So, for those of you who are not familiar with New Orleans BBQ shrimp, this dish might seem confusing. After all, it’s not, strictly speaking, barbecue.
Legend has it that BBQ shrimp was invented in the 1950s at a NOLA restaurant Pascal’s Manale when a guest, who’d returned from a trip to Chicago, described something like this to the chef at the time. The chef then created what was to become one of the iconic dishes of the city; it had little to do with whatever it was the guest had in Chicago, but it was and is amazing.
Couple funny things about this recipe. Although its origins are in an Italian restaurant and it calls itself barbecue, it’s really neither. New Orleans BBQ shrimp is deeply, intensely Creole-French.
The only real connection with BBQ sauce is that this sauce hits the same notes: spicy (but not too much), sweet, salty, tart, rich. Just like a good barbecue sauce does. I’ve also heard tell that this sort of BBQ sauce as we know it now was not universally known until the 1970s, two decades after this sauce was invented.
My recipe for New Orleans BBQ shrimp is based off my friend John Currence’s recipe in his excellent book Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey, which is well worth your money if you like Southern food.
There are no “weird” ingredients in this recipe, although I will warn you that you need a lot of Worcestershire sauce, though: A full cup, not just a few dashes. And trust me, the finished sauce really works.
You get that zing from the Worcestershire and Creole seasoning, some herbal notes, body from a full-on, French-style reduction, all rounded out with heavy cream and, well, a slightly obscene amount of butter. Do not skimp on the butter or cream in this recipe, or else the sauce will be too sharp, almost unpleasant.
Once made, your BBQ shrimp can be reheated, but it won’t be as good. Better to gorge yourself and regret it later. If you do somehow have leftovers, very gently reheat them and eat with bread.
New Orleans BBQ Shrimp
- 1 to 2 pounds shrimp, with the shells (and heads if you can get them)
- 3 tablespoons bacon fat or olive oil
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 lemon, sliced into rounds
- 1 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (optional)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon Creole or Cajun seasoning
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup chicken or shrimp stock
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream
- 4 to 5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
- Peel the shrimp and remove the heads, if you have them, and set them aside. Devein the shrimp with a paring knife and salt the shrimp lightly. Set them aside.
- In a saute pan or sauce pot, heat the bacon fat over medium high heat. When it's hot, add the shallots, garlic and shrimp shells and heads. Saute, stirring often, until the shrimp shells turn pink and the shallot is translucent.
- Add the pepper, lemon, Worcestershire, rosemary, thyme, Creole seasoning, wine and stock. Bring this to a boil, then drop the heat to a simmer and reduce the mixture for about 15 minutes. Strain it, moving the liquid to a wide saute pan that will fit all the shrimp.
- Bring the mixture to a boil and let it roll for 2 to 3 minutes. You ultimately want this to be a glaze, but you still need to cook the shrimp without overcooking them, so you'll need to use your judgment; the shrimp typically need about 3 to 5 minutes in the pan, maximum. So when the sauce just barely leaves a trail when you run a spatula through the middle of the pan, add all the shrimp and toss to combine.
- Keep the shrimp moving in the sauce until it is syrupy, then turn the heat to its lowest setting. Stir in the heavy cream until it's well mixed. Now, one tablespoon at a time, swirl in the butter. Add the parsley, toss to combine one more time, and serve at once with rice, grits or bread.