What You Should Cook: New Orleans-style BBQ Shrimp

I had my first taste of New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp on my last night in the city, at a small restaurant on the famous (or infamous, depending on what you’ve heard) Bourbon Street. We entered the restaurant on an impulse, not having heard much of it earlier; I was still hungry after going through a pound of boiled crawfish at a seafood place even the locals of a seafood-deluged city swear by, since our waitress didn’t remind us about the kitchen closing. I wanted to sample more of this iconic eatery’s review site̶ and Insta-worthy offerings, but since we were leaving in the wee hours of the next morning, I felt like Fate had deprived me of my last chance at legendary food in the Big Easy. I wanted more, and here I was surrounded by restaurants closing at the late hour.
We walked along, when I chanced upon this restaurant I had passed by earlier. The menu was displayed at the door, and it had a smattering of small plates of local plates, which is just what I would’ve sold my soul for, at that moment. One of the restaurant staff posted at the door asked if we were looking at something particularly. I narrated my tale of woe and he nodded in sympathetic understanding—he must see grieving, hungry patrons all the time, I guess. I jabbed my finger at the New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp, that the menu described as being in a lemon butter sauce, served with crusty bread. I asked if this were any good (I do this most times in a new place, even if my friends laugh about it; which server would run down a dish on her employer’s menu, right? But most of the times, I get pointed to better stuff, usually under the guise of “Or you could try…”). On hearing “Oh, it’s very good”, and because we had the luxury of choosing from a lot of places open then, we walked in, and were shown to a table right in the middle of the place. There were other diners around, some of whom looked like locals, so it didn’t feel like a complete tourist trap. We ordered our drinks and the aforementioned small plate.
What was placed on the table made me do a double take. Here I was, expecting barbecued shrimp in a light sauce (see the mention of lemon butter above), and all I could see was head-on shrimp cooked in a dark sauce. My heart sank; did I just order a plateful of cloying BBQ sauce with some prawns and bread to dunk that in, for my last meal in NOLA? I asked the server if this is how New Orleans-style shrimp was supposed to be; I was assured I had received the right dish. With a this-is-all-there-is nonchalance I found hard to feign, I picked a bit of the bread and dipped it into the sauce and popped it into my mouth. What I tasted is something I’m not going to forget so easily. Deep, dark sauce with lots of black pepper, and a slight herby undertone, in a slick-smooth base. The tangy punch hit right after your throat had taken in the savoury satin. My first thought was: okay, this is NO BBQ sauce. My second may have been: should I move to New Orleans for good, and eat this BBQ shrimp for the rest of my life?
As I type this, back in the comfort (and dullness) of my own home, the small plate of wonderment from Olde N’awlins Cookery appears far away, especially since the chef turned down my request to share the recipe, saying it was from the owner’s family; all he would let on was it had lots of margarine, Worcestershire sauce, lemon and rosemary. Since the Internet has to be a saviour in almost all the times you need rescuing from your predicaments, this case was going to be another cliché. I found a hundred, may be more or perhaps less, recipes that were all about the dark, peppery, lemony flavours of what I discovered to be a very popular dish. (Blame my lack of pre-travel research; this trip, like all great trips, was a last-minute plan.) Chef Derrick, this is my version of your ‘secret’ recipe, as good as the one you didn’t give away.
A few notes, before we plunge headlong into tangy, savoury darkness:
  • Feel free to use butter instead of margarine, lashings of it. This is to be scrimped on at your own peril (and that of destroying a legendary dish).
  • It’s always head-on jumbo shrimp in NOLA BBQ; but if you’re a landlocked survivor like me, you could also use a shelled version, like this one.
  • This is served with a French bread, but feel free to try slices of lightly toasted jumbo pav.
  • You can add a side of sweet corn, onion, tomato and coriander salad, dressed with lemon and olive oil. A few cold beers are a given.

New Orleans-style Barbeque Shrimp Recipe:
½ kg of jumbo shrimp
5 tblsp unsalted butter
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp onion powder
¾ tsp dried rosemary
½ tsp paprika (or use ground Kashmiri peppers)
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 ½ tblsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tblsp hot sauce
¼ cup beer
2 tsp lemon (or lime) juice
Salt to taste

  • Combine the onion powder, rosemary, paprika, pepper, cumin, and a bit of salt in a bowl. Combine the sauces, beer, and lemon or lime juice in another. 
  • Place a skillet on high heat; when heated through, add the butter and swirl it around.
  • Add the minced garlic and the shrimp; reduce heat to medium and stir for about 30 seconds, then mix in the dried seasoning mix. Cook for a minute, then add the sauce mix. Swirl through until the broth starts to simmer, about 2 minutes. Take off the heat and check for seasoning.
Serve immediately with toasted bread and salad.

About the Author
An incorrigible gastronome, Rupika V is on a perpetual quest to find the best food around, and will happily travel far to find it.

Image Credit: Cover

Image Credit: New Orleans-Style Barbeque Shrimp (Photographed by Rupika V)

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