Road Trip Reminiscence: Creole BBQ Shrimp

There are some foods that define certain places such as these Creole BBQ Shrimp.

I know I have talked about this before. But it is so true I just had to bring it up again. Because in this ever shrinking world we live in authenticity is becoming a thing of the past. That’s why the associations I make between food and place are so important to me. And it’s not just food. It’s mountains, or buildings, even colors, and (of course) people.

But these associations are also the main reason I avoid chain restaurants, even good ones. I want to create experiences that are unique to a place, to a person, sometimes even unique to a day. I am always walking into a restaurant I’ve never been to, sometimes without even knowing what they serve. Once inside I can forever associate that meal with that city, that day, even my particular mood. If that meal turns out to be really good, (or even really bad), then I know I have just succeeded in creating a memory!

Columbia WineryI have an extraordinary number of such memories attached to Louisiana, especially New Orleans. It’s not even because I have been there all that many times. Certainly fewer than 20 in my whole life.

I think it was the timing of most of those trips. Because it was during that first flush of freedom you experience as a young adult. Mine came as a college freshman and sophomore when I made quite a few ‘party runs’ from Tallahassee to the Big Easy.

Those were frenzied trips made with college friends. It’s funny (or maybe not that funny) but I can’t drum up too many specific memories of those trips. I can sort of assume who went and what we did. But the details are a bit lost in the fog.

Except when it comes to food. Which is odd because the point of these trips was hardly dining. I am quite sure our student budgets dictated what and where we ate. But if you gotta eat cheap, Louisiana is a great place to do it.

I think it was the first place I remember that unabashedly celebrated food. Especially local food made with the best ingredients. And what memories I have too, because New Orleans is nothing if not a melting pot of culture and diversity. It is arguable that the city produced the first true fusion cuisine by merging the French affinity towards excellence with an American obsession with excess. It’s called Creole.

I remember heaping platters of ‘barbecued’ shrimp and boiled giant crawfish gumbo in gallon-sized Styrofoam containers; too hot to carry out to the car. Of course there were massive plates of jambalaya and the overstuffed, foot-long po-boys we could eat in the car as we madly drove for the dorm on an all too sudden Monday morning.

It’s funny how these memories live quietly in our souls and then come popping out at you at the oddest of moments. Now don’t get me confused with ‘Little Edie’ Bouvier Beale. Because it’s not quite the same as when she said. ‘It’s very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present. You know what I mean? It’s awfully difficult. …’.

But the other day the latest Martha Stewart Living magazine arrived at my house. And there, on page 97, was something I had not thought about in years. Creole-Style ‘Barbequed’ Shrimp., CLICK here for a printable recipe. Which are actually prepared in a sizzling hot, cast iron skillet– on the stove. They don’t get anywhere near a grill! But that just makes them all the more charming.

My brother Sip! paired these shrimp with a Columbia Winery Guwertztraminer. Click here to read more about the wine.

Though Martha’s recipe and photo spurred my memory and were the basis for what I did. The version I present here is slightly different than the one she credits to a shrimper named Mr. Jim. Mine is spicier and darker and comes from my memory of eating this locally beloved specialty in roadside shrimp shacks at completely inappropriate times.

Creole BBQ ShrimpSERVES 4

  • 8 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 lemon thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoon rosemary leaves, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup hot sauce, or to taste
  • 1 lb medium to large shrimp, peeled, heads and tails on
  • Salt and pepper
  • Rustic bread

Heat a large (over 12 inches) cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add butter, and cook until melted and foamy, but do not let it brown. Add the lemon slices in a single layer and cook them undisturbed until they begin to brown, about 4 minutes.

Add the rosemary, red pepper flakes, garlic, lemon juice, Worcestershire and hot sauce, and bring it all to a simmer. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper then add them to the skillet. They should sizzle as they hit the pan. Cook, stirring and turning often, until they are pink and firm to the touch, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with more salt and pepper. Serve with crusty bread and additional hot sauce at the table.


Greg Henry