Genius Recipes

Spicy, Buttery Shrimp in Moments

This week’s Genius Recipe is a one-skillet Creole classic from Louisiana.

February 19, 2020

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


I tend to think, wrongly, that in order for dinner to be fast, it has to taste like it always does. With the clock ticking toward bedtime, I pull my usual levers and whatever Hail Mary meal I’ve bashed together inevitably gets lemon and chunky salt and smashed garlic—because those are the well-worn ways I know I can make something taste good, fast. This is me pretty much every night: My whole world tastes like lemon.

Not lemon! Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.

But this week’s Genius Recipe has shown me that just as quickly, I could have a skillet full of shrimp basking in a spicy-bright Creole pan sauce, plus steamy pulls of crusty bread to mop it all up. What little time it takes is mostly spent revving up at the spice drawer, yet it will pull my mouth and brain in every direction and taste nothing like every other night.

The recipe, for Louisiana Barbecued Shrimp (with the requisite caveat that you’re not barbecuing anything, just skilleting), comes from Jubilee, the groundbreaking cookbook that journalist Toni Tipton-Martin developed from her collection of nearly 400 African-American cookbooks from the past two centuries.

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“I’ve been making a version of this recipe for years. We love it! Served it over cheesy blue cheese grits! Yum!! ”
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Jubilee’s recipes are woven from a number of sources—for this one, Tipton-Martin wanted to recreate her family’s happy beach dinners after days of shrimping while vacationing on the Texas Gulf Coast. She found them in one of the cookbooks from model/chef/restaurateur B. Smith—who ran a restaurant empire in New York and Washington, D.C. for close to three decades until 2014, when she began to suffer from early-onset Alzheimer’s—along with some inspiration from chef Paul Prudhomme.

From here to pan sauce takes minutes. Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.

Making the shrimp at home is as simple as piling almost everything in the skillet at once—wine, stock, a reasonable amount of lemon, a kitty of dried spices and herbs, a generous two tablespoons of umami secret weapon Worcestershire sauce, and even minced garlic, skipping past its usual sauté-first step. For a couple minutes, you shake the pan here and there to aerate the butter and help the sauce reduce more smoothly than if you were to stir, much like mounting a pan sauce with butter at the end. Once your liquids have concentrated and spices bloomed, the shrimp goes in briefly. No more than 10 minutes have passed.

You immediately plunk down and start eating, swiping up trails of spicy butter with warm French bread. Tipton-Martin doesn’t even wait to get the shrimp out of the pan, serving it in the kitchen as an appetizer, right in the skillet it's cooked in.

Very swipeable. Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.

So why is it called "barbecue shrimp" if it’s not grilled or smoked, but simmered straight in a pan sauce? As Tipton-Martin writes in Jubilee, "'Barbecue shrimp' is just the name Louisiana Creole cooks assigned to shrimp braised in wine, beer, or a garlic butter sauce." The dish has proliferated around Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, with sauce ratios swinging from a delicate teaspoon of Worcestershire per pound of shrimp in Paul Prudhomme’s version to a full half-cup in the original from Pascal’s Manale, the restaurant credited with originated the dish in 1953. Many recipes double or triple the butter in Tipton-Martin and Smith’s.

But Tipton-Martin and Smith’s barbecued shrimp is damn near perfect—and, in precious few minutes at home, I’m right there with them on the Gulf Coast, far from the same place I’ve been every day before.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

14 Comments

piggledy February 27, 2020
We fix dinner once or twice a week with my 88 yo mother, who still delights in new recipes. Sometimes she shops for groceries, sometimes, we. Increasingly, I cook. Sometimes, if there is a lot of prep like chopping, she does that before we arrive. Depends on our schedules. This week, we agreed, this recipe was a must try. Husband and I couldn’t wait, did a “practice run” Monday with 1/2# of Trader Joe’s Argentinian shrimp (yes, they are shelled and cleaned, but the recipe wasn’t hurt a bit by that! We love those shrimp, and use them to make shrimp and grits. Yum!) It was particularly useful to make the recipe twice. Both times, we were missing something, but both times, substitutions didn’t hurt the recipe. This lovely, flavorful sauce is wonderfully forgiving. The first time, we were caught with limes rather than lemons, sushi rice rather than French bread, and broccoli rather than salad. Lime juice was just fine in the sauce, the rice caught much of the sauce, and the roasted broccoli was a lovely foil for the shrimp. (I later caught naughty husband licking remaining sauce from his bowl in the kitchen!) We had a happy little dance in the kitchen, with the rice cooker nurturing our rice, the oven toaster roasting the broccoli, and me, building the lovely sauce. I will say, the second rendition
at Mom’s taught us how important fresher thyme and oregano can be. Despite her having discarded the flavorful juice from thawing the shrimp, Wednesday’s sauce was even better than Monday’s, with fresher herbs. French bread was perfect for cleaning up the remaining sauce from the bowls, and steamed artichokes rounded off a delightful meal. We agreed, this would make a lovely birthday dinner. This sauce has so many flavors, I believe it would still be great if rather than butter, one needed to use olive oil. The star of this play is the sauce, of course. The shrimp would be delicious even if it were merely boiled. We thought this would also be a lovely sauce for cubed, sautéed chicken, or, for the vegetarians among us, for cubed, sautéed tofu, or even chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Once could serve with polenta, bulgur, rice, or orzo, and it would still be delicious. Thank you from the bottoms of our hearts for this fabulous and easy addition to our repertoire!
 
Ana C. February 22, 2020
I'm making this tonight. Is cleaning the shrimp not necessary so you don't get the vein?
 
FrugalCat February 21, 2020
This was fabulous. I cut out the salt and added sliced green olives. Plenty of crusty, toasted french bread for dipping.
 
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Kristen M. February 21, 2020
Olives sound excellent—thank you for reporting back!
 
Dayan A. February 20, 2020
Girlfriend you gotta suck that shrimp before you peel it!

 
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Kristen M. February 21, 2020
Love it. Thank you for correcting me!
 
Scott B. February 19, 2020
Would there be anything wrong with doubling the sauce ingredients?
 
Iggy504 February 19, 2020
I always make it with extra sauce, especially when there's a crowd. You can also stretch the sauce with some olive oil or more butter.
 
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Kristen M. February 19, 2020
The only thing to watch out for is that sometimes doubling cayenne can amp up the heat even more than expected, so you might want to start with the same amount or 1.5x. But otherwise, you won't be sorry about more sauce!
 
Scott B. February 20, 2020
Thanks! That makes sense as you can always add more spice. I might even add a bit of heavy cream unless that is sacrilegious! :)
 
kc February 19, 2020
I’ve been making a version of this recipe for years. We love it! Served it over cheesy blue cheese grits! Yum!!
 
fricky1 February 19, 2020
Is that blue corn or bleu cheese - or both? :-)
 
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Kristen M. February 19, 2020
Seriously yum!
 
kc February 20, 2020
Blue cheese.