After I graduated from college, I stayed in the greater St. Louis area for a couple of years. As was our custom, my roommate and I would treat each other to a night out for our birthdays (which happened to be just 10 days apart).
It was around this time that I really started developing my fascination with all things New Orléans: the music and the food especially. So for my birthday, we went to a place called Bobby’s Creole (now gone, I believe).
One of the specials on the blackboard that evening was “BBQ Shrimp.” I’ve always been a shrimp lover and I’m fond of BBQ. What could be wrong?
When my entrée came out I was just slightly surprised. Instead of a plate, I was delivered a bowl of the sort in which you might be served pasta or a soup. In the bowl were two of the largest shrimp I had ever seen. (These were probably U10’s meaning there were under 10 shrimp to a pound with an average being about five per pound or each shrimp weighing just over three ounces).
The shrimp were headless, but in the shell. They were also sitting in a clear, mahogany colored sauce and resting on a sediment of what turned out to be herbs and spices. On the side was a plate of crusty baguette.
While not what I had envisioned, I was game to try this dish and I am forever grateful that I did!
The only way to eat the shrimp was to pick them up and peel them with my hands. Once the shells were off, I was free to dip the shrimp in the sauce, nibble a bite and repeat.
The sauce was a butter-laden broth with a rich, herbal flavor and just the right amount of cayenne induced heat.
When the shrimp were gone, the bread was used for sopping up the remaining sauce. EXCELLENT!
A memorable meal with a great friend and a great experience.
Several years later, acknowledging my growing fascination with New Orléans/Louisiana culture, food and music, my sister gave me a copy of Terry Thompson’s Cajun – Creole Cooking cookbook for Christmas. In that book was a recipe for “Peppered Shrimp” that struck a familiar chord when I read it.
Sure enough, the first time I made that dish and tasted it my mind flashed back to my meal at Bobby’s Creole in University City, St. Louis County, Missouri. I’d found it! I’d found a way to make that dish I had enjoyed so much.
It should be noted that there was not yet an internet; no Google; no Ask Jeeves, etc. to help with research.
When I finally got to New Orleans, it was about a decade or so after my introduction to BBQ (or, more often, Barbeque) Shrimp. My wife and I met my former roommate and his wife in the Crescent City for a long weekend. Of the many places we ate, we had dinner one night at the Chez Helene outpost in the French Quarter.
Chez Helene was a long time, local favorite restaurant that had received some notice as being the inspiration for Chez Louisiane in the Tim Reid/Hugh Wilson TV sitcom Frank’s Place. In the wake of the show’s short but very popular run, the French Quarter location was opened in an attempt to capture some of the tourist trade that didn’t want to be bothered to travel to the original location downtown on N. Robertson St.
So it was that we, as “tourists”, wandered into Chez Helene for dinner. Our order was easy for our server…the women ordered the Shrimp Creole, the men the Barbeque Shrimp. The rendition was quite good. Messy and rich, but not as hot as the Shrimp Creole (a fact we still laugh about today).
Over the years, I’ve made this dish for company, family or just the two of us. It was once the subject of a friendly dinner competition between a former employer and myself. I’ve also eaten it on subsequent trips to New Orléans (at Mr. B’s Bistro, for one place). The now defunct Penny’s Ribs restaurant here in Trenton had a passable version as a special menu item. It remains a favorite.
It always comes to mind around Mardi Gras, my birthday or when I’m dreaming of or recovering from a trip to New Orléans (as we just recently made over Easter weekend).
For the sake of gentility and ease of consumption, we sometimes prepare this with shelled, deveined shrimp. However, this dish is at its absolute best madewith shell-on and, when available, head-on shrimp. Regardless, good bread to sop up the juice is required. Add a salad and some white wine for a pleasing, if messy, meal.
New Orléans style BBQ Shrimp
1 cup of butter
- 1/2 cup of shrimp stock or bottled clam juice
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- juice of one lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
- 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh basil
- 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano
- 1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper (more or less to taste)
- 1/2 tablespoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon good smoked paprika
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon (or more if you like) cayenne pepper
- 2 pounds, shell-on (head-on, if available) shrimp. (NOTE: you don’t want anything smaller than “large” shrimp that run about 31 – 35 per pound. You can go as large as you like/can find, but we generally prefer the “jumbo” or “extra jumbo” that are 21 – 25 or 16 – 20 shrimp per pound respectively).
Rinse shrimp under cold running water and set aside to drain.
In a large, wide skillet or heavy dutch oven type pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the stock, wine and lemon juice and let come up to a simmer. Add the herbs and spices, stir and simmer for about 20 minutes. The sauce should turn a lovely mahogany color and give off a very appetizing aroma.
Toss in the shrimp and stir to coat with the sauce. Let cook for 10 – 12 minutes over medium heat until all the shrimp have turned a lovely pink and have curled slightly. Spoon into bowls with some of the sauce. Serve with good, crusty bread, a salad and some of the white wine.
Serves 2 – 4 people.