Monday, June 24, 2024
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Rich, spicy and buttery

Ann Maloney

THE WASHINGTON POST – I have to ask for your indulgence. Once again, I’m missing all the parades, the family parties, the costumes. So, I’m doing what I do whenever I’m away from New Orleans this time of year, I’m leaning into classic Crescent City fare to feed my soul.

These New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp are perfect. This decadent recipe will exceed all reasonable fat and cholesterol levels – I let myself have it about once a year.

For those unfamiliar with the dish, it’s actually not “barbecue”, but rather a skillet preparation in which jumbo or extra-large shrimp is quickly cooked in sticks of butter, ample Worcestershire sauce, plenty of black pepper, lemon and Creole spices.

Barbecue shrimp has long been associated with New Orleans, but in 2001, Times-Picayune dining critic Gene Bourg wrote that it is actually from the Midwest “given by a visiting Chicagoan to the late Pascal Radosta. It was a runaway success at Pascal’s Manale, the Uptown restaurant that Radosta operated with his uncle, Frank Manale”.

In 1954, Pascal’s Manale restaurant added the shrimp to its menu and has held its recipe as a guarded secret ever since. Even when cookbook author Poppy Tooker was working on Pascal’s Manale Cookbook: A Family Tradition, she was unable to secure it. Instead, she included a recipe, which she described as very close to Manale’s version.

New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Today, variations can be found on many restaurant menus in New Orleans and beyond, with each chef putting their stamp on it. It is always served with crispy French bread for dipping in the rich sauce.

One of my favourite versions is from Mr B’s Bistro. In 2017, I watched then-Mr B’s Bistro Executive Chef Michelle McRaney make it at a food demonstration at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. I wrote about it then, and I’ve been making it this way ever since. On that spring day five years ago, McRaney, a generous, gifted chef who died in 2021, offered a few tips for getting it just right.

The biggest mistake people make is overcooking the shrimp, McRaney told me. She advised medium-high heat, so you can quickly melt the butter into the spicy sauce and get the shrimp just right.

Her other tips:
– Use the freshest, biggest shrimp you can find or afford, jumbo or at least extra large are best. Smaller shrimp will cook too quickly.

– Watch out for saltiness. Use unsalted butter and a low-salt Creole or Cajun seasoning (or make your own seasoning blend) to avoid adding too much.

– Don’t rush the butter, add bits and gently stir, letting the butter melt before adding more to allow the sauce to emulsify and become creamy.

Traditionally, barbecue shrimp is made with head-on shrimp. That makes for messy eating, but the heads add flavour to the broth. You can, however, peel them if you can’t deal with the shells.

When I make this at home, I’m always in danger of filling up on crusty, warm bread dipped in the sauce. And while it’s a great appetiser, when I eat it as a meal, I pair it with a salad of lightly dressed greens.

NEW ORLEANS-STYLE BARBECUE SHRIMP

This spicy, indulgent dish can be ready in about 15 minutes. Just don’t forget the napkins because the saucy shrimp are traditionally served with the heads and peel on. (Don’t want the mess? Go ahead and peel and remove the heads before cooking.)

This recipe is from Mr B’s Bistro Cookbook, which features recipes from the Brennan family restaurant in the New Orleans’s French Quarter. Add a crisp green salad to balance the rich shrimp, if you like.

NOTE: Don’t use small or medium shrimp or you will end up with overcooked crustaceans. Extra large or jumbo are best.

Ingredients
– One-and-a-half pounds extra-large shrimp, with heads and peel on
– Half cup Worcestershire sauce
– Two tablespoons fresh lemon juice
– Two teaspoons finely ground black pepper
– Two teaspoons fresh cracked black pepper
– Two teaspoons Creole seasoning
– One teaspoon minced or finely grated garlic
– 12 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into roughly half-inch small cubes
– Crusty, warmed French bread, for serving

Directions
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, combine the shrimp, Worcestershire, lemon juice, ground and freshly cracked black pepper, Creole seasoning and garlic.

Cook, tossing and moving shrimp until they turn pink and start to curl, about one minute on each side.

Add the butter, a few cubes at a time, stirring frequently, but gently, and adding more only after each addition completely melts. Do not let the mixture come to a boil; adjust the heat as needed.

When all of the butter has melted, remove the skillet from the heat.

Divide the shrimp evenly in each bowl and spoon sauce over each portion.

Serve with plenty of crispy, warm bread for dipping.

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