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Cape Flavors

Celebrate with New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp

By Denise Clemons | Mar 10, 2014
Photo by: Jack Clemons New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp is a simple but delicious dish.

Earlier this week, while we were shoveling our driveways and navigating icy roads, tropical cities like New Orleans and Rio were celebrating Mardi Gras. From the French for Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras is the last day of carnival and the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent.

Because the time that follows is a season of fasting in many Christian faiths, Mardi Gras includes a rich tradition of feasting and revelry. Mardi Gras is also known as Pancake Day because of the custom of consuming your supply of butter, eggs, and sugar before you have to abstain from these foods for 40 days.

While there have been many changes in the church rules associated with Lent, one of the longstanding practices has been to serve meatless meals, especially on Fridays. Which brings us to the seafood dish in the photo: New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp. No, that’s not a typo, and it hasn’t been anywhere near a grill. The assumption is the name comes from the color of the spicy butter sauce in which shrimp is cooked.

The origin of barbecue shrimp can be traced to a restaurant on Napoleon Avenue in New Orleans, Pascal’s Manale. According to their story, the invention occurred in 1954. A customer described a shrimp dish he’d enjoyed on a trip to Chicago, remembering it was seasoned with butter and pepper. As you can imagine, when the chef of Pascal’s Manale tried to recreate it, he far surpassed the customer’s expectations, and Barbecue Shrimp became the restaurant’s signature dish.

Since that time, other local restaurants developed their own versions of barbecue shrimp, and now you’ll find countless recipes for the dish. The primary ingredients are butter, garlic, black pepper and herbs. One frequent addition is Worcestershire sauce, but the purists will tell you that’s because it’s more difficult to balance the seasonings than it is to just throw in some Worcestershire.

I’ve included two recipes for this dish: my favorite and one with the saucy shortcut. Both first build a flavorful liquid to braise the shrimp and both finish the dish in the oven. Keep in mind that both should be prepared with one caution - choose your shrimp carefully.

Fresh shrimp are highly perishable and should be eaten within 24 hours of purchase (which should be within a day of harvest). Because it’s challenging to stock fresh-caught shrimp, most of what you find is either frozen or labeled as previously frozen. Given the choice, select frozen shrimp sealed in a bag, not in an open freezer or defrosted in a tray at the fish counter.

SHRIMP SIZES NO. PER #
Extra Colossal Under 10 5
Colossal Under 12 9
Colossal Under 15 14
Extra Jumbo 16/20 18
Jumbo 21/25 23
Extra Large 26/30 28
Large 31/35 33
Medium Large 26/40 38
Medium 41/50 45
Small 51/60 55
Salad 61/70 65

Avoid shrimp that have even the faintest hint of ammonia, a sign this catch is past its prime. Truly fresh shrimp will have almost translucent flesh and smell like salt water. When choosing frozen shrimp, avoid those that were peeled and deveined before freezing. This causes a loss of flavor and texture, since the shells will help to protect the meat of the shrimp.

Shrimp are sold by count, indicating how many of a specific size will be found in each pound (see sidebar). Plan for 1 1/2 pounds of shrimp (sized large to jumbo) to feed four people as an entrée. Stay away from anything smaller, or you’ll likely be disappointed in their rubbery texture and lack of flavor.

Finally, do not remove the shells before cooking barbecue shrimp. This makes for a messy meal, but the shells add another layer to the rich flavor profile. Serve the dish with lots of crusty French bread to mop up the sauce; you’ll want to savor every drop of this meatless dish.

New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp

1 C butter
1 C olive oil
4 bay leaves
2 t dried rosemary leaves
1/2 t basil
1/2 t oregano
1/2 t salt
1/2 t cayenne
1 T paprika
1 T black pepper
2 t minced garlic
juice of 1 lemon
2 lb shrimp in the shell


Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Mix in the oil. Combine the bay leaves, rosemary, basil and oregano in the bowl of a mortar. Grind finely with the pestle and add to the pan. Stir in salt, cayenne, paprika, pepper, garlic and lemon juice. Cook over medium, stirring constantly until it reaches a slight boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often to keep milk solids from burning. Remove pan from heat and allow to sit uncovered for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 450 F. Add shrimp to the pan and place over medium heat. Cook until the shrimp start to turn pink, about 6 to 8 minutes. Place pan in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Ladle shrimp and sauce into bowls; serve with French bread. Yield: 6 servings.

Easy Barbecue Shrimp

1 C butter
1 C olive oil
1/3 C Worcestershire sauce
2 T black pepper
2 sliced lemons
1/4 t Tabasco
1 1/2 t Italian seasoning
2 minced garlic cloves
1/2 t paprika
1 t salt
2 lbs unpeeled shrimp


Preheat oven to 450 F. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium. Stir in remaining ingredients except shrimp and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add shrimp and stir to coat with sauce. Cook until shrimp begin to turn pink, about 8 minutes. Place pot in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, stirring once. Ladle shrimp and sauce into bowls; serve with French bread. Yield: 6 servings.

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