I tend to think, wrongly, that in order for dinner to be fast, it has to taste like it always does. With the clock ticking toward bedtime, I pull my usual levers and whatever Hail Mary meal I’ve bashed together inevitably gets lemon and chunky salt and smashed garlic—because those are the well-worn ways I know I can make something taste good, fast. This is me pretty much every night: My whole world tastes like lemon.
But this Genius Recipe has shown me that just as quickly, I could have a skillet full of shrimp basking in a spicy-bright Creole pan sauce, plus steamy pulls of crusty bread to mop it all up. What little time it takes is mostly spent revving up at the spice drawer, yet it will pull my mouth and brain in every direction and taste nothing like every other night.
The recipe, for Louisiana Barbecued Shrimp (with the requisite caveat that you’re not barbecuing anything, just skilleting), comes from Jubilee, the groundbreaking cookbook that journalist Toni Tipton-Martin developed from her collection of nearly 400 African-American cookbooks from the past two centuries.
Making the shrimp at home is as simple as piling almost everything in the skillet at once—wine, stock, a reasonable amount of lemon, a kitty of dried spices and herbs, a generous two tablespoons of umami secret weapon Worcestershire sauce, and even minced garlic, skipping past its usual sauté-first step. For a couple minutes, you shake the pan here and there to aerate the butter and help the sauce reduce more smoothly than if you were to stir, much like mounting a pan sauce with butter at the end. Once your liquids have concentrated and spices bloomed, the shrimp goes in briefly. No more than 10 minutes have passed.
You immediately plunk down and start eating, swiping up trails of spicy butter with warm French bread. Tipton-Martin doesn’t even wait to get the shrimp out of the pan, serving it in the kitchen as an appetizer, right in the skillet it’s cooked in.
So why is it called “barbecue shrimp” if it’s not grilled or smoked, but simmered straight in a pan sauce? As Tipton-Martin writes in Jubilee, “‘Barbecue shrimp’ is just the name Louisiana Creole cooks assigned to shrimp braised in wine, beer, or a garlic butter sauce.” The dish has proliferated around Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, with sauce ratios swinging from a delicate teaspoon of Worcestershire per pound of shrimp in Paul Prudhomme’s version to a full half-cup in the original from Pascal’s Manale, the restaurant credited with originated the dish in 1953. Many recipes double or triple the butter in Tipton-Martin and Smith’s.
But Tipton-Martin and Smith’s barbecued shrimp is damn near perfect—and, in precious few minutes at home, I’m right there with them on the Gulf Coast, far from the same place I’ve been every day before.
Serves 2 to 4.
• ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
• ¼ teaspoon black pepper
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
• ½ teaspoon dried thyme
• ½ teaspoon dried oregano
• ¼ teaspoon paprika
• 2 bay leaves, crushed
• 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• ¼ cup white wine
• ½ cup fish stock (or chicken stock)
• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
• 1 pound shell-on shrimp
• 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
• Hot crusty French bread, for serving
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