Shrimp are harvested from March to December in Louisiana, and one of the enduring ways to savor them (despite the calories) is fried.
What’s the right way to fry shrimp? Ask anyone with ties to the Gulf South, and brace yourself for strong opinions. Timing and temperature are an issue. You shouldn’t overcook the shrimp, yet the oil has to be hot enough so that the brief cook time ensures crisp texture. Then there’s breading and seasoning. What’s in the wet better? What’s in the dry batter? How much salt, pepper and other spices do you add to flavor the shrimp without overshadowing its delicate profile?
Before the summer slips completely away and we return to back-to-school order and discipline, I’d like to share my dad’s tried-and-true formula for decadent, deep-fried Gulf shrimp, something my family and I savored this past weekend.
Corn meal is the perennial favorite for dry battering, but here’s an argument for cracker meal. My father’s family, longtime Floridians, always used it for shrimp (and oysters) because it coats nicely and provides balanced crispy crunch without creating an over-thick crust. I’ve watched my dad and stepmom conduct the fried shrimp procedure countless times, but this time, over a weekend at the beach, we did it together. It’s in those moments of side-by-side demonstration that family recipes are really handed down.
3 pounds large Gulf shrimp, peeled and deveined (16-20 count)
For the wet batter
3 egg whites
½ cup whole milk
For the dry batter
2 cups cracker meal
Salt and pepper to taste*
Canola oil for frying (48 oz. container)**
Combine egg whites and milk in a small-medium bowl. Combine cracker meal and salt and pepper in a glass pie plate, or on large plate. Working about eight shrimp at a time, place shrimp in wet batter, then move them to pie plate and coat each thoroughly with dry batter. Place shrimp in single layers on a cookie sheet, covering each layer with wax paper. Refrigerate for about an hour.(Don’t skip this step!)
Fill a medium cast iron pot or Dutch oven with Canola oil (pour to about 3 inches in depth). Heat to 325-350 degrees. Cook shrimp in batches for about 3 minutes each, tasting each batch and adjusting heat if necessary.
*I go for moderate seasoning in the dry batter, opting instead for super-hot cocktail sauce and a variety of others sauces for dipping.
**The amount of oil you use will depend on the size and shape of your frying vessel, but a 48 ounce container will ensure you don’t run short.