Here's hoping that all your loved ones in New Orleans and Mississippi are safe and sound. If you've ever wanted to make a donation to the Red Cross, or donate blood, now might be a very good time to do it. I've only been lucky enough to go to New Orleans once, on a much-too-brief business trip, but it's a place that lives in the imaginations of writers, dreamers and cooks everywhere. Here, a reprint and a recipe, originally written when a sudden spate of warm spring weather got everyone thinking sultry thoughts of Spanish moss and wrought-iron balconies, tarot card readings in Jackson Square and beignets and coffee at 3 am.
This is one of the best ways I know to eat shrimp, marinated and smothered in a fiery, sweet-spicy sauce that begs to be sopped up with a big loaf of hot French bread. My mother, who got this recipe from a little spiral-bound cookbook bought in New Orleans, used to make it with unpeeled shrimp, thinking (rightly) that the shells added additional flavor to the sauce. However, this meant each person had to peel his or her boiling-hot, immersed-in-sauce shrimp one by one at the table, which was a wildly sloppy (and finger-burning) business. Thus I would recommend peeling your shrimp at the beginning, unless you really want to end up with sauce up to your elbows. Even with the shrimp already peeled, this is a dish that will get you good and messy, what with tearing off hunks of bread to swipe through the sauce and the inevitable orange spatters on the tablecloth.
Now, I know this isn't what a real New Orleans resident would know as barbecued shrimp. I've had locals make me real bbq shrimp, and it's nothing like this. Instead, it's shrimp cooked in a whole lot of incredibly delicious, garlicky-spicy butter, and eating it, like eating snails, is a reason to kiss the ground and thank god for butter. This is different--not authentic, but good.
For dessert, peach pie, figs roasted until just plump and bursting, or a last box of tiny Tristar strawberries. Nip the hulls off, then toss the fruit with a little sugar and an almond-fragrant splash of amaretto, and let them stand for a few minutes while you clear the dinner plates. The sugar will dissolve into the berry juice, surrounding the berries with a puddle of brilliant red liquid that tastes like the essence of strawberry jam. Plain heavy cream, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream would be good on top, or you can just enjoy them straight up, flush with the flavor of warmer seasons to come. Or you can save a final box of berries until all the guests save one have packed up their mandolins and harmonicas and gone home. Run a bath, light some candles, sprinkle in rose petals and eucalyptus bath salts, and serve that lucky person a bowl of chocolate pudding for two sprinkled with almonds and topped with strawberries. Sit on the edge of the tub, sink your feet in the scented water, and eat your chocolatey strawberries. Seek, kiss, eat, breathe.
Barbecued shrimp, New Orleans style
1 12-ounce bottle chili sauce, such as Heinz's
2 lemons, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
4 Tbs butter
2 tsp each oregano, paprika, and cayenne pepper
3 Tbs lemon juice
3 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp hot sauce, or to taste
2 lb raw shrimp, peeled but tails left on
2 Tbs chopped parsley
Sweet baguettes, warmed
Mix all sauce ingredients in a deep saucepan. Over low heat, warm until the butter is melted and the mixture is just beginning to simmer. Let cool, then pour over peeled shrimp in a deep bowl. Cover and refrigerate for several hours. Pour back in a wide saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring, until shrimp are just pink and opaque. Remove from heat and sprinkle with parsley. Serve in wide bowls with bread on the side.