Anyone who has ever seen the Blessing of the Fleet, especially a fleet of Shrimp Boats has seen a very moving sight. Folks in the Coastal Southern States have relied on Big Hearted Gulf Shrimp as a wonderful part of our economy, so of course we love the ever versatile shrimp, our own if possible! In secluded Bon Secour Bay, Shrimp Boats still haul in beautiful shrimp from the Gulf waters of Alabama- the very translation of Bon Secour is French for good help, assistance or comfort. I can attest shrimp is a good comfort food! The best way to buy shrimp- is right off the boat, wrapped with ice and butcher paper; since fresh shrimp freezes very well- most is frozen right away, as soon as possible off the boat or even frozen on shrimp boats!
Please don’t ever insult this Majestic Crustacean by comparing someone or something to a shrimp! Shrimp come in all sizes- from salad shrimp which are tiny to extra large or jumbo that are almost as big as a man’s hand! Southern cooks have a way of using whatever size we can get! Most of us can’t imagine a Southern cookbook without recipes for Shrimp! Shrimp are among the most versatile of ingredients- not just in southern cuisine but many other cultures too. Bighearted Gulf Shrimp tend to be sociable, enjoy the flavors known as Italian, Greek, Asian and of course Creole! Shrimp is equally at home in-
- Casseroles or Chafing Dishes
- Appetizers- tiny tart shells to large impressive Shrimp Cocktails
- Swimming around a mound of rice in Gumbos and floating gracefully in creamy Bisques
- A mere garnish on the rim of a Bloody Mary or added to a Garlic Butter Sauce atop a juicy steak
- Pickled in a big jar or chilled-gracing a cool Summer Salad
- A hearty Poor Boy piled high, tossed with all manner of Seafood Sauces for Pasta
- Cozying up in a big Spanish paella, having a big time in Indian curries and
- Low Country Boils or rolling around in a sticky pile of Asian Stir Fry…
We have to admit Shrimp is internationally beloved and Bighearted indeed! I decided to look into just three of my vintage Junior League Cookbooks- in-
- Jubilee! of Mobile, Alabama fame… there were in excess of 40 recipes! Including Coquille St. Jacques- which combines scallops and shrimp in a delicate sherry laced cream sauce which would be perfect for a Dinner Party. A robust Jambalaya with a note that said ‘Keep adding seasoning until you’re afraid to add any more.’ Don’t you love that?
- There’s even instructions in Jubilee! for Boiling Shrimp in Gulf Water- you can’t get anymore fresh than that; in fact, when buying shrimp… the rule of thumb is that the freshest shrimp smell like that fragrant blend of sea air, marsh grasses and fresh salty gulf water. When boiling shrimp, a word to the wise… the worst thing you can do is overcook! Bring highly seasoned lemony salted water to a rolling boil, drop the shrimp in for two minutes…no more! Turn the heat off and by the time you’ve removed the shrimp…they’re pink, beautiful and done!
- In Morgan County Alabama’s Junior Leagues’ Cotton Country… again there are close to 40 recipes which either feature shrimp or include a combination such as Connie’s Curried Shrimp which includes a comment- ‘Once tried, you’ll make it over and over again’, Shrimp Florentine, Shrimp Etouffee and one I loved the sound of… Shrimp Le Maistre, with this notation- ‘The prayers of many a hostess are herewith answered. Mixing time is almost nil, frozen shrimp works beautifully (though of course, if you’re up to peeling it, of course fresh may be used). This casserole may be served on rice, wild rice, in patty shells or individual scallop shells with scattered crumbs. Too, Shrimp Le Maistre is good for the cooks who like to play with ingredients. Try adding a glug of sherry and sliced water chestnuts- then leave the eggs in the refrigerator.‘ Okay y’all, Shrimp Le Maistre is the very definition of Bighearted and a Casserole to boot! Morgan County’s Cotton Country tickles me with the comments! For Shrimp Etouffee- the comment says ‘Straight from the Louisiana Bayou’.
- Speaking of Louisiana… from Monroe, Louisiana’s Junior League’s Cotton Country there are 45 recipes for shrimp including a shrimp mousse, a shrimp pate (similar but not exactly shrimp paste), Shrimp Croquettes, Barbequed Shrimp- which aren’t really put on a grill at all! Don’t miss- Shrimp Sizzle- for shrimp which are– after they’re marinated- the shrimp are ‘sizzled’ on a charcoal grill. The Shrimp Sauces range from Butter to Herbed, a White Sauce and the range of sauces which use peppercorns are Black, Pink or Green.
Of course, in all of my southern cookbooks- there are always renditions of famous southern Shrimp Cocktail sauces. Truthfully, I just want these sauces to be simple- Red Chili Sauce (a thick ketchup- Heinz® is my favorite), lots of fresh lemon juice and as much horseradish as I think folks can stand… I personally want Cocktail Sauce to make my eyes water- it’s tears of happiness! There are many ways to prepare Bighearted Gulf Shrimp…however, the best of all may be – ‘straight off the boat’ or as near as possible- quickly boiled with a bag of Old Bay® or Zatarain’s® shrimp and crab boil (a bag of dried spices- the fragrance makes the whole house smell good!) add a couple of big fresh lemons cut in half and plopped in the water! ‘ Peel and Eat Gulf Shrimp’ is bighearted enough to be eaten with drawn butter and lemon and of course spicy Cocktail Sauce.
Now that your appetite for Bighearted Gulf Shrimp is whetted… I’ll leave you with an old standby here at Camellia’s Cottage- now, it’s served with rice- so get that cooked before you start- it’s so quick and easy…when the shrimp’s done, you’ll be ready to serve it with the rice! Spicy Shrimp doesn’t call for fancy ingredients and I’m still not sure why it works, yet it’s almost no fail. So here goes…
Camellia’s Bighearted Spicy Shrimp
- You will need one pound of 36-40 raw shrimp- peeled, deveined with tails left on to make it pretty.
- In a large pot- melt one stick of butter.
- Add 2 cups of a zesty Italian dressing (this is important! do not shake the bottle to blend- instead pour off most of the oil that rests on the top! then measure out 2 cups of remaining dressing. * For you purists- make up your favorite Italian dressing, just reduce the oil called for in your recipe)
- Next, add 1/4 cup of Lowry’s® Seasoned Pepper- not seasoned salt!
- Add 2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes if you dare! Adjust to taste. I do not add salt while cooking Spicy Gulf Shrimp. Adjust salt if necessary after it’s cooked.
- Last add 2 heaping Tablespoons of chopped garlic. * I generally add a Tablespoon of Paprika for a pretty color, but unnecessary.
- Stir and bring this spicy mixture to a bubbling boil. Put raw shrimp in the mixture and gently stir until shrimp are pale pink in color… they will continue to cook even as heat is turned off.
- * Warning- do not leave the pot, do not answer the phone, do not glance away… Spicy Gulf Shrimp will not take more than 4-5 minutes if that!!
- Turn heat off- put a generous squeeze juice from a whole fresh lemon into the mixture and gently toss shrimp.
- To serve: Surround a mound of rice with the shrimp and sauce. I always chop a few green onions tops for a garnish.
Dip garlic bread into the spicy sauce, it’s wonderful- we southerners call that sopping! A big fresh salad is great alongside in spring or summer- or in fall and winter… steamed broccoli is a very good side dish. Serves 3-4 hungry folks. This recipe may be doubled. *If there are any leftovers, mix the rice with sauce- mix with salad greens; cube leftover garlic bread and toast lightly for croutons! Oh my, it’s so good! Here’s how it came together…
Bon Secour Bay is on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay, I hope some day you get down there to experience it. Stay at the Grand Hotel just up the road, past Magnolia Springs in beautiful Point Clear, Alabama. And whatever you do, please give Gulf Shrimp a try at least once in your life- found from down around Galveston, Texas all around the Gulf of Mexico, even down to Key West! Nothing could be finer than Bighearted Gulf Shrimp! Love y’all, Camellia
* all photographs are obviously mine. *We acknowledge that some folks have sensitivity to shellfish or outright allergies to it; and that some cultures have dietary restrictions.
* This beautiful sunset was taken from the Grand Hotel, an historic hotel which is operated by Marriott® See how beautiful it is? the whole area is sheer coastal beauty…Fairhope, Point Clear, Magnolia Springs and Mobile Bay!