freestyle friday
mardi gras: creole barbecue shrimp

It's a long Mardi Gras weekend, the ramping up of revelry that precedes the big day. We've got a party to get started, so let's just crank up the accordion and cut to the chase, shall we?

Barbecue shrimp, (or barbecued shrimp, or bbq shrimp, can't ever pin anyone down on this, or anything else of a Cajun nature, for that matter) neither cooked on a 'barbie', nor slathered with sauce of the same name, is a drippy, garlic-y, herbal-ly, buttery, delightful mess of a dish, adored by one and most, and certainly, yours truly.

I remember, long ago, when they were first offered to me.  It went something like 'Go ahead, order THAT.'  And I thought...first, um, Barbecue Shrimp?  Huh? Barbecue sauce on shrimp? Yuck. When I was corrected and educated about the whole affair, I, hesitant still, acquiesced, and ordered THAT. Once served said dish, I was horrified to find the heads still on the shrimp, crazy-long feelers all poking out of the bowl,  little beady eyes looking up at me. And then I realized that all that buttery, shrimp-heady sauce was going to get all over my hands when I peeled (and de-headed!) them. Ewe! I bet more than a few of you are thinking the same thing.

Well, just as the late Justin Wilson, celebrated cajun cook and humorist, might say, I'ma tole you, its worth dat mess.  Dey going give you some oh dem wet nackins to clean you's hans, and you's gonna see dat dees babies is some good, cher.  You gots to pick you up sum of deez jumbo shrimps, maybe tree or two pounds,  and make dis stuff fo youself, and you will see it taste much mo betta than it looks.

See? Not so easy to pin down Cajun matters, as I said.

The dish is not easy to find outside of Louisiana, or, for that matter, not always inside Louisiana, either. Legend suggests it originated at Pascal's Manale, in Uptown New Orleans, but history, and availability, is spotty. So, after studying my favorite Creole cookbooks, and reminiscing upon the versions I'd been served, I took to the kitchen to whip up the dish I'd come to love so much, and miss so much, too! After testing about 15 pounds of shrimp's-worth of recipes (oh that was not so hard at all) as I am wont to do, I tweaked this sauce so that it tasted just like I remembered, plus a tad bit 'mo betta'.

Seriously, it's good, cher.

Creole Barbecue Shrimp
serves 2 for an entrée,alone,
4 for main dish with grits,
6 -8 appetizer servings,
Or a small party. Really small. C'mon. Double it. Triple it, if we're invited.

2 lbs jumbo shrimp, heads on  (I'm always going to use gulf shrimp, fresh almost always, and when I can afford a day-long road trip, straight from the boats)
2 small lemons, sliced
1 small onion, minced
1 head garlic, broken into cloves, but left unpeeled
2 sticks butter, melted
1 small lemon, juiced
1-2 T crushed dried rosemary, to taste 1T from maggie's farm farmstand seasoning, or low-salt all-purpose seasoning of your choice, to taste
1 t , or more to taste, crushed red pepper flakes
1 T schezuan peppercorns, optional
1 bay leaf
1 cup dark beer (Abita Beer, Turbo Dog, a dark ale, is the popular choice in South Louisiana.  And a small farm in Central Texas.)
Worcestershire Powder—I used 2 T of powdered Worcestershire, which lends a concentrated flavor, but doesn’t thin the buttery broth, however, if powdered Worcestershire isn't handy, ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce may be substituted.
Kosher salt, freshly-ground black pepper, hot pepper sauce (Louisiana (brand) Hot Sauce is our favorite, here) all to taste.

Layer shrimp, sliced lemons, and minced onion in a baking dish. Toss in the garlic cloves.Combine broth ingredients and cover shrimp. Bake, covered, in a 375 degree oven, for 20-25 minutes, or until shrimp are pink and opaque, turning shrimp halfway. (Note: overcooking the shrimp will make them tough and hard to peel. Err on this side of done, as they will continue cooking in their own heat as they cool.)  Uncover, and allow to sit until cool enough to handle.

Photographer gets the leftovers.  Yay, me!
Serve with a some warm, damp, cloth napkins (a dozen or so'll do you, maybe. Okay, maybe that's a bit much. But at least two per person will be appreciated by your fellow messy-fingered diners.) and a baguette for 'sopping' the broth. This is not optional. This is mandatory. This is gooooood. (Okay, if you must, you can serve these over creamy grits. It's a second traditional way of serving the dish. But maybe you should still save some broth for at least a tiny piece of baguette. Cause, really. It's that good.)

Pinch the garlic cloves and they will pop out of their skins. We love to eat them, and the minced onion, on the chunks of 'dunked' bread, along with the shrimp. Peel shrimp by grasping the body firmly and gently twisting the head at the neck, releasing it from the tail. Turn the shrimp over and pull away its 'legs', peel away its shell, working from the top to the tail, then simply pull the rest of the shell away.

 Why keep the shrimp heads (ewe!) on?

The fat in the head melts, and lends it's flavor to the broth.  Believe me, it's not anywhere near as good if one uses heads-off shrimp.  Promise you, when you gently pull the heads away from the body, nothing gooky happens.

Y'all, it's sooooo worth the mess. 

Curious about those Cajun ways?  You may be interested in the work of my alma mater, Louisiana State University's Department of French Studies: Cajun French

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Finally, please let me share some exciting news!  The recipe above, as well as our recipe for rustic Savory Peach Gorgonzola Galette, (the picture of which, shot by Amy Krizer of What Jew Want to Eat?, even graces the cover!  REALLY!) will be featured in the soon-to-be published
Austin Food Blogger Alliance Cookbook

Some 95 recipes from Austin's most talented blogger/cooks for appetizers,soups,entrees, vegetables, condiments, desserts, and beverages, with full-color photography, will be released by The History Press sometime in April of this year.  We're proud as punch!

Would you please consider helping us towards making this community effort a success by preordering your own copy? And perhaps spread the word?  It's our collective dream come true, and without your readership, your encouragement, your loyalty, we'd never have had the nerve to get past the first few months of farming and blogging, much less step out into the world in such a way.  We are so grateful for your support. 

Thank you!


  1. I'm going to New Orleans in Oct this year for the 1st time! I definitely need to pick your brain on where to stay, what to do, where to EAT! :)

    1. I would LOVE to share my experiences! Just off the top of my head, let me say that I got an incredible rate last spring at the Bienville House on Decatur and it was a perfect location. We parked the car and didn't return for 3 days. Close to the streetcar lines, and walking distance to all of the best spots in the Quarter. (Across the street from House of Blues, if that's your kind of thing. And whose thing is THAT not? lol)


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