You can sometimes glean how a dish is made by its name. But that’s not the case for New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp, where a skillet, not a barbecue, is what’s most often used to prepare it.
That’s because the “barbecue” in this type of dish refers to how its sauce deeply flavours the shrimp and gives it a red, smoky, hot-off-the-grill-looking colour.
According to an interesting article about New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp on the American Shrimp Processors Association website, americanshrimp.com, most sources say the recipe for it was invented in the mid-1950s in a New Orleans restaurant called Pascal’s Manale.
Lore suggests that a customer dining at the restaurant at that time, who had recently returned from Chicago, let the chef know about a dish he’d eaten made with shrimp, butter and pepper. The chef decided to make it for him, tweaking its preparation in such a positive way that the customer declared it better than the original.
The dish was put on Pascal’s Manale menu, is still served there, and over the years numerous other restaurants, in New Orleans and elsewhere, began serving their own versions of it.
The latter fact explains why when you review the many recipes you’ll find for New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp, no two seem exactly the same. But most see sautéed shrimp be surrounded with a red-hued, buttery sauce, flavoured with such things as Worcestershire sauce, black pepper and other spices.
In my version I seasoned shrimp with Cajun seasoning, which you buy ready-made, or make yourself (see recipe for details). I then sautéed them in hot oil, and then removed them from the skillet. I then made a sauce for the shrimp by simmering a mixture of shrimp-flavoured stock that I made from the shells of the shrimp, more Cajun seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, black pepper and white wine (or beer). When the mixture had reduced by half, butter was whisked in until melted, the shrimp were returned to the skillet, heated through a minute or two with some parsley, and they were ready to devour. I served the sumptuous shrimp with Creole-style rice.
Note: The shell-on, medium to large shrimp called for in my recipe can be bought in the frozen seafood section of supermarkets. The 340-gram bag of 26- to 30-count Pacific white shrimp I bought contained 21 shrimp and cost $11.39, or about 52 cents per shrimp. For my recipe, which serves two, I thawed and used 14 of those shrimp, meaning each serving of them was about $3.80. I kept the remaining shrimp frozen for another use. The cost of shrimp, of course, will vary from store to store. If you’re wondering if they’ve been sustainably farmed or harvested, reputable seafood companies will highlight that on the packaging and/our their websites. Websites such as Ocean Wise, oceanwise.org, also provide guidance on what types of sustainable shrimp and other types of seafood to buy.
New Orleans-style Barbecue Shrimp for Two
Southern-style, full of flavour, buttery, “barbecue” shrimp cooked in a skillet.
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: about 20 minutes
Makes: two servings
14 medium or large, raw, shell-on, shrimp or prawns
1 cup no salt or low sodium chicken or fish stock
1 1/2 tsp Cajun seasoning, or to taste (divided; see Note)
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce, or to taste
1 Tbsp lemon juice
• freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• splash white wine or beer (optional)
2 Tbsp butter, or to taste
• salt, to taste
2 tsp chopped fresh parsley
To peel each shrimp, hold the end of the tail in one hand and use your other hand to grab onto its swimmerets, the little legs under the shell. Pull off the shell, leaving the very bottom portion of the tail intact. Save the shrimp shells. If the shrimp were not sold deveined, use a small paring knife to make a lengthwise slit along the back of each shrimp. Pull out, or rinse out with cold water, the dark vein, if there is one, and then pat the shrimp dry. Set shrimp in a shallow bowl, toss with 1 tsp of Cajun seasoning and set them aside for now.
Place shrimp shells in a small pot with the 1 cup stock. Set over medium heat, bring to a simmer, and simmer, uncovered, 12 minutes. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve into a glass measuring cup. You should have about 1/2 cup of shrimp-flavoured stock. If you don’t, top up with water until you do.
Place the oil in a nine- or 10-inch skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook 1 minute per side, or until just cooked. Remove skillet from the heat, lift shrimp out and set on a plate.
Set the skillet over medium heat, add the shrimp-flavoured stock, remaining 1/2 tsp Cajun seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, black pepper and wine (or beer), if using. Bring to a simmer and reduce mixture by about half. Turn heat to medium-low, and then whisk in the butter until melted and incorporated into this sauce for the shrimp. Taste sauce and season with salt, if needed. Return the shrimp to the skillet, along with the parsley, heat them through a minute or two, and then serve.
Note: Cajun seasoning, also called Cajun spice, is available in the bottle herb and spice aisle of most supermarkets. Club House brand is the type I used when testing this recipe. It contains salt, so keep that in mind when seasoning the sauce for the shrimp and the rice recipe below. If you wish to make your own Cajun seasoning, in a small bowl combine 2 tsp paprika, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1/2 tsp dried thyme, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper and 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper. Use what you need for the recipe and save the rest for another time.
Nicely spiced rice, with the holy trinity, onions, bell peppers and celery, you can serve as side dish for the New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: about 22 minutes
Makes: two servings
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1/4 cup finely diced green bell pepper
1/4 cup finely diced celery
3/4 cup jasmine rice or long-grain white rice
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1 tsp Cajun seasoning
1 1/4 cups no salt or low sodium chicken, fish or vegetable stock
• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste (see Note)
1 green onion, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced, widthwise
Heat oil in a small to medium pot set over medium, medium-high heat (my pot was five inches wide, and four inches tall).
Add the onion, bell pepper and celery and cook until softened, about three minutes more. Add the rice, garlic and Cajun seasoning, mix well and cook two minutes more.
Add the stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Now cover and turn the heat to its lowest setting. Cook 15 minutes, or until rice is tender. Fluff rice with a fork, mix in the green onions, and serve.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.