In case you missed it, each day of the year is now special in the food world. From January to December, the calendar is packed with national food days honoring pie, shortbread, soup, pound cake, pralines, potato chips and dips, bagels and cream cheese, barbecue, cheeseballs, and my top pick, National Apple Strudel Day. However, if you’re a Mississippian, celebrating shrimp is a piece of cake, especially when it's National Shrimp Day (May 10th).
Our Gulf Coast waters produce some of the best shrimp in the world. Being able to buy fresh shrimp straight from the shrimp boats anytime we crave the crustaceans is one of the joys of living in our state.
It’s a regular occurrence for one of my friends to throw a cooler in the back of their car, head down to one of the Coast’s docks, fill it with several pounds of freshly caught shrimp and head back home with a po’boy and Barq’s Root Beer to go. Once it’s washed and peeled, fresh shrimp is placed in the freezer for a year’s worth of homemade gumbos, jambalayas, shrimp salads, and pasta dishes.
This time of year, invitations to backyard shrimp boils featuring steaming shrimp and spicy chunks of sausage, corn, and potatoes are coveted more than black-tie affairs. No plates are required. Contents of huge stockpots are poured straight onto newspaper-covered tables and guests dig in. Louisianans love their crawfish boils, but in our state, nothing’s better than a good, old-fashioned shrimp boil.
When I’m in the Jackson area and a craving for a shrimp boil hits, my car automatically pulls into The Crawdad Hole. Boiled shrimp will arrive at my table in mere minutes, hot and spicy straight from the boiling pot. Sides of potatoes, sausage, and corn are icing on the cake.
For a shrimp dinner requiring less work, I visit Jackson restaurants known for delicious shrimp dishes. A favorite is Jumbo Shrimp Spiedini at Bravo! in Highland Village. For a quick shrimp fix, I stop by Madison's Bonefish Grill and order its signature appetizer, Bang Bang Shrimp. Other places I get my “shrimp on” are Sal & Phil’s, Saltine Oyster Bar, and Drago’s.
The Blind Tiger in Bay St. Louis and now in Biloxi offers a restaurant-style
shrimp boil, complete with Royal Reds and all the trimmings.
And of course, shrimp prepared at least a dozen ways can be found every few feet on the Gulf Coast. Favorite places to partake of a restaurant-style shrimp boil are Cajun Crawfish Hut, Taranto’s, The Blind Tiger, and The Reef.
Scranton's Restaurant in Pascagoula is famous for its delicious shrimp and grits.
Favorite shrimp dishes include the grilled gulf shrimp at Mignon’s Steaks and Seafood, shrimp and grits at Scranton’s Restaurant, and the St. Patrick at Mary Mahoney’s. The St. Patrick is a delectable baked dish filled with whole shrimp, chopped garlic, butter, and spinach. For good measure, it’s topped with lump crabmeat.
If you prefer all-you-can-eat shrimp fests, most of the Coast casino buffets offer towering piles of glistening boiled shrimp with tangy cocktail sauce. My go-to buffets are at the Beau Rivage and in Hancock County at the Hollywood and Silver Slipper Casinos.
Lastly, boiling shrimp at home is easy and requires only a large pot filled with water and shrimp boil or seasoning. After boiling for 1-2 minutes, remove the pan from the heat, cover and allow shrimp to steep in the hot water for 5-10 minutes, depending on the size. Add corn, potatoes, and sausage, and, just like that, you have created your own shrimp boil.
Fresh or frozen shrimp can be sautéed in a large skillet in oil or melted butter. After only 3-4 minutes of heat, shrimp is ready to eat.
One of my favorite ways to prepare shrimp at home is in the oven. To prepare baked barbecue shrimp, place four pounds of large unpeeled shrimp on a large-rimmed baking sheet. Slice a lemon into small wedges, squeeze the juice over the shrimp and place wedges over the top.
In a separate bowl, combine a cup each of melted butter and ketchup, half cup of Worcestershire sauce, three tablespoons of Old Bay Seasoning, tablespoon of minced garlic, and 1/2 tablespoon of ground black pepper. Pour over shrimp and toss to coat. Bake uncovered in a 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until the shrimp is no longer pink, stirring occasionally.
To celebrate National Shrimp Day, I’m going to prepare a classic dish I adapted slightly from a recipe in Tony Chachere’s Cajun Country Cookbook. Filled with spicy chunks of shrimp and savory rice and vegetables, it’ll tide me over until National Apple Strudel Day.
Celebrate Shrimp Fried Rice
2 cups chopped cooked shrimp (diced cooked chicken, sausage, or ham may be substituted for shrimp or added to shrimp to enhance the taste)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 cups boiled rice (to expedite dinner, prepare rice the night before and refrigerate; the dish can be quickly prepared the next day).
1/4 cup oil
Two eggs, lightly beaten
Small bag of frozen peas and carrots, defrosted and microwaved for a few minutes
4-ounce can sliced mushrooms, drained
1 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper
1/2 cup scallions, chopped
Fry shrimp in oil in deep frying pan or large wok over medium-high heat for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add beaten eggs, peas and carrots, mushrooms, salt and pepper, then fry the mixture over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add rice and soy sauce and fry for five additional minutes, stirring frequently. Mix in chopped scallion and serve hot.