Have you ever had a family favorite recipe go dormant for a couple of decades and then realize you missed it, like a comfortable old pair of tennis shoes that got pushed to the back of the closet? And then, when rediscovered, you wondered how you ever got along without it?
That’s the case with my Mom’s marinated shrimp recipe. The shrimp have a fresh, herby, garlicky, tangy appeal, and you can’t eat just one. And – it’s easy to make! Click here to jump straight to the recipe, or “sit a spell”, as my grandmother used to say, and continue reading for the backstory.
Mom created the marinated shrimp recipe during the latter part of my childhood, when we lived on beach of the Texas Gulf Coast and fresh shrimp was abundant. It was a different approach than the locals took to cooking and serving this bounty from the sea, which isn’t surprising because Mom was a transplant to Gilchrist, Texas, having grown up all over the place as a child of a geophysicist who went wherever Superior Oil told him to go, taking the family with him. From Colorado to the Bahamas, to Midland, Texas and beyond, she developed an eclectic palate and adventurous desire to cook different cuisines.
I’m the primary beneficiary of Mom’s vast cookbook collection, some of which have a place of pride in the Glover Gardens Kitchen 2.0, and some of which are lovingly stored in the attic, waiting for their time to shine. The inheritance came in phases; some after Mom died in 2000, and more after Dad was reunited with her in 2017. That’s a 2017 batch below, just a fraction of the total.
Mom tried tons of different recipes and often made something new (to her) several times until she mastered it and then made it her own with flavorful flairs, twists and turns, getting us hooked on it — and then abandoning it forever as she pursued the next culinary victory with all the fervor of an entrepreneur seeking to go public with an invention. Such was the case with her Boston Brown Bread, steamed in a coffee can placed in her wok. I’m still grieving for that one, so if you have a good recipe for it, please share!
But the marinated shrimp was a go-to recipe in regular rotation, along with about a dozen others. Mom put the recipe in the cookbook that she and Dad created in support of his weekend hobby, a thriving real estate business.
I resurrected Mom’s marinated shrimp for a party in 2018 when a close friend hit the half-century mark, but didn’t capture and share it with you at the time. What was I thinking???
Once again, I forgot about this treasure for a while like those comfy tennies in the dark recesses of the closet. But then I saw the recipe recently in my battered copy of the Great Tastes of the Gulf Coast cookbook, which I now keep handy in a kitchen drawer. The kitchen remodel has enabled numerous little improvements like this.
Memories flooded back after I saw the recipe and inspired me to make the marinated shrimp last month when our Musical Millennial blazed into town for his brief summer visit between his Master’s degree in Jazz Comp and the beginning of the journey to the doctorate. His raving about it made me realize that this dish deserves a place in the regular rotation, just as it had in Mom’s lineup. He called the shrimp “effortlessly elegant” and said, after I told him I typed ‘you can’t eat just one,’ “Mom, you can’t eat just five!”
We served the shrimp again last Saturday night at a family “back to school” party for Hurricane Thomas (as I’ve taken to calling him), and a couple of the attendees were taken on a tastebud trip down memory lane, recalling the dish on my Mom’s table all those years ago. It was really heartwarming to share this memory with them, and reminded me of the strong connection people make over food. A wise man once said,
“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.”Anthony Bourdain
Yes, yes and yes. We miss you, Anthony.
And now, the recipe.
Nancy’s Marinated Shrimp
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil (see note)
- ¼ cup good-quality balsamic vinegar (see note)
- ¼ cup lemon juice (juice from one lemon) and zest from the same lemon (zest is optional)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp dry mustard
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 dried bay leaf
- fresh and/or dried herbs, any combination of oregano, tarragon, rosemary, basil, dill and parsley, or all
- if using fresh, about a tablespoon
- if using dried, about a teaspoon
- 2 lbs. peeled and deveined raw shrimp, heads and tails off, ready to boil (not pre-cooked – see note)
- 1 lemon, halved
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1-2 dried cayenne peppers (optional)
Garnish / Finishing
- Small amount of any of the fresh herbs noted above
- Salt to taste
Combine all ingredients for the marinade in a medium bowl and stir.
Fill a large soup pot with water, leaving room to add the shrimp, and put on the stove on high heat. Add a tablespoon of salt, squeeze the lemons halves into the water and then add them, and add the bay leaves and cayenne peppers, if using. Bring to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook for about 2 minutes, or until they’ve just turned pink. While the shrimp are cooking, prepare a colander in the sink to drain them. After they’ve drained, add them while still very warm to the bowl of marinade and toss to mix.
Chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, stirring one or more times to ensure that the marinade is evenly distributed. Add salt to taste.
To serve, remove the shrimp from the refrigerator and transfer to a serving platter, leaving most of the marinade in the bowl, and garnish with fresh herbs, if desired. Let it sit out for about 15 minutes before serving.
This a really easy recipe, but there are a few non-negotiable components:
- The olive oil must be tasty on its own; don’t use a cheap mass-produced oil that you wouldn’t dip bread in, for instance. You can use flavored olive oil if you choose a flavor that goes with the dish.
- The same goes for the balsamic vinegar – use a good quality one that you’d be fine with dipping bread into, and a flavored one is just fine, if you prefer, and if it fits the flavor profiles. I’ve been using a Serrano Honey White Balsamic vinegar from Pass Christian Olive Oils and Vinegars, and it is lovely. You could also use red wine vinegar.
- The warm shrimp absorbs the flavors, and that’s why you should never use pre-cooked shrimp. It will not wow you or your guests if you start with pre-cooked shrimp.
- While dried herbs are fine, make sure you have at least one or two fresh ones. This also makes a difference.
Join Me in the Kitchen
Mom’s name was Nancy, and I think it’s fitting that this recipe should be named after her. There are many marinated shrimp recipes out there, but hers is a little more flavor-forward than the others I’ve seen. Give it a try and let me know what you think. Hurricane Thomas says it’s a “must have 5” recipe. 😊
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