CAJUN BOILED SHRIMP TALE
Can A Food Centered Tale Beef Up The Drudgery Of Plowing Through A Plain Old Recipe?
Do you know of an unusual event that happened which ties in with the particular recipe you are presenting? I know there are many cooking related sites available, but any with stories to tell focus on the plaudits of the person that was the inspiration for the article or the way the husband loved the meal. Kind of boring, if you ask me, and a repetitive tale told over and over again.
Usually an interesting story to highlight a recipe that is presented is lacking in most cases!
I love to read stories about people who had crazy things happen to them or did things out-of-the-box. I hope to share in this blog series, not only events from my side, but also happenings to others I read about or know. Oh, and I will include a recipe that goes hand in hand with the adventure presented.
First of all I am a fly by night or seat of the pants “cook”. I am good at making certain dishes, but usually from a cookbook. This may sound strange from a Southerner born in New Orleans, a city where most men are expected to have the insight that inspires their creative instincts which empowers them to simply throw things together from scratch and come up with a decent meal. At least the ones born and raised there. But maybe not.
Anyways, now that I live out in the country and we have more dinners made at home, I am doing more of the kitchen faire myself and making meals from scratch. And not necessarily using a cookbook!
The Way I Like To Buy And Keep Shrimp
One dish that I love is Cajun Style Boiled Shrimp. I can’t tell you how many times I have enjoyed this dish, especially with family and friends in a southern setting on a picnic table covered with newspaper. The feasts usually include, along with boiled crawfish and crabs, this “boiled shrimp classic” created by the Cajuns of Louisiana with help from their delectable spice concoctions. The whole mess is dumped in individual piles on top of the covered picnic table, and you just grab and eat what you want as your heart desires. With this in mind, I have one tale that bears highlighting which exemplifies my lack of knowledge for the proper method of preparing this dish.
As fate would have it, my brother Chris, who lives in the metro area of New Orleans, also owns a second home in Pass Christian, Mississippi, which was the central entry point for the eye of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. After repairs were made to the house from damage caused by massive flooding in the area, there were many family get-togethers there, and some of them didn’t even include him and his wife, Cindy. They were very generous by allowing family members use of the house themselves on different occasions.
One of those events was the year his son, Corey, was on the verge of getting married. Since we lived in Florida at the time, my wife and I decided this house would become our staging area when we came up from our home in Ft. Lauderdale. The wedding venue was scheduled to take place in New Orleans, and the distance from this location to the event was a viable option. Since our son Eric was coming in from New York, and our daughter, Stephanie, her husband, Shaun, along with their 2 sons, were coming in from Nevada, they all had plenty of room in the house to stay with us.
Anyways, on the way in, I called Stephanie, who arrived at the house first with her clan, and asked her if she could locate a vendor selling fresh shrimp out at, or near, the boat docks. They usually came into marinas located on the gulf coast a couple of miles from the house. Fortunately, she located one and obtained about 5 pounds which they brought back and placed in the freezer, as instructed. I did not know a good way to store shrimp other than freezing them if they were not prepared the same day because I was afraid of the batch going bad. I found out later that this directive was my first mistake.
On the following day, I made the silly mistake of dumping the bag of frozen crustaceans into a pot of boiling water, all at once. It immediately became apparent that if you try to cook a bundle of frozen shrimp all clumped together like that, the outer layer of shrimp will cook first, and become “chewy” while the inner ones play catch up. So, I lived and learned after performing this particular feat! Fortunately, I gained some last-minute smarts that helped me save the day.
One pound will feed about 2 people, and there were only 4 of us who were prepared to eat them. No matter, I still planned on cooking the whole mess at once, because boiled shrimp are like candy to me and I usually eat them until my stomach hurts. Which I did, and it did!
Can You Make Boiled Shrimp Too Spicy Hot?
This story revolves around the preparation of the meal, so let me begin at the start of this fiasco. When I pulled the bag of frozen shrimp out of the freezer, it was in a big round ball. And to boot, there was ice in the bag, something seafood vendors will add that helps keep seafood cold on the way home.
Frozen shrimp covered with an ice ball to be dropped into a pot of boiling water? I had every intention of doing just that without thinking there might be a better way. Of course I didn’t bother to call and ask any of my sibling experts for advice! Besides, they were busy with their own concerns, so why hit them with something like this.
The day after arriving at the house, my wife, Gene (short for Geneva), and my daughter, went and got some groceries at the local market. While there, they searched for a “box” of the dried shrimp and crab boil seasoning made by Zatarains. This is a popular southern Cajun spice provider. Not finding the drop-in bag version, they got the “concentrated liquid” stuff instead. I knew nothing about using this product and that became obvious the moment I put it in the pot of water ahead of the shrimp ball which would be inserted later on.
When I started the process of boiling the water in a large pot, I added the concentrated liquid seasoning immediately. This procedure started releasing the flavors into the mix which, in turn, would eventually penetrate the shrimp when they were added and create the iconic flavors Cajun Boiled Shrimp dishes are noted for.
Unfortunately, I misread the instructions. Instead of adding a few ounces of the concentrate, as required, I emptied the whole bottle into the pot. Wow!
After a few minutes, everyone in the house started complaining that their eyes were burning. They could smell the fumes coming out of the pot, so they started going out onto the back patio to get some fresh air.
After airing out the house some, I went back to continue the cooking process. Since it was too late to undo what I had done, I moved forward with cooking the add-in fixin’s first which included red potatoes and corn. Those items were not really affected by the “heat” in the water. I then added mushrooms which absorbed the spiciness like crazy. And man, were they hot! It was like eating something that was on fire.
Next came the time for the shrimp ice ball. I first removed the corn, potatoes, and mushrooms, then set them aside in a large bowl (which was a good decision on my part). Then I dumped the whole wad of frozen shrimp into the boiling water at once and hoped for success. Trying not to panic when I saw what was happening, I did notice the outer shrimp breaking loose first and got creative with a solution. I gave each piece time to cook a little, then I began pulling them from the pot one piece at a time. Viola!
That spur of the moment plan worked! The shrimp were nicely cooked and the fix-in’s were acceptably seasoned, all except for the mushrooms which were fiery hot and burned my mouth when braved the task of trying a few. So, I escaped disaster but vowed that I would be more attentive towards the correct methods of preparing this dish in the future.
With all that said, I will note the following recipe is the result of help from Zatarains, my brother (who is an excellent chef), and a few added wrinkles from my very own mind. Hope you enjoy it because the end result will provide a delectable meal for your enjoyment.
MY CAJUN BOILED SHRIMP RECIPE
- 5 quarts water (vary this as needed to cover fixin’s and/or amount of shrimp) in large pot
- 1 to 2 packages of Zatarains Crawfish, Shrimp and Crab Boil. (Use liquid version only after following directions on bottle, Please!
- 8 to 12 red potatoes (small)
- 3 ribs celery, cut into 2 inch pieces
- 6 small white onions, peeled and halved
- 2 heads garlic, halved crosswise
- 4 to 6 lemons, halved
- 3 pounds large gulf or bay (21 to 30 count) shrimp with shell
- 6 ears of corn-on-the-cob cut into 3 inch pieces
- 1/4 Cup Salt (up to 1/2 cup for added flavor)
- Mayo, ketchup, and horseradish for dipping sauce
- 2 pounds of smoked sausage (Andouille??) cut into 1 inch pieces
- 4 cups of full size (not sliced) Portobello mushrooms
- Mix water, salt, and Crab Boil in large (10 to 12 quart) stockpot.
- Bring to boil on high heat.
- Stir in potatoes, celery, onions and garlic, (sausage).
- Return to boil. Cook for 12 to 15 minutes. Start testing potatoes for doneness.
- Stir in corn. Boil additional 5 minutes.
- Remove fixin’s from water except crab boil and place in a large bowl and cover.
- Squeeze juice from lemons into the water and add lemons into the pot
- Stir in shrimp (cold and separated but not frozen together). Bring Shrimp to a boil and immediately turn off heat. After a minute or two, move pot with shrimp off of heated area.
- Start tasting some individual shrimp pieces until desired firmness is achieved. (If too soft, the shrimp will be hard to peel). Don’t over cook!
- Remove some of the water and stir-in ice to stop shrimp from cooking, but still steeping, in the seasoned liquid. Leave in to cool as desired.
- When you are satisfied with the “doneness”, drain shrimp and liquid into large colander.
- Check covered potatoes and corn fixin’s and reheat in microwave if necessary.
- Place shrimp in large bowl and serve.
- Place potatoes and corn fixin’s in separate bowl and serve with shrimp.
- You can make a dipping sauce with mayonnaise, ketchup, and a little horseradish by mixing in a small bowl. ENJOY!
- You can use frozen “Gulf” (of Mexico) shrimp if you don’t have access to fresh shrimp on ice. Some grocery stores sell frozen gulf shrimp in 1 or 2 lb packets, but the price is almost double. Just remember to separate them by placing the lot in a pot of unheated water first for 5 to 10 minutes. (Learned that the hard way.)
- Don’t use any other type of shrimp, like Tiger Shrimp or imported varieties. It won’t taste right.
- Cajuns like to add Andouille Sausage to the pot, but I find it very dry and devoid of flavor. You can add other sausages if you like (ie: smoked sausage) without the heat. (I don’t do this because I prefer shellfish by itself and not mixed in with meat products while cooking.)
- Some recipes call for removing the digestive “vein-like” track (dark color) from the shrimp before cooking. This means opening the shell with scissors and slitting the back and pulling it out. I don’t like this method. Instead, let individuals remove it after they open the shell. I eat the shrimp whole, but some people want it out.
- If you live near a shrimp fishing fleet in the Gulf, sometimes the boat owners unload their catch into large ice-filled bins at the docks and sell directly to the public. That is what we did in Pensacola in the early 90’s, and it was lots of fun.
- Fun-up the affair by dumping the whole mess on newspaper that covers your table and let everyone just dig in!
I am requesting that my readers click on the links provided and download a sample read of each book and give a review on Amazon. You will have free access to the first four chapters of each book. My hope is that you will like the story lines enough to obtain either an eBook version or a paperback copy that you can put on your bookshelf as a masterpiece when you are done. FATE STALKS A HERO I: RESURGENCE, FATE STALKS A HERO II:THE FIJI FULCRUM, and THE SAGA OF HERACLES PENOIT. I will be giving excerpts on these works in upcoming blogs to familiarize you the reader with exciting details about the contents of each one. Thank you!