I’ve been making an oven-steamed shrimp recipe for several years now. Usually, I buy the extra jumbo frozen shrimp when it’s featured on a “Buy One, Get One Free” (BOGO) sale at our grocery store. Sometimes I buy the sale limit, throwing them in the freezer until the mood hits. “Frozen shrimp? Food heresy, you say. Not so much. Really. If you use good quality frozen shrimp for the right recipe (one that ensures they do not overcook), it can taste every bit as wonderful as the shrimp that comes right off the boat. (The shrimp is also deveined, legs removed, and the shells come off so easily.) However, before I discovered this recipe, frankly, I had no idea how good frozen shrimp could turn out either. All the frozen shrimp I’d had previously had been slightly mushy at best, or totally mushy AND flavorless at worst. That’s always a painful situation to me. It’s hard to see one of my favorite foods rendered inedible that way. But, I digress …
The basis for this recipe was Black Pepper Shrimp. I found it in our local newspaper’s Food section one day and was immediately intrigued. First, it was a shrimp recipe. I love shrimp. Second, it called for fresh ground black pepper, which I really enjoy. Third, it was quick and easy—only four ingredients. So far, no negatives! In the article accompanying the recipe, the author stated that he and his wife usually had this shrimp dish with nothing more than a bottle of Riesling. OKAY, that was it. That was the hook I could not resist. I love a good Riesling and I was being told this shrimp and Riesling alone would be the makings of a good meal—yeah, baby! When frozen shrimp was on a BOGO sale again, I stocked up, and I picked up a favorite Riesling.
First go round, I made the recipe exactly as stated, which is my usual MO (if I have all the ingredients and can safely eat them). Immediately upon serving, the shrimp was quite good and we enjoyed it. As promised, the Riesling complemented the heat of the black pepper well. But, the second night, with some leftover shrimp, the black pepper taste was overpowering—even somewhat “offset” by the fruitiness of the Riesling. Yet the presentation was gorgeous and the shrimp themselves were delicious … cooked to perfection—nice and juicy. Cooking and cleanup were so easy, too. It was clear that a slight recipe modification would be necessary and the solution was obvious: replace the black pepper with Old Bay seasoning. I live in Virginia very close to the Potomac River and not far from the Chesapeake Bay. Old Bay seasoning to us is akin to green chiles to someone from New Mexico … an absolute “staple” for flavoring, particularly for seafood.
Since then I’ve been making the shrimp using Old Bay instead of the black pepper and adjusting the amounts for butter and seasoning as the mood strikes. Without a doubt, the Old Bay version is excellent. But, in trying to eat dairy free, I really wanted to make this recipe using olive oil versus butter. Last night I decided to give it a try using olive oil over butter. I confess I was skeptical. But, first, a little background …
My husband had purchased 5 pounds of frozen shrimp from a local seafood dealer at the last minute for a Super Bowl party. He brought them home and I looked at them and I looked back at him with raised eyebrows. He had left to buy cooked spiced shrimp … what happened? It turned out the weather was so cold at the time that the seafood establishment’s outdoor cooker was not operational because their gas lines kept freezing. Sad story, huh? LOL But, I had a lot going on at the time and cooking 5 pounds of shrimp was not on my agenda. My husband said he’d cook them. Uh huh, right … I know how that works. Oh, he is a really good guy and he makes a mean omelet (more of a frittata actually) and flips the meat on the grill from time to time, but he does not really cook. So, after a brief “discussion,” the shrimp was placed in the freezer. I called another seafood establishment whose spiced shrimp is my favorite. In addition, to their special seasoning mix (red pepper, etc.), they use pickling spices, which add a very distinct and special flavor. (Their price is even comparable to the cost when I buy and cook the shrimp myself.) So we picked up the 5 lbs of spiced shrimp on the way to the party and all was good.
But, since February, the box of shrimp has waited in the freezer. Last night, I really wanted shrimp. I did not really want 5 pounds of shrimp, but I didn’t plan on buying more shrimp until we’d cooked that. I also had two beautiful artichokes on hand. We are artichoke addicts, but addicts of real artichokes, not the marinated, vinegary kind you find in a jar. Steamed artichokes and spiced shrimp are one of our perfect meals. Absolutely nothing else is required. (Well, okay, that Riesling is still a pretty good bet!) In fact, if you add a salad, a potato, and/or bread, you’ll be taking away from the flavors of the shrimp and artichokes, not to mention providing way too much to eat. If artichokes aren’t in season, the great salad with the shrimp are another great combo.
While the artichokes steamed, the box of frozen shrimp sat on the counter. I had this naïve notion that they might thaw just enough so that I could chip off half of them and put the other half back in the freezer. Wrong. By the time, the artichokes were done about an hour later, no thawing had occurred. So I cooked one batch of about 3 pounds and a second batch of 2 pounds. One batch I made using butter, garlic, and Old Bay. For the other batch, I simple replaced the butter with olive oil, still adding garlic and Old Bay. At the last minute, I opted for extra virgin olive oil for the richer taste rather than the milder basic olive oil. My dear, dear friend, Jennifer, had brought this “personal size” olive oil to our last meeting and about half the carton was left.
When I tasted the version made with olive oil, I was so pleased … thrilled actually. This version of the shrimp totally exceeded my expectations. They were just absolutely fabulous. By that time, my husband had eaten several of his “butter” shrimp and was raving over them and the artichoke as usual. (Did I mention we love artichokes?) I asked him to taste the olive oil version. He did and said they tasted wonderful and pretty much the same to him, except he added that “my” version tasted a little spicier. I chuckled to myself because I had actually used less Old Bay, proportionally, in my version. The olive oil had actually enhanced the Old Bay flavor. It had also given some of the shrimp a beautiful burnished appearance, but yet they were not overcooked. Happily, the olive oil version will be the one we make in the future.
In hindsight, I could have cooked that 5 pounds of shrimp for the February party just like I did last night—easily in the oven in two batches—but I’m glad I didn’t because we thoroughly enjoyed them last night, we will enjoy them again tomorrow night, and I’m peeling a little over a pound to add to the jambalaya for our support group meeting later this week. Yum. These shrimp make for a very simple, yet impressive meal—equally perfect for hanging out at home with family or sharing with guests.
Okay, here’s your quiz … can you identify each version? Is the shrimp on the baking sheet the butter version or the olive oil version? What about the shrimp on the plates? Which one is which?
- 3 pounds shrimp, with shells on
- 8 tbsp butter (or 6 tbsp olive oil) (adjust amounts to taste)
- 3 tbsp chopped garlic (I use minced in the bottle; I am lazy)
- 4 tbsp Old Bay seasoning (adjust amounts to taste, or optional: if you like “plain,” just skip)
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Rinse and drain shrimp. Arrange in a single layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet. (Note: You don’t have to be a fanatic about this. I did not have a single layer last night. I just made sure to coat shrimp well and turn so both sides were cooked properly.)
- Melt butter (or warm the olive oil) in saucepan, adding garlic to sauté a few minutes. (I just used the microwave for about a minute.)
- Pour butter (or olive oil) over the shrimp and stir to coat well. Sprinkle about half the Old Bay over the shrimp.
- Bake until shrimp are pink, about 5 minutes. Use a spatula or tongs to turn the shrimp. Sprinkle with the remaining Old Bay, and bake another 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately.
Adapted from recipe by Paula Deen