This--the best shrimp remoulade you've ever had in your life--is going to come with a hard lesson on sustainability. I can't ignore where my food comes from, and I do not apologize for caring about that or for telling others things they definitely don't want to hear. The consequences of burying your head in the sand are never good, and I am determined to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
I love shrimp and know it to be an excellent source of protein, but I eat it two or three times a year at most. That's because responsibly sourced shrimp is expensive, and this is an area in which I refuse to compromise. My brother, a marine biologist, takes it one step further--even though he loves seafood of every stripe, he hasn't had a single bite of it in over ten years. He understands the grave issues facing our oceans and our global seafood chain, and would rather opt out entirely than compromise what he knows to be true and right. You can visit Seafood Watch and/or download the app to ensure you always have the power to make the right choices too. As a disclaimer, I served this shrimp as part of a Christmas Eve appetizer spread with my family; I chose to serve shrimp because it was a special meal, but I tempered that indulgence by only purchasing 2 pounds of shrimp for 8 people rather than making it the star of the show.
Being a Texan, steady access to high quality fresh and frozen Gulf shrimp is a birthright. If you live in the tiny wedge of land connecting Florida and Alabama, your smug ass gets to use heavenly Royal Reds. But regardless of where you live, I urge you to use responsibly sourced shrimp. In Austin, I only buy my shrimp from Central Market, Whole Foods, or Quality Seafood (my first choice). Outside of buying directly from a shrimp boat, I would never consider buying shrimp from any other choice, including the majority of restaurants and an otherwise-reliable source such as HEB. The last time I bought frozen shrimp from their seafood case, I threw them away as soon as they'd thawed. They projected the nauseating, acrid stench of ammonia and were covered in some sort of gritty, baking soda-like film, and it was obvious there was more going on there than shrimp. I can't recall ever being more sad about throwing away food in my life, but it reminded me why I eat very little shrimp and pay as much money for it as I do. It's simply the right thing to do.
At the very minimum, steer clear of any farmed Asian shrimp that come frozen in bags in the freezer section (Indonesia and Thailand are big exporters). There are many reasons for this, chief among them the lack of transparency in the seafood supply chain, the use of indentured and slave labor on fishing vessels, and because the shrimp are raised in conditions that are objectively unsanitary and flat out disgusting. In my former life in advertising, one of my clients was a national fast-casual chain known for cheap meat and seafood, and the unregulated farming process for the anemic Asian shrimp they use includes feeding the shrimp a steady diet of things like untreated human excrement. Even in the US, where food regulation is a widely accepted joke, these farming methods are beyond the pale.
And don't think this chain is unique--every single neon sign popping into your head right now uses the exact same products. And if they're content to use shrimp of this quality, you can be certain the same substandard criteria extend to the rest of their ingredients (and let's be real: you can make better cheddar garlic biscuits at home). But because the global seafood industry is akin to a Wild West-style free-for-all, banning shrimp from places that use these methods would have no effect whatsoever. If you totally banned seafood from Indonesia, they could simply sell their product to India or Russia or any other un-banned country, who would then sell it on to us anyway. There is no oversight, no regulation, and no accountability. So if you weren't already aware that you were getting a side of shit with your three pound plate full of $9 Cajun shrimp pasta, you are now. And now that you know better, you can do better. Tell your friends and use your dollars to vote for the cleanest and most sustainable options, because your only other options are to eat shit or learn to live without.
Once you've purchased your shrimp the right way, continue your streak of awesomeness by giving them the Cajun treatment listed below. And whatever you do, don't confine this remoulade to shrimp: you'll have leftovers from this recipe and it pairs beautifully with absolutely everything. Use it instead of tartar sauce, as a steak sauce, toss with other seafood or with roasted veggies, toss with roasted chicken to make chicken salad, serve with toast as a party dip, or use it as a sandwich spread. I have even been known, in times of varying drunkenness, to eat it straight off the spoon. To each their own.
adapted from Donald Link; serves 8 as an appetizer
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 Tbsp cayenne
- 10 dried bay leaves
- 2 lemons, thinly sliced
- 2 pounds medium shrimp in the shell
- 1 cup sauce remoulade (recipe follows)
- shredded iceberg lettuce (optional)
- 2 gallons of ice
Combine the salt, cayenne, bay leaves, and lemon slices in a large pot with 1 gallon of water. Cover and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Taking care not to breathe in the steam (you'll develop a hacking cough due to the cayenne), take the lid off and carefully add the shrimp. Cook until bright pink and just cooked through, 2-3 minutes. Immediately pour the ice into the pot to stop the cooking, and allow the shrimp to cool completely in the poaching liquid (5-10 minutes). Strain the shrimp and aromatics.
To make traditional shrimp remoulade, peel the shrimp, toss it in 1 cup of the sauce remoulade, and serve on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce. I prefer to put the shrimp and aromatics all together in a large bowl as a centerpiece, serving the remoulade on the side for dipping.
makes 1.5 cups
- 1/4 cup grated yellow onion
- 3/4 cup mayo (this is your preference; I choose to add less)
- 3 Tbsp whole grain mustard
- 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)
- 3 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
- 3 Tbsp prepared horseradish (more if yours is on the milder side)
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Use a rubber spatula to combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, adjusting seasonings to taste. Refrigerate at least 1 hour to let the flavors mingle.