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Recipes and Stories

16 July 2012: Pickled Shrimp

Savannah Pickled Shrimp, photographed by John Carrington, from The Savannah Cookbook
One of the distinctive flavors of a Lowcountry summer, and a fixture on almost every summer party table in Savannah, is pickled shrimp. Devised as a conserve that could be stored at room temperature, the original was literally a pickle, heavy with vinegar and spices, and its flavor was intense. Consequently, they were eaten as a relish or condiment—not as a cocktail hors d’oeuvres or main dish salad as they are nowadays.

After the advent of refrigeration, the pickling became less a preservative than a flavoring marinade, and the modern version, given here, is served at cocktail parties, mounded in bowls of crushed ice, as an alternative to simply poached shrimp with cocktail sauce. Occasionally, they’re dressed with a little olive oil and served nestled in beds of crisp lettuce as a first course for sit-down dinners or as a refreshing summer luncheon or supper entrée.

Serves 8 to 12

4 tablespoons Seafood Boiling Spice (recipe follows)
2 large bay leaves, crumbled if dried, chopped if fresh
6 large garlic cloves, lightly crushed and peeled
1 large rib celery, including the leafy top, thinly sliced
2 pounds small to medium shrimp
1 cup white wine vinegar
½ cup minced shallots or Vidalia Sweet onions
2 large lemons zest removed from 1 in strips with a zester, 1 thinly sliced
About 2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, optional
4 to 6 fresh lettuce leaves
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Put 3 quarts of water in a large (6-to-8-quart) stainless steel or enameled pot. Add half the boiling spice, 1 bay leaf, 3 garlic cloves, the sliced celery, and a small handful of salt. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer 10 minutes. Raise the heat, add the shrimp, cover, and count 2 minutes. Drain well, rinse under cold running water, and then peel and devein the shrimp.

2. Bring the vinegar, onions, and remaining bay leaf, spices and garlic to a full boil in a saucepan over medium high heat, reduce the heat to low, and simmer 5 minutes. Turn off the heat. Let it cool slightly and pour it over the shrimp. Mix in the lemon zest, and juice the lemon into it through a strainer. Toss well, and let cool completely. Cover and marinate, refrigerated, for at least 4 hours and as long as 24 hours. They will actually keep for up to 2 weeks, refrigerated.

3. To serve, lift the shrimp from the marinade. If you like, you may dress them lightly with a few spoonfuls of olive oil to taste. Line a platter or shallow serving bowl with lettuce leaves. Mound the shrimp on top of them and garnish with sliced lemon and parsley.

Seafood Boiling Spice

For the last century, seafood boiling spice blends have been an indispensable ingredient in the pantry of most Savannah cooks, not merely for boiling seafood, but as a key seasoning for any shellfish, poultry, eggs, and vegetable dishes. There are commercial brands available, but the best are made at home.

Makes about ¾ cup

2 tablespoons celery seeds
2 tablespoons whole mustard seeds
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons crumbled bay leaves
2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 tablespoon ground cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon powdered mace
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
2 tablespoons salt

Put the celery and mustard seeds, peppercorns, bay leaves, coriander, and allspice in a blender or electric spice mill and grind them to a coarse powder. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse to mix. Store in an airtight tin or jar.
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