Recipe Sleuth: Bayou’s Barbecue Shrimp

Chef Rusty Holman's barbecue shrimp at the New Orleans-themed Bayou is like a quick trip to the Big Easy.

Bayou’s barbecue shrimp. Photograph by Erik Uecke

When it comes to recipes for New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp, there’s no single formula. Bayou chef Rusty Holman scoured many cookbooks—including volumes from expert Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme and Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found From The Times-Picayune of New Orleans—before concocting his own version of the Louisiana favorite. The key common denominators for the dish—lemon, Worcestershire sauce, spicy seasoning, garlic, and of course, plenty of butter—combine to form a zesty, silky sauce for the plump Gulf shrimp that Holman sources.

The base for Holman’s sauce is essentially a quick shrimp stock, so make sure to buy quality crustaceans (Holman recommends Whole Foods), and save your shrimp shells after you’ve peeled them; they provide lots of flavor. If the sauce gets over reduced or too pungent, Holman says to add a little liquid such as water or chicken stock to thin it out. He also advises making sure your butter is cold and sauce is hot when whisking the dairy in, otherwise you risk breaking the sauce. Overall, though, it’s not a delicate procedure, so crack an Abita beer and take a relaxing cue from the Big Easy.

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Bayou’s Barbecue Shrimp
Serves six

3 pounds large Gulf shrimp, in their shells
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning, such as Paul Prudhomme’s
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper, plus more to taste for seasoning the shrimp
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup chopped white onions
3 tablespoons minced garlic
3 bay leaves
2½ cups water
½ cup Worcestershire
¼ cup dry white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc
¼ teaspoon salt
3 lemons, peeled and halved
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
5 tablespoons cold butter
1 tablespoon chopped chives
2 loaves of fresh French bread

Peel and de-vein the shrimp, leaving only their tails attached. Reserve the shells and set aside. In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste. Cover the bowl and store in the fridge until you’re ready to use them.

Make the barbecue sauce:

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large pot over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and 1 tablespoon garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the reserved shrimp shells, the remaining 1 tablespoon of Cajun seasoning, the bay leaves, water, Worcestershire, wine, salt, and teaspoon of black pepper. Squeeze the lemon halves and drop them in. Stir well and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes to make a quick shrimp stock. Strain the liquid through a sieve into a sauce pan. Place over high heat and reduce to about 1 cup of barbecue-sauce base.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the seasoned shrimp, 2 tablespoons garlic, rosemary, and thyme and sauté everything for 2 minutes. Add the barbecue base. Stir and simmer for 2 minutes.

Whisk the butter into the sauce. Remove from the heat. Transfer shrimp and sauce to a platter. Garnish with chives and serve with slices of warm French bread.

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Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.