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
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
- Combine all ingredients except shrimp in a large bowl fitted with a lid.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Serve in a large bowl, with pickling liquid, inside a larger bowl filled with crushed ice to keep it cold.