The Food Almanac: Tuesday, September 10, 2013

It's Barbecue Shrimp Day!

The barbecue shrimp at Mr. B's is widely accepted to be the best in New Orleans.

Food Calendar
Today is Barbecue Shrimp Day. It won't be a national celebration, because a) no other part of the country has shrimp as fine as the white shrimp we have right now and 2) no other place understands that "barbecue shrimp" is a misnomer. There's no smoke, grill, or thick sauce. Instead, they're cooked with a sauce Richard Collin once described as "all the butter in the world, and half the pepper." A little garlic, Worcestershire, and paprika are in there, too.

The dish was invented at Pascal's Manale in 1954, when a customer asked Pascal Radosta to duplicate a shrimp dish he had in Chicago. The resulting dish wasn't like the one this guy had found, but he liked it even better. Barbecue shrimp soon became the signature dish at Manale's, where most tables include at least one order of the things.

It's essential for barbecue shrimp to be made with large, intact, unpeeled shrimp (about 10-20 to the pound), with heads, shells, tails, and everything else still there. Much flavor comes from the juices and fats in the head. Whole shrimp this size, drenched in sauce, are a mess to eat. Especially if you insist on peeling the shrimp. (I just pull the heads off and eat the rest, shells and all--although I do not recommend this to you.) 

Chef Gerard Maras made a major improvement in barbecue shrimp in the 1980s, during his tenure at Mr. B's. His trick: whisking in the butter at the end of the cooking process. Emeril Lagasse developed the only good peeled version of barbecue shrimp, making a very intense stock out of the heads and shells, and incorporating it back into the butter sauce. It's a great idea, but a lot of work.

Every restaurant has its own version of barbecue shrimp, but to my tastes, the simpler the recipe, the better they are.

Tenuous Food-Sports Connection
Today is the birthday, in 1934, of Yankee home run slugger Roger Maris, my boyhood baseball hero. He batted left and threw right, as I do. Hit sixty-one homers in 1961, topping Babe Ruth's best single season. His name originally was spelled "Maras," same as New Orleans chef Gerard Maras. The chef renovated barbecue shrimp during his tenure at Mr. B's, where it's still the best version in town.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Shrimp Lake is in the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, seven miles from the Montana state line. Shrimp Puddle is more like it. It's only about 150 feet in diameter. Shrimp may well be in there--the kind that can withstand being dried out completely, and come back to life when the water returns. Shrimp Lake is at about 7000 feet, at the base of mountains that rise to 9600 feet. If teeny shrimp don't do it for you, it's a quarter-mile hike to the larger Trout Lake. And ten miles to the Range Rider Lodge, the nearest restaurant.

Deft Dining Rule #614
Shrimp always taste better with the shells and heads still in place.

Edible Dictionary
scampi, Italian, n., pl.--The true scampo (the seldom-seen singular form of scampi) is a small lobster found mostly in Scandinavian waters, with a somewhat isolated population in the northern Adriatic sea. There, it is the main ingredient in a classic Italian dish in which the crustacean is cooked in a sauce of butter, olive oil (or both), lemon juice and white wine. That dish is so popular that it spread to Italian communities around the world. In this country, scampi is found as an appetizer on most Italian menus. But the dish here is almost always made with large shrimp instead of real scampi, which are rarely seen on these shores.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
If you have even a suspicion that the shrimp are completely cooked, they are.

Creole Icons 
Today is the birthday, in 1801, of Marie Laveau, the most celebrated historical name in New Orleans voodoo circles. Her name has been used in connection with many dishes, a beer, and a restaurant. Her supposed tomb in St. Louis Cemetery (its authenticity is disputed) is among the most visited in the city.

Food Namesakes 
Yma Sumac, a Peruvian singer who was famous for her alleged four-octave vocal range, was born today in 1922. (Sumac is a spice widely used in Middle Eastern cooking.) . . . Actor Philip Baker Hall was born today in 1932. . . Siobhan Fahey, who was a singer in the Irish band Bananarama, turned on his mike today in 1958. . . Professional snowboarder Travis Rice hit the Big Snowbank today in 1982.

Golfer Arnold Palmer was born today in 1929. He played in the Masters tournament fifty times in his career. He has a good, non-alcoholic beverage named for him. An Arnold Palmer is half lemonade, half iced tea. Very refreshing.

Words To Eat By
"I think somebody should come up with a way to breed a very large shrimp. That way, you could ride him, then, after you camped at night, you could eat him. How about it, science?"--Jack Handey.

That would be the perfect size for barbecue shrimp.

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Words To Drink By 
"I love drinking now and then. It defecates the standing pool of thought. A man perpetually in the paroxysm and fears of inebriety is like a half-drowned stupid wretch condemned to labor unceasingly in water; but a now-and-then tribute to Bacchus is like the cold bath, bracing and invigorating."--Robert Burns.