Last week, when I was dining out with my sweetie at Town Hall, I had the most outrageously decadent shrimp appetizer. Although it’s called “Barbecue Shrimp” (as it is throughout the South), it has nothing to do with barbecue at all and mostly involves smothering shrimp in a rich sauce that contains a fearsome amount of butter.
I had made barbecue shrimp before, but the dish I had at Town Hall was so much better … so much, well, shrimpier … that my sweetie correctly concluded that it must be made with a shrimp stock.
I decided to re-create something similar for the birthday dinner I’m planning next week and was happily surprised to find the Town Hall recipe online here (the same recipe is here). However, like a lot of recipes that restaurants hand out when begged for instructions on re-creating their dishes, it’s not exactly user-friendly. In addition to omitting the instructions for making a shrimp stock, it also uses measurements by weight rather than volume (which I don’t mind, but isn’t the way that most home cooks think). It’s also missing a few important details about cooking times and cues for doneness. (Yes, I’m a sort of stickler for this stuff. It’s an occupational hazard of being a cookbook editor.)
So here’s my version of the recipe, which is hopefully easier to follow successfully, includes some of the missing information, and has a few minor adjustments based on my own preferences. Yes, it’s a lot of steps, but once the shrimp stock is made, it comes together pretty quickly, and the stock recipe makes almost a couple of quarts of stock, so once you’ve made that, you can keep it on hand in the freezer and use it in the future.
Town Hall’s Barbecue Shrimp
Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a main course
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1 lemon, sliced
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
4 dried bay leaves
Shells and heads from 1 1/2 pounds shrimp
Herb Butter Toast
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 clove garlic
2 green onions, white part only
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 loaf crusty French or Italian-style bread, such as a sweet batard
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Paul Prudhomme’s Seafood Magic
1/2 cup lager
1 cup shrimp stock
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 green onions, green part only, slivered lengthwise
To make the shrimp stock, combine all the ingredients in a stockpot and cover with water. Bring a simmer, skimming any foam that rises to the surface. Simmer for 45 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Strain again through a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Refrigerate, or freeze for later use.
To make the herb butter, combine the butter, garlic, green onions, parsley, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a small food processor and process until smooth.
To make the herb toasts, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the center of the loaf into four large slices, each about 1 inch thick. Save the end of the loaf for serving alongside the dish to sop of the juice. Spread each of the four slices with the about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the herb butter mixture. (Save the remaining herb butter for another use.). Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden brown and slightly crispy, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the barbecue shrimp. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp turn bright pink and just barely cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes.
Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to the shrimp and let melt. Add the garlic and Seafood Magic. Stir to combine. Add the lager and deglaze the pan, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 3 minutes.
Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside. Add the shrimp stock, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and Tabasco to the pan and continue to simmer until the liquid is reduced by three-quarters, 5 to 8 minutes.
Turn the heat to low. Cut the remaining butter into pieces. Add the butter, a few pieces at the time, whisking constantly to emulsify the sauce.
To assemble the dish, place one of two of the herb toasts on an individual plate and pile the shrimp on top. Ladle a generous amount of the sauce on top. Garnish with the parsley and slivered green onions and serve at once. (And step on it, before you lose the marvelous crisp-but-moist texture of the bread, which will soon turn soggy.) Serve the remaining pieces of the loaf alongside for sopping up the additional sauce.