My former mother and father-in-law, Kathryn and R.J. (a retired U.S. Army NCO) grew up in the lowlands of the Carolinas–both true coastal lowlanders and watermen. Mama (Kathryn), was one of the best cooks I have ever met. As a military spouse she had the opportunity to share the recipes, flavors and seasonings she grew up with while learning new ones and incorporating the rich and diverse flavors of friends from all over the U.S. as well as those from all around the world in the food she prepared for her family.
For the entire length of R.J.’s career, including tours of Vietnam as an Airborne Ranger and Instructor (a time in his life he very rarely spoke about and then only to tell you he didn’t want to talk about it) Mama scrimped and saved every penny she could and put it all in the bank. Just saving for “a little piece of dirt” as she used to say. When R.J. retired they realized their hard-earned dreams and bought a little farm outside of Clarkton, NC to finish rearing their three boys and within just a few years were able to purchase a tiny cottage on the inland waterway just north of Ocean Isle Beach.
When I married their oldest boy I was “fresh off the boat” from South Dakota, I had only recently left home to join the U.S. Air Force and while a lover of all things fish and seafood–I had certainly never experienced the wonder of seafood dragged up by a net on R.J.’s boat and then brought within the hour straight to Mama’s kitchen.
Let me tell you somethin’–the sweet, sweet shrimp of the Carolina coast is truly one of life’s extraordinary and enduring blessings!
“Cuban Shrimp” is one of Mama’s repertoire of many, many delicious seafood recipes! It has become one of my true “go to” recipes in the many years since I haunted the refrigerator at their little house on the inland waterway–snagging those sweet, briny bites of heaven at every opportunity! So, of course, I put together a batch for a small family reunion on my mother’s side a couple of years ago when they came out to Moonstruck Cottage for a visit. It was an unqualified hit–as it has always been!
My cousin, Anna, a professional caterer in Indiana, absolutely loved the shrimp but was uncertain that “Cuban Shrimp” would be a title that would get her Indiana clients to “try and then buy” for their events. So, after putting her head together with her mother, my Aunt Carol, she dubbed it “Martini Shrimp!” (Whatever it takes to get folks to try it that first time is all I have to say! After that, they can call it whatever they want to–I guarantee it’s that good! And that easy!!)
Mama Kathryn was and is an intuitive cook and rarely used measurements on recipes like this and I did they same for years–until now! But I’ve fiddled around until I got it all just right (with a couple of tiny twists of my own) so that I could share with all of you and ensure that you get consistently delicious results!
Tweaks aside, there is, of course, one key difference between her recipe and mine. As a resident of Virginia now, I no longer have access to the fresh-from-the-net and sublimely sweet shrimp of the Carolina coast that made Mama’s version so truly wonderful! So, I buy the best quality jumbo frozen shrimp I can find and, frankly, have never had anything but folks circlin’ back to the table (or rummaging through the fridge) for second and third helpings!
Waterside livin’ and eating–wherever and whenever you’re with family or friends!
Thanks, y’all, go to Mama Kathryn!
“Buen provecho!” (“Enjoy your meal!”) Get ready to channel your inner Cuban!!
- 8 cups water
- 2 T. “J.O. Brand” #2 Crab Seasoning (you can substitute Old Bay but should try J.O.–in my opinion it’s much, much better! See “Sources” below.)
- 32 oz. Package of Frozen, Tail-On, Ez-Peel Jumbo (31-40 shrimp per pound)–Thawed
- 21 oz. Jar of Pimento Stuffed Whole Spanish Olives (small or medium size works best)–3/4 c. of the brine and 1 cup of the olives
- About 1/3 of a med/large sweet white onion–Vidalia (8 years stationed in Georgia I find it hard to use anything else) or Walla Walla work best–cut in half and then very, very thinly (almost transparent)
In a heavy saucepan bring the water and crab seasoning to a rolling boil. Add the shrimp and cook for 4 minutes and absolutely NO longer than 5 minutes (the shrimp will continue to cook while cooling and again in the brine of the recipe).
Remove immediately–I use a Chinese wire “spider” with a wooden handle and wire bowl to store and then scoop from the water–and cool in a colander until just able to handle them and peel–removing the tails as you go. (The shell protects the shrimp and makes it far less likely that you will overcook and ruin them! Precooked shrimp will coarsen in the brine and become rubbery…or worse!)
Add the shrimp to a large glass bowl. While still warm, pour the brine from the jar of olives over the shrimp, add the olives and the thinly sliced sweet onion. Stir until all ingredients are well distributed.
Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight in a sealable container with enough room to stir or shake but small enough to ensure almost all the shrimp are covered in the brine. I have often used tall martini glasses as a more sophisticated presentation (before the recipe was rechristened for those Indiana clientele) for dinner parties as a starter and I’ve also showcased the recipe in a big, vintage depression glass or antique ironware/stoneware bowl for picking’ at picnics or buffets!
J.O. Brand #2 Crab Seasoning can be found for purchase online at: http://www.jospices.com