I always start writing a post thinking it’s going to be short and sweet and I end up writing a novel. So please bare with me. This one is largely inspired by an old post of mine…
One of my most loyal readers from Phoenix, mentioned yesterday how amazing her dad’s BBQ was and that she used to live in NOLA. I mentioned my love of American BBQ (yet again) and we came to reminisce about a very special dish. Something really delicious, buttery and over the top extravagant! My absolute favorite dish from New Orleans: Brennan’s (kind of) BBQ shrimp.
Not a French recipe I know, but when it comes to New Orleans, the line is quite easy to cross…
I lived and worked in New Orleans between 1999 and 2002. My apartment took the top half of the red brick building (in the picture below) at the corner of Royal Street and Dumaine. Some of he photos (please excuse their poor quality) were taken from my balcony, including the one of the Mardi Gras parade. Those few years living in Louisiana were some of the most enchanting of my life. I had a crazy recovering alcoholic boss who really enjoyed making me feel like a complete loser every chance she got. I got used to her abuse and she got better over time, but it sure took her a long F…..g time to let go and let God as they say. So that was the bad side of my time in New Orleans. But the good things were so good that it made all the rest seem absolutely insignificant in comparison. The music, the architecture, the landscape, the wildlife, the river, the history, the colorful characters, the antique shops, and of course the foooooooood! New orleans is a paradise in almost every way possible. It really is full of heart and soul. I could talk about it for days… If you don’t fall in love with New Orleans (I’ll exclude most of Bourbon Street), there truly is something wrong with you. And like I’ll never trust someone who doesn’t enjoy food or someone who doesn’t laugh to tears, i wouldn’t trust someone who doesn’t like Louisiana… Damn, did I just lose a thousand followers?!
Europeans can say what they want, the more i think about it, the more I realize that if I love America so much, it is because of it’s absolute, uncompromised authenticity. Even when it’s fake, it’s exactly what fake should be. And so New york is noisy and excessive and sexy and smart. You’d think you could just bump into Sarah Jessica Parker or Jacky O at any time (well you’ll walk through Jacky O technically I guess). Illinois has those incredible red barns and white farm houses and the honest, hard working people you’d expect to find in the Midwest. California is always sunny and people are “cool” and open and beautiful dude. Georgia is soulful and woody and green and warm in every way. New Orleans is dark and light and hot and sweaty and slow y’all :0) Or is it allyall? Can’t remember…That’s a picture of mom and I in the bayou as we were going to buy shrimp one day. She came to spend a month with me every year (yes, I’m an angel I know). She is now 85 and still talks about our seafood dinners…
There is nothing fake or half assed about America. Whatever americans believe in, they believe in it 100%. Whatever they try, they give their whole selves to it and whatever/whoever they love, they love unconditionally and excessively. The country is bigger than life, diverse and generous… A perfect reflection of its people. My only wish is that more Americans took time to travel and get to experience and love other lands and cultures the way I understand and love theirs…
I left the States 10 years ago and went back last year for a two week vacation at my friend Melanie’s home in Miami. The first thing I wanted to eat (more like feast on) was BBQ!!
In New Orleans I was a free single man in the original sin city. And boy did I commit a lot of sins there. Gluttony was my favorite sin to indulge in. But then again, gluttony isn’t really considered a sin by French people. We call it “gourmandise” and always refer to it as a quality. But I guess we see most sins as qualities in France… Of course there is one major difference in the way we give ourselves body and soul to this wonderful sin: the word “gourmandise” implies that you consciously enjoy your food and respect it. It has less to do with quantity and more to do with quality and the enlivenment (is that a word?) of one’s senses. A “gourmand” simply is a true foodie. The word gluttony to me feels like it’s just about excess and self indulgence regardless of what’s being eaten. A glutton will enter one of those hot dog eating contests. A gourmand will enter the most romantic pastry shop he/she can find and pick 10 small cakes rather than a large one, because he/she wants to enjoy as many different tastes as possible. A glutton will tell you how many hot dogs he can gulp in under 60 seconds. A gourmand will tell you which chocolate eclair was the best and what his next dream “food affair” would look and feel like. A glutton wants to fill his stomach. A gourmand wants to feed his soul.
And yet gourmandise and gluttony are considered the same sin. Go figure… We got lost in translation I guess. OK, all this to tell you how much I indulged when I lived in New Orleans…
Oh you guys, the incredible shrimp bought directly from the fishermen’s little wooden stands on the side of a road along the Mississippi. The soft shell crabs; the jazz brunches; the barbecue shrimp at Brennan’s… Oh! Oh! And the fried chicken and catfish…
So here we go. It’s the Brennan recipe for BBQ shrimp except for the amount of butter, the shallot and the type of beer I use. These variations came from a dear dear friend of mine. We worked together at the Ritz on Canal Street. She was a housekeeper, about 60 years old then, and a TRUE born and bred New Orlean. Her name was Miss Catherine. Did I not promise authenticity?!
There are so many different and delicious recipes for this dish. Here is mine. It will serve 1 foodie or 2 boring people or 2 foodies who are just trying to take is slow before the holidays:
- Lay 8 super fresh prawns into a dry pan with one chopped shallot. They need to be large, raw and with their shell and head still on. As with any shrimp dish, all the goodness comes from inside the heads!
- Add half a can of Guinness beer
- Add 2 tablespoons of Worcester sauce, 2 full teaspoons of creole seasoning (click here for recipe), 2 teaspoons of black pepper
- Add the rest of the beer, one teaspoon or fresh garlic, half a lemon juice
- Dump the half lemon you squeezed into the pan as well. The skin is full of that incredibly flavorful natural oil
- Turn the shrimp over and let simmer for 30 seconds Press on each head with a fork to get the juices and fat out. Most of the flavor comes from there
- Take the shrimp out. The last thing you want is to overcook them! Even a large shrimp doesn’t take more than 2 to three minutes to cook. My rule of thumb is: keep cooking them 1 minute on each side after they turn pink (which they do almost right away)
- Turn the heat down
- Add two tablespoons of soft butter and corn starch mixed together (about half/half) to the sauce and stir. The sauce will thicken right away. The original recipe requires about 3 sticks of butter (200 grams?) for 6 to 8 shrimp.
- Put the shrimp back in for a few seconds to warm them back up
- Serve right away with a LOT of fresh baguette
Two reasons why use corn starch and butter instead of just butter:
One: we are foodies not complete psychos. Using some starch allows you to use less butter. I remember watching that Paula Deen woman deep frying butter once. First that looks disgusting and second it’s completely irresponsible (that perfectly shows the difference between gluttony and gourmandise)
Two: it’s so much easier to thicken a sauce with corn starch than it is with plain butter
As I remember it, the sauce in the Brennan’s dish is thinner than mine, but I feel that a sauce should somewhat stick to the bread; have some body to it. Otherwise it’s just a jus…