Easy Pickled Shrimp

Every region has its favorite foods. You know, the things that you can expect to find multiple variations of at a potluck, family picnic or church social. In the South, that would be a relatively short list of ham biscuits, pimiento cheese, collard greens, deviled eggs, pulled pork bbq, banana pudding and sweet tea. 

If I could add one item to that list, it would be this pickled shrimp. It’s a quick and easy way to serve up everyone’s favorite shellfish, without frying it or burying it in sauce. If you can boil water and slice an onion, you can make this, and you’ll find it incredibly versatile.

I found this recipe on Pinterest when I was looking for— wait, what was I looking for? Who cares, because I stopped scrolling when my eyes caught the name on this recipe clipping: Pat Conroy.

The name Pat Conroy may not ring a bell for you, but I’ll bet you know some of his work. The late American novelist wrote numerous books, fiction and non-fiction, including The Prince of Tides, which he adapted into a screenplay for a Barbra Streisand-produced film that earned seven Oscar nominations.

Pat Conroy had a thing for the South, especially South Carolina, where he is buried. I first learned about him when I visited Hilton Head many years ago and dined at a restaurant that carried his name. Conroy’s—now permanently closed— was an elegant-meets-coastal-casual place inside the Marriott hotel, and its she crab soup made such an impression that I dined there three times over the course of a week, even though I was not a guest at the hotel. The rich and creamy seafood bisque was said to be one of Pat Conroy’s favorites, and I decided then and there that he was my kinda guy.

So when I saw this recipe for pickled shrimp, straight from Conroy himself, I knew it would be a winner. The ingredients are straightforward— onions, garlic, capers, crushed red pepper, spices, vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil— and as I blended these things together, it occurred to me that you could substitute any number of things for variations of this delicious mix. Why not use pimientos instead of capers, or jalapenos instead of crushed red pepper? Couldn’t you put a Greek spin on it with some oregano and chopped kalamata olives? Oh, the possibilities!

I added a spoonful of sugar, just because it’s the South and well, it’s what we do here. That little touch of sweet is a nice balance to the acidity of vinegar and lemon. Then, I dipped the shrimp ever-so-briefly into simmering water before spilling them into the pickling liquid. The prep and cook time are minimal in this dish, and the rest of the magic happens in the fridge when the mixture melds and mingles overnight. I doubled the weight of shrimp in my recipe and found that the marinade was sufficient. If you do the same, plan to give the mixture a stir every few hours.

This pickled shrimp is tangy, briny, fresh, herbal, spicy and altogether perfect for spring or summer. For sure, it’s a Southern thing that I have only made twice myself, but that is going to change, especially now that my mind is set on swapping in other flavors. We served this shrimp on the hors d’oeuvres table for Kentucky Derby, in a large bowl tucked inside an even larger bowl filled with crushed ice— so easy! Our guests raved about it, and what little bit was left over turned a simple pile of arugula into a weeknight dinner salad that was as delicious as it was effortless.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to begin my search for the perfect she crab soup recipe. I’m sure Conroy has one out there somewhere!

Easy Pickled Shrimp

  • Servings: About 10
  • Difficulty: So Easy!
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This easy recipe is a good one to have in your pocket for a brunch, potluck or any summer gathering. For best results, use fresh, never frozen shrimp.


  • 1 medium sweet onion (preferably Vidalia), cut into thin, lengthwise slices
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 ounces non-pareil capers, drained and lightly chopped
  • 4 dried bay leaves, crushed into small pieces
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (zest, too)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • Several twists of freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 tsp. celery seed
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 cup good quality, extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds fresh large shrimp, peeled and de-veined


  1. Combine all ingredients except shrimp in a large bowl fitted with a lid.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt to the pot and stir to dissolve. Reduce heat to medium to keep water at a consistent simmer.
  3. Using a spider strainer or other mesh-style scoop, add shrimp, about 1/2 pound at a time, and cook only until shrimp is bright pink and slightly curled (60 to 90 seconds). Transfer immediately to the bowl of pickling liquid and toss gently to coat the shrimp in the liquid. Repeat until all shrimp are cooked.
  4. Let the shrimp cool for about 20 minutes, then cover bowl and transfer to the fridge to chill for 6 to 8 hours. Give it a gentle stir every few hours and just before serving.
  5. Serve in a large bowl, with pickling liquid, inside a larger bowl filled with crushed ice to keep it cold.

Seelbach Cocktail

When I mention Kentucky Derby and cocktails in the same sentence, there’s a very good chance that a mint julep pops into your mind— and for good reason. The refreshing bourbon and mint drink piled high with crushed ice is ubiquitous at Derby festivities everywhere, including Churchill Downs. But not everyone loves mint, and some of us like to change things up just for the sake of change. 

I consider myself an explorer in the world of cocktails, and when I ran across this one in a little gift book, Tiny Bubbles, I bookmarked it for this year’s Derby. Author Kate Simon describes this drink as the one “for your bourbon-obsessed friend who thinks he doesn’t like bubbly cocktails,” and goes on to describe the drink as being like a “fizzy Old Fashioned.”

I can’t attest to the drink’s ability to win over a non-fizz drinker— my husband certainly would not be swayed, and most people don’t announce their dislike for something with a secret hope of being convinced otherwise— but I do think this cocktail has an elegance and flair about it that is quite nice, especially because it is made with easy-to-find ingredients. If you’re looking for a change, maybe this is the one.

This lovely libation is known as a Seelbach Cocktail, so named for the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville where it is said to have originated in the years before Prohibition. As with so many cocktail backstories, there have been a few objections to the declared history of the Seelbach, and even the bartender who supposedly revived it in the 1990s “from an old hotel menu” fessed up to having conjured the story for his own glory. 

But I say, who cares? The drink is fun without being too fussy, and a little change of pace is a good thing once in a while, even for an event as steeped in tradition as the Kentucky Derby. I don’t mind that the backstory is pure fiction, as long as it tastes good.

Bourbon (I used Elijah Craig Small Batch) is paired with Cointreau, an orange liqueur that mimics the expressed orange in a typical Old Fashioned. The cocktail is heavy on the bitters (two kinds, traditionally), which is a nice balance to the sweetness of the Cointreau, and a brut Champagne makes an entrance to provide the fizzy part. A cherry sits on the bottom of the glass as a sweet, last-sip reward, and an orange twist garnish gives it a fancy photo finish. I made my “twist” extra frilly, and as it sits perched on the rim of the chilled flute, it reminds me of the flashy fascinator hats that will be worn by the ladies at the Kentucky Derby.

Whenever I’m making cocktails, I like to get my ducks in a row— or horses, as the case may be for this weekend’s event. There’s no joy in realizing after you’ve started mixing that you forgot to wash the orange, for example, that will be used for garnish. And hopefully you’re doing that. Don’t ever cut up your fruit straight from the grocery store, as any variety of junk and pesticides will have taken up residence in the peel. Line up your tools and ingredients, and ice down the champagne flute so your drink stays chilly after it’s poured.

As many of my blog followers know, I have trouble sticking to the rules and rarely make a recipe exactly as written, so I’ll explain my “swaps” from the original Seelbach recipe, beginning with the mixing vessel. The Tiny Bubbles recipe suggests using a shaker, but I tried it and had trouble straining it from the shaker top neatly into the small opening of my flute glass. The rule of thumb in mixology is to use a shaker if you are combining ingredients with widely different viscosity— the thickness or simple syrup and watery nature of citrus juices will blend with alcohol better in a shaker. But this drink is all alcohol, so a mixing glass is my choice for easier dispensing. Use what works for you.

As for the bitters, the original recipe calls for both Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters, the latter of which has a lovely pink color but a strong anise flavor. I tried it that way, but didn’t love it. The combination doesn’t fit my perception of Kentucky Derby elegance, and I’ve been looking for a way to use these Hummingbird bitters, which combine rose and citrus essences. The Derby is literally the “Run for the Roses,” and I liked that tie-in for this frilly-meets-fizzy drink. It worked beautifully! If the Hummingbird bitters are not an option for you (I found them online but it’s a bit late to order them for the Derby), I personally think orange bitters would be a better fit than the Angostura-Peychaud’s combination. Experiment to find what tickles your fancy.

To get started on my cocktail, I made my orange peel garnish first by stripping off only the bright orange part of the fruit, leaving the bitter white pith behind. Use a sharp paring knife to trim it into clean lines, and make cuts as follows— a long, thin cut in the center of one end (this is where you’ll attach it to the rim of your glass), and several lengthy cuts on the other end, almost like fringe or a feather.

Wrap the orange peel snugly around a chopstick or wooden spoon handle and hold it for several seconds to coax it into shape. When it seems to be holding its own, begin making your cocktail.

Combine the bourbon, cointreau and bitters in an ice-filled cocktail mixing glass, and stir the drink for about 20 seconds to chill it down. If you’re using a shaker, have at it for about the same amount of time, until the shaker becomes uncomfortably cold.

Add a Luxardo cherry to the bottom of the flute, and don’t worry at all if a bit of the luscious syrup goes with it. Pour in about half of the specified champagne (this helps ensure the drink is well-mixed), then strain the cocktail over the glass and top it off with the rest of the bubbly. Perch your frou-frou orange garnish on the edge of a glass like a fascinator, and enjoy in moderation. Fair warning: the effervescence in this drink will go straight to your head, so it might be a good starter before you switch to something more mainstream. A mint julep, perhaps? 🙂

Seelbach Cocktail

  • Servings: 1 drink
  • Difficulty: Average
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With the flavors of an Old Fashioned, and the fizziness of Champagne, this Louisville-based cocktail will be a lovely option for a Kentucky Derby watch party.


  • 1 oz. bourbon (I used Elijah Craig Small Batch; it’s smooth and 94 proof)
  • 1/2 oz. Cointreau (or other orange liqueur)
  • About 7 drops Hummingbird bitters (available online, or substitute orange and/or Angostura)
  • 3 oz. brut Champagne or other sparkling wine, chilled
  • Ice for shaking/stirring and chilling glass
  • Good quality cocktail cherry, such as Luxardo
  • Strip of orange peel for garnish


  1. Fill champagne flute (or white wine glass) with ice to chill it.
  2. Fill a shaker or mixing glass halfway with ice. Add bourbon, Cointreau and bitters and stir or shake for about 20 seconds.
  3. Empty ice from flute and place cocktail cherry in the bottom.
  4. Pour about 2 oz. of the Champagne into the glass. Strain the cocktail into the glass and top it off with remaining Champagne.
  5. Garnish with orange twist.

Benedictine Spread

How do you know when a dish is a winner? Is it compliments received or perhaps a request for the recipe? Maybe it’s no words at all as the eaters enjoy each bite in blissful silence. It could be any of the above, but in my experience, an empty plate tells no lies!

When Kentucky Derby rolled around last year, my husband and I were invited to join some friends for an afternoon of snacking, sipping and generally feeling fancy with gussied-up hats and minty bourbon cocktails. I offered to bring an appetizer and though it isn’t really my style to share a straight-up classic, I decided on Benedictine, a cream cheese-based spread developed by an early-20th century Louisville caterer.

As Wikipedia tells it, Jennie Carter Benedict served this concoction to her catering clients and later to guests in her tea room, though at that time it was more of a silky dip than a spread, made with the juices of cucumber and onions and sometimes a few drops of green food coloring for effect. The combination of cream cheese and cucumber is cool and refreshing and makes Benedictine a delectable filling in pretty cucumber sandwiches. Its popularity continues all these years later, with a few modernizations. There will be plenty of it served up at Kentucky Derby gatherings alongside mint juleps and hot brown sandwiches, and probably even at Churchill Downs itself when the riders take their positions on the first Saturday of May.

Benedictine is made with very simple ingredients, requires no cooking, and can be made a day ahead and stored in the fridge until post time. And, as I mentioned, the empty plate I brought home after last year’s Run for the Roses was proof that this appetizer was a clear winner.

This recipe for Benedictine is inspired by the original, but follows my own general formula for a cream cheese-based dip. As with my tzatziki dip, I salted and drained the grated cucumbers to ensure the shreds would not turn the spread soupy. I did the same with the onions, swapping new paper towels over the mixture until they no longer felt soaked. I did this part of the recipe first, and let the cukes rest in the fridge for a couple of hours before proceeding. I used Persian cucumbers because they have fewer seeds and the skin is tender enough for some of it to be included.

The creamy base was a blend of light cream cheese, sour cream and a bit of mayonnaise. Rather than drops of hot sauce (mentioned in the Wikipedia article), I gave my Benedictine a little zing from a bourbon barrel-rested Worcestershire sauce made in Louisville—that seemed apropos for a Derby Day recipe and it was a pleasant, savory complement to the freshness of the cucumbers. This sauce also happens to be vegetarian, as it omits the usual anchovies.

If I were in a hurry or making cucumber sandwiches, this would have been ready as soon as the drained cucumber and onion shreds were mixed in, but I wanted to serve my Benedictine on a platter with fresh veggies for dipping and some toasted mini brioche squares, so I pressed it into a bowl lined with plastic wrap and gave it some fridge time to set up for prettier presentation.

When I inverted it onto a lettuce-lined platter a few hours later, it occurred to me that fresh herbs would finish it nicely. Unfortunately, all I had in the fridge that day was cilantro (not the best match here), and it was too late for a last-minute dash to the store, so I had to concede to using dried dill leaves. The flavor was still very good, but fresh dill would take the win—by a nose. 😉

Benedictine Spread

  • Servings: 6 to 8 as an appetizer
  • Difficulty: Average
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  • 2 Persian cucumbers*, cleaned and partially peeled (a little of the tender peel is fine and adds lovely color)
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • 8 oz. brick light cream cheese (or full-fat)
  • 1/4 cup stirred sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt)
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce (mine was aged in a bourbon barrel, available in specialty stores or online at https://bourbonbarrelfoods.com/product/bourbon-barrel-worcestershire-sauce/)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh dill leaves, chopped

Persian cucumbers are usually about five inches length and they have fewer seeds and more tender skin than typical “slicing” cucumbers. Consider peeling and seeding other types of cucumber. This recipe requires about 1 cup of grated cucumber. I peeled one of my Persians, and kept the other intact.


  1. Use a box grater to shred the cucumbers and onion. Place shreds in a bowl or plate, lined with layers of paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then wrap in the paper towels; refrigerate a couple of hours to draw out as much excess moisture as possible.
  2. By hand or with a stand mixer, combine cream cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise until smooth and fluffy. Stir in Worcestershire. Cover and refrigerate until ready to combine with cucumber mixture.
  3. Use clean paper towels to blot away any lingering excess moisture from cucumber-onion shreds. Blend evenly into cream cheese mixture.
  4. Transfer Benedictine spread to a small bowl lined with plastic wrap. Press and smooth the mixture so that it assumes the shape of the bowl with no air bubbles. Cover and refrigerate a couple of hours to firm up.
  5. Invert Benedictine onto a lettuce leaf-lined serving plate. Remove plastic and sprinkle with fresh herbs. Serve with fresh vegetables, crackers, crostini or toasted brioche squares.

Kentucky Hot Brown Pizza

“Riders up!” will be the exclamation this Saturday evening, when the jockeys rev up their adrenaline to compete in the Kentucky Derby, which has long been called “the greatest two minutes in sports.” I cannot claim to know much about the horses or the race, but I do enjoy the culinary traditions that accompany this annual event. The signature drink, of course, is the mint julep, which I have globalized this year by swapping in a mint relative to create a Thai Basil Julep. The signature dish of the Derby is an open-faced beauty of a sandwich known as the Kentucky Hot Brown, created in the 1920s by chefs in the Brown Hotel in Louisville, which is also home to the Derby. The Hot Brown is an all-American spin on a Welsh rarebit, served warm with slices of turkey breast and fresh tomato, draped in Mornay sauce and topped with criss-crossed slices of bacon—all of that lusciousness is piled high on a thick slice of buttery, toasted brioche points. It’s a tradition so beloved in Kentucky, the Brown Hotel’s website has a special page dedicated to the Hot Brown.

That’s the tradition, anyway. But in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not prone to follow tradition to the letter. I am all about twisting up the classics, and I’m doing it again, moving all the Kentucky Hot Brown ingredients off the thick brioche and onto a thin crust pizza. All the proper flavors are in attendance, but in a slightly different order and a more casual presentation. You’re welcome.

I have taken one major shortcut, using low-sodium, deli turkey breast slices. The turkey, in my opinion, is not the star of a Kentucky hot brown, so I don’t need to roast my own. The smoky bacon is par-cooked, but still soft, because I know that it will take on more crispiness under the intense heat of my oven. The tomatoes are simple—just thin slices of fresh Roma, a low-moisture variety that won’t make my pizza soggy, and it will provide some freshness to cut through the richness. That leaves only one component—the Mornay—and that is where I put most of my energy for this pizza interpretation of a Kentucky hot brown. Mornay is the special sauce that elevates all the other flavors, transforming a turkey and bacon sandwich into something rich and special. And it’s easy to make, beginning with a simple bechamel.

If the idea of bechamel seems intimidating, I suppose you can blame it on the French name. Thankfully, when my Gram taught me to make it so many years ago, she just called it “white sauce,” and she made it so often that it never occurred to me to be nervous about it. Take away the fancy name and bechamel is nothing more than small amounts of butter and flour, cooked until bubbly and whisked up with milk, then accented with freshly grated nutmeg. There’s nothing fancy about it, and it is terrifically versatile. A quick stir-in of gruyere cheese and a little white pepper makes it a Mornay and transforms this turkey and bacon pizza into a Kentucky hot brown pie.

Do yourself a favor and prep all the ingredients ahead of time. Once this pizza party begins, things move quickly. Kind of like the Kentucky Derby.


1 1/2 Tbsp. salted butter

2 Tbsp. finely diced onion

2 tsp. all-purpose flour

1 cup whole milk

About 1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

1 oz. white American cheese*

2 oz. cubed smoked Gruyere cheese*

2 Tbsp. shredded white cheddar*

A pinch of ground white pepper

4 slices thin-cut smoked bacon, stretched and cut into two-inch pieces

3 slices low-sodium turkey breast*

1 large Roma tomato, washed and thinly sliced

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 ball of My Real N.Y. Pizza Dough* (or your own favorite), rested at room temperature


American cheese is usually some form of cheddar, processed with a special enzyme and salts that make it ultra-melty. This is a go-to ingredient for any creamy cheese sauce I make. If you are skittish about using “processed” cheese, you can use regular block cheese, but the sauce will not be as creamy and is likely to separate and become oily during baking of the pizza.

The Boar’s Head brand of smoked Gruyere that I used here is also a processed cheese, but a regular Gruyere will work fine in combination with the white American cheese. In the original Brown Hotel recipe, a good Parmesan would be in order. I selected this cheese for the smoke flavor, to play up the smoky bacon.

I recommend using a low-sodium version of turkey breast, or fresh, home-roasted if you wish. Typical deli turkey is very salty, and it may be too much, given that the bacon and cheese sauce already have a fair amount of sodium.

For this pie, I did something a little different with my N.Y. pizza dough. I subbed in a small portion of corn flour, as a subtle nod to the bourbon in our accompanying Derby drinks. It was terrific! Never stop experimenting, friends. If you choose to use my pizza dough recipe, please note that it should be made a couple of days ahead, so plan accordingly.

I bake my N.Y.-style pizzas on a pizza steel at 550° F. If you use a stone, follow manufacturer’s instructions. If you use a pan, do yourself a big favor and buy a stone or a steel. 😉
We use a steel made by Dough-Joe, and it has been an absolute game changer for our pizzas at home.


  1. Prepare the bechamel by melting butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the diced onion. When butter begins to brown, add flour and whisk until smooth. Continue cooking, whisking occasionally, until flour begins to brown and is very bubbly.
  2. Add milk and whisk until blended and thickened. Continue to cook a few minutes to soften the flavor. Stir in the freshly grated nutmeg and the skinniest pinch of kosher salt.
  3. Add the cubes of American cheese and whisk until melted. Repeat with smoked Gruyere and then with cheddar. Stir in the white pepper. Remove from heat and cover the pan so that the sauce does not form a skin. If you work ahead and refrigerate this, warm it to smooth, spreadable consistency before making the pizza.
  4. In a cast-iron skillet, cook the bacon pieces over medium-low heat, long enough to render the fat and brown the meat, but not long enough to crisp it. Transfer bacon pieces to a paper towel to drain excess fat.
  5. Cut the deli turkey slices into thin strips, then chop cross-wise into bits.
  6. Spread the tomato slices onto a paper towel and season with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Rinse the thyme sprigs, then pat dry and strip the leaves from the tough stems.
  7. Shape the pizza dough into a 14-inch round and place it on a floured, cornmeal-dusted peel for easy transfer to the oven.
  8. Spoon small dollops of the cooled Mornay sauce onto the dough, and gently even it across the dough with the back of your spoon.
  9. Arrange the turkey all over the sauce, then the bacon and tomato slices.
  10. Add more small dollops of Mornay, between and around the other ingredients. It’s OK to overlap the other toppings, but try not to “bury” them, and keep the dollops away from the edges of the pie.
  11. Sprinkle all over with the fresh thyme leaves, and slide the pizza onto the hot steel. Bake for about 7 minutes, until crust is golden and crispy and Mornay is browned and bubbly.

Hungry for more Kentucky Derby watch party foods?