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Barbecued shrimp

Shrimp Dish

4 servings

Barbecued shrimp is a creation of the American South, a misnomer in terms of technique but not in terms of taste; this one is as much alchemy as recipe. Although it is most closely associated with New Orleans, it has an indispensable English base: Worcestershire. This appropriation and transformation is entirely typical of the best place in the American South but we have no hesitation in claiming its pedigree appropriate for inclusion in the bfia canon. There are dozens of variations that can become almost baroque but ours is simple and fast to prepare.

-4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
-1 Tablespoon minced shallots (or 1 teaspoon garlic)
-2 Tablespoons Worcestershire
-about 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
-1 ½ lb peeled raw shrimp
-1 heaped teaspoon black pepper
-juice of a lemon (about 2 Tablespoons)
-about 1 heaped teaspoon minced parsley
-about 1 Tablespoon minced green scallion tops

  1. Combine the lemon juice, parsley and scallions.
  2. Cook the butter and shallots in a big shallow skillet (big enough to hold the shrimp in a single layer) over high heat until the butter foams and bubbles.
  3. Add the Worcestershire and cayenne.
  4. When the mixture bubbles again, toss the shrimp into the pan and cook just until they curl into tight spirals and take on a pink blush.
  5. The sauce should be thickly clinging to the shrimp; add the pepper, some salt, and the lemon and green mixture.
  6. Stir the barbcecued shrimp to reheat it and serve ASAP with grits, rice, crusty bread or hot toast.


-It is essential to use a heavy, shallow frying pan with flat or (better) splayed sides (like an omelette pan) to allow moisture to evaporate when making barbecued shrimp. It also is essential to let the pan become extremely hot. Otherwise the dish will steam and boil instead of fry, the sauce will not darken and thicken as it should, and the flavor will lack the intense tang of barbecue that gives the dish its name.

-Resist the temptation to increase the amount of Worcestershire or decrease the amount of butter; these proportions produce the napping sauce that you want.

-Most shrimp that is available outside the Gulf of Mexico or Morecamb Bay will have been frozen; if it is sold loose and is not, then the fish monger or supermarket has thawed it ‘for’ you, probably with incompetence. In our experience thawed supermarket shrimp is mushy, ‘fishy’ and basically dreadful (although sometimes branches of the ShopRite chain stock genuine fresh Gulf shrimp that can be excellent; you will need to peel and clean it but the labor is worthwhile). It is better (and ordinarily cheaper) to buy big bags of frozen raw peeled shrimp and thaw it yourself. Take as much as you need from the bag and put it in a colander under cold running water until the shrimp thaw; this takes the merest minutes.

-Rustic versions of barbecued shrimp have lost any hint of British lineage. They can actually include red barbecue sauce thinned with stock or beer and lemon juice along with crab boil and other assertive spices. In some variations the shrimp are braised whole and unpeeled with chilies, onions and lemon halves.

-You may want a dessert.