Recently we were in South Alabama, in Bon Secour Bay, near Fairhope Alabama, when we saw these beautiful fresh Royal Red Shrimp. Royal Reds are deep water Shrimp- translucent underwater, but turn this brilliant shade of red when pulled out of the sea. They are called the ‘Crown Jewel of Alabama Shrimp’. Very few shrimpers are licensed to harvest this delicacy and since Royal Reds prefer cooler and deeper waters, it is considered a delicacy. Can you imagine harvesting Royal Reds anywhere from a 1000 feet to a half mile deep, often 60 miles out from the shores? The flavor is slightly different from the common brown shrimp- some say Royal Reds have notes of lobster or scallops. A Royal Red calls for a light hand, is more tender than our wonderful Alabama Gulf Wild Brown Shrimp.
All types of Seafood are served during the Holidays in the South. I have a friend who is entertaining her family this weekend with Seafood Gumbo. Some serve Oysters fixed in various ways from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. Many serve Seafood on Christmas Eve or as part of the Christmas Dinner. We eat seafood year round in the South, however the months with an ‘R’ in the name are particularly favored for the very best seafood in the South, when the colder waters produce the finest. Alabama produces some of the best seafood in the world from our very own Mobile Bays, Inlets and the Gulf of Mexico.
We all want our holiday meals to be special, but with time running short, Southern ladies love to have special sauces to add zing to our meals. Trained chefs have a number of Mother Sauces and while I am untrained, I have a few tried and true Mother Sauces of my own and apparently so do generations of Southern Cooks. In just one Junior League Cookbook I have- there are probably a dozen or more sauces. I love the names-
- Jezebel Sauce, George Major’s Sauce, Espagnole,
- Jubilee Sauce, Marchand de Vin, Remoulade,
- Shrimp Arnaud, Absolutely Perfect Hollandaise,
- Green Goddess for Shrimp, Bernaise, – and all of these could be written up in the cookbooks right beside
- Hot Dog Sauce, Chili Sauce, Barbeque Sauce.
We love our Sauces- leaded or unleaded, if you get my drift. However, there is one Sauce that I have used for years that I consider a fancy All Purpose Sauce for Shrimp like the Royal Reds, Blue Crab, Fish, Chicken or even Vegetables. With a tweak or two- my Queen Mother Sauce can elevate Royal Reds or almost anything to a fancier, tastier dish. The best part is- it’s easy to make! I like it so much I call it- Queen Mother Sauce, for it is the crowning glory of my sauces! You will definitely be Queen of the Day when you serve it with just a little wave to your adoring subjects! It is leaded, since it contains White Wine or Sherry , just make sure you don’t get sauced in the process. I have been known to triple the recipe, pour some over chicken breasts and seal in a freezer bag to pull out when I need a quick but special meal. I know your mouth is watering so without further ado- let me present Her Majesty- Camellia’s Queen Mother Sauce.
Prepare all ingredients before beginning the Queen Mother Sauce This is for 2-3 lbs of large peeled and deveined Gulf Shrimp:
- 3 Tbs of finely chopped Garlic (finely chopped or sliced shallots offer a slightly different taste- this is good to dress fresh Blue Crab and add capers if desired)
- 2 Tbs Lemon Zest
- 2-3 Tbs of Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice (don’t you dare use that bottled kind!)
- Finely Slice 1 Lemon (to tuck around Shrimp as it cooks)
- A heaping teaspoon of Dried Oregano (here is where the dried herb is best- fresh is too strong)
- 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh Thyme (the closer you live to your own fresh herbs the better your life will be especially when it comes to Thyme)
- Dried Red Pepper Flakes to taste
- (It is best not to use too much salt when preparing deep water seafood- which is naturally salted by the sea, however you may add a pinch to taste)
- 1/4-1/3 cup of good Olive Oil and 2-3 Tbs of Butter.
- Olive Oil to be brushed on before baking
In a saucepan over low/medium heat- gently heat Olive Oil plus 1-2 tablespoons butter, until butter is melted- now add finely chopped garlic until warmed. Truly a half minute is enough! You are just adding flavor to the oil and butter and honestly who wants a bitter garlic flavor – so watch it! We use salted butter in the South- however if you have used unsalted butter you may add a pinch or so of sea salt now. Remove saucepan from heat and add white wine or a mild sherry, the lemon zest, fresh lemon juice, dried oregano and fresh thyme to the flavored oil. Now back on a very low heat- warm the Queen Mother Sauce, she won’t like it one bit if she gets hot! Now, this next step is important, *pour the Queen Mother Sauce in the bottom a baking dish, top with the Large Shrimp (please do this in a pretty design) Tuck the thinly sliced lemon among the Shrimp. Brush with a bit of Olive Oil or Butter, sprinkle with Red Pepper Flakes to taste. Bake in a hot oven – 375º until Shrimp turns a pretty pink- in the case of Royal Reds, they will be even brighter and take less cooking time! No more than 20 minutes.
*Serve Shrimp warm with Rice, which has been enhanced with the Queen Mother Sauce. At room temperature as an Appetizer with thinly sliced toasted bread and the warm cooked Queen Mother Sauce for dipping. As a First Course, serve shrimp on lettuce leaves with a drizzle of the Queen Mother Sauce and a wedge of lemon. Y’all this Queen Mother Sauce is so easy you won’t believe but please just do it like this and if possible, please use Gulf Seafood, it does make a difference!
- *Chicken allow more time for baking time- 30-50 minutes or until skin is golden brown (boneless/skin on chicken breasts are best- ask your butcher to do this or do it yourself and save the bones for use in stocks) and you may want to use freshly cracked black pepper rather than red pepper flakes
- *Fresh Fish Filets, slightly more cooking time is required than for Shrimp, cook until the fish flakes easily- do not overcook
- *Vegetables-use seasonal yellow squash, zucchini and thinly sliced onions- the cooking time varies, but do not overcook.
- *Blue Crab pick through fresh crabmeat to make sure there are not any bits of shell or cartiledge-omit butter and increase oil if necessary-also omit garlic- add thinly sliced shallots and 1-2 Tablespoons of drained capers, marinate for several hours.
Since Alabama’s Eastern Shore towns Fairhope, Bon Secour Bay and Point Clear are so beautiful, I hope you enjoy a few of my photographs from area, which has almost perfect weather year round! For more information on those beautiful Royal Reds, visit http://www.eatalabamaseafood.com
Love y’all, Camellia