or molasses in the sauce, just juicy shrimp in a deeply rich and flavorful buttery sauce. But it has become known far and wide a New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp, so I kind of think it has invented its own category. Even in Memphis, if you order barbecue shrimp, this is what you get. Story goes, this dish was invented at Pascale’s Manale restaurant in the Crescent City in the 1950s and has gone on to greatness from there. All sorts of restaurants, and home chefs, have created their own recipes and methods, and this is mine. I can’t say that is exactly like the original (it’s been years since I actually ate it at Pascal’s Manale) but it is very good, and just the way I like it.
One of the thigs I love about this Barbecue Shrimp is its interactive nature. Put a big pot of it on the table with some good bread and let everyone have at, sopping up that sauce. I use a big, enameled cast iron pan that I actually kind of think of as my barbecue shrimp pan. A cast iron or stainless-steel skillet works as well, or you can transfer everything to a big serving dish – just make sure you get all the delicious sauce and bits out of the pot. I use shell-on shrimp here (I don’t bother with heads, but classic recipes say you should). I shell them before cooking and serve them that way, because I think it is simpler and easier than trying to shell the saucy, hot shrimp. But save the shells to add flavor to the rich sauce. I have to admit, I really hate peeling raw shrimp, though this is worth it. Sometimes, a fish counter will peel them for me if I ask nicely, I just ask to keep the shells. A good baguette or Italian loaf is essential for this because you don’t want a drop of the delicious sauce to go to waste.
New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp
3 pounds shell on shrimp, extra-large (or the largest you can find), thawed if frozen
3 Tablespoons bacon grease (or vegetable oil)
2 Tablespoons butter
2 large shallots, sliced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 1/4 cup (10 ounces) Worcestershire sauce
12 ounces beer (preferably an American lager)
1 ½ cups seafood or chicken stock
1 ½ Tablespoons Creole seasoning (such as Tony Chachere’s)
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
4 Tablespoons heavy cream
4 Tablespoons cold butter
Chopped parsley for serving
Lemon wedges for serving
Baguette for serving
- Peel the shrimp, reserving about ¾ of the shells. Return the peeled shrimp to the refrigerator while you proceed. Melt the bacon grease and butter in a large, deep, skillet or braiser (it will need to fit all the shrimp) over medium high heat. Add the shallots and stir. Cook for about 3 minutes until they begin to soften, the add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the shrimp shells and sliced lemon and stir. Cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are soft and glassy and the shells have turned pink. Pour in the Worcestershire, beer, stock, Creole seasoning and pepper. Scrape the any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally until the liquid has reduced by half. Put a colander over a bowl and strain the liquid through it. Rinse out the pan making sure there are no bits of the solids left. Discard the solids but return the liquid to the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium high heat and cook until it is reduced and thick, about the consistency of heavy cream. When you run the spatula through the sauce on the bottom of the pan, it should not immediately run back together. You want just enough to glaze the shrimp. Add the shrimp to the pan and stir to coat with sauce. Cook just until the shrimp are pink and cooked, about three to five minutes. Turn off the heat and add the heavy cream, stirring to combine and coat the shrimp. Cut the butter into Tablespoon pieces and add one at time, stirring to melt one piece before adding the next. Sprinkle the chopped parsley over the top and serve with lemon wedges and baguettes for mopping up the sauce.
- You can begin this dish a few hours ahead by making the sauce base, straining it and reducing it to slightly looser than a glaze. Cover and keep at room temperature for no more than two hours. Keep the shrimp in the fridge, and about 8 minutes before you want to serve it, heat the reduced sauce, add the shrimp and proceed.