Even though we’ve only been there once together, New Orleans is one of our favorite places (and if you’ve ever been, it’s probably one of yours as well), due in no small part to the amazing food there. Whenever we’re lucky enough to visit a place with uniquely exceptional food, we like to find cookbooks with recipes from the local area. During one of our many strolls through the French Quarter a few years ago, we stopped in a small used bookstore and picked up the book “Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picaune of New Orleans.” This book is a special as New Orleans itself, and is filled with old recipes exchanged via a food column of the Times-Picaune, by locals struggling to rebuild their lives — and recipe collections — after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. This particular shrimp recipe was submitted by a reader who cut it out of the paper many years ago and adapted it by reducing the amount of cayenne pepper, even though her family enjoys spicy food. (Okay by me if it’s okay “bayou” — the dish is plenty spicy even with the reduced amount!) The recipe is quick and easy to make with simple ingredients: shrimp; cayenne pepper; black pepper & salt; red pepper flakes; dried thyme, basil and oregano; butter; garlic; Worcestershire sauce; tomatoes and beer. The plump shrimp cooked in a spicy, rich sauce evokes fond memories and takes us right back to the Big Easy.
Prepare the shrimp by peeling and de-veining it (if you’re using frozen shrimp, thaw it first.) The recipe calls for 2 dozen large shrimp or 1 pound medium shrimp.
Measure out the spices: 1/4 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (1/4 teaspoon is plenty, unless you like REALLY spicy food); 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes; 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme; 1 teaspoon dried basil; and 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (crush the dried herbs into little pieces if the leaves are whole.)
Combine the spice mixture with 1/3 cup butter (about 5.5 tablespoons), 1 & 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic (4-5 cloves) and 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce in a large skillet over high heat.
Stir the ingredients together and cook until the butter melts.
Add 1 cup diced tomatoes and cook until they begin to soften — about 2-3 minutes.
Add the shrimp and cook until they barely begin to turn pink — about 1 minute.
Add 1/4 cup beer (make sure it is room temperature, not cold, so it doesn’t slow the cooking when you add it to the sauce), cover the skillet and cook until the shrimp is done — about 1-2 more minutes. Keep a close eye on the shrimp so you don’t overcook them. (But if the shrimp are a little too done, don’t worry — the sauce is so good that you’ll barely notice any rubbery shrimp texture. Not that we would know firsthand or anything.)
Serve the shrimp and sauce over thin spaghetti or cooked rice, pour yourself a nice glass of bold red wine or a frosty cold Abita beer, crank up the Jazz and enjoy. (Mardi Gras beads optional.)