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LIBBY WIERSEMA: Pickled shrimp makes the perfect summer supper
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LIBBY WIERSEMA: Pickled shrimp makes the perfect summer supper

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Shrimp season is in full swing, and you should be taking advantage of that abundance.

In my opinion, South Carolina shrimp is the cream of the crop; I have never tasted better. My summer calendar is penciled in with jaunts to the coastline for replenishing my shrimp supply. Murrells Inlet, Georgetown, McClellanville, Mt. Pleasant, Edisto Island and on down to Bluffton – I hit them all at various times during the season.

I want my shrimp fresh off the boat, and living in South Carolina makes that aspiration an easily attainable goal. What I don’t eat right away goes into the freezer, so I have plenty to go with my grits and rice during the warm weather months.

My favorite shrimp dishes are those requiring the lightest touches. A gentle poaching and chilling make up the extent of any cooking and are the first steps for three of my summertime go-tos: shrimp salad, shrimp cocktail and pickled shrimp.

Today I want to focus on pickled shrimp, a quintessential Lowcountry staple of cocktail parties and light suppers on days when the temps call for a glass of iced tea and something cool and fresh to eat.

If you’ve never had this pickled wonder, keep reading, because you are about to meet your new favorite shrimp dish. Though it might sound odd, this is literally shrimp as a pickle, though what that looks like in modern times is different from the days of old. In Charleston and Savannah, cooks would preserve the pickled shrimp right alongside pickled peaches or okra, processing jars of them to be stored at room temperature until ready to eat. This made for a vinegar-forward condiment – which is how the pickled shrimp were used.

When refrigeration came along, pickled shrimp became a marinated dish typically served after a few hours of chilling, often as a salad entrée or hors d’oeuvre. I guarantee the finished result tastes far better than any preconceived notions swimming around in your head as you read these descriptions.

While I’ve had my fair share of it over the years as an appetizer at parties and such, I fell in love with the pickled shrimp from Charleston’s Edmund’s Oast a few years back. Served on aioli-slathered rye, it was a marvel that called into play everything that makes traditional pickled shrimp so good and a few things that pushed the envelope just enough to make it seem novel.

It became one of the brewing company’s most beloved dishes. Then, the unthinkable happened: In 2017, they announced it was leaving the menu board and feted it with an “RIP Pickled Shrimp” campaign so fans could say a proper goodbye. The blow was somewhat tempered by their sharing of the recipe so we could all still enjoy the treat at home.

Then, the pandemic hit. Like so many eateries, Edmund’s Oast had to take unforeseen measures to stay afloat. If there was a bright spot to anything that happened in 2020, it was the return of pickled shrimp to their carryout menu. The stuff literally flew out of the place as grateful patrons in need of comfort found plenty of it in the form of their favorite pickled shrimp.

Not living in close enough proximity to partake in the frenzy, I continued to recreate it from home. And I’m doing it with gusto now that S.C. shrimp season is here.

Here is the lauded recipe to the pickled shrimp dish that will become part of your kitchen repertoire. It will require some advanced preparation to allow for proper pickling and to source ingredients. Start at least a day ahead and note that the shrimp and veggies are not pickled together.

When ready to serve, crack open a beer or pour some iced tea for the coolest, tastiest summer supper any Southern body could rustle up.

Edmund’s Oast Pickled Shrimp

To prepare shrimp:

1 lb. fresh S.C. shrimp, peeled, split and deveined

4 quarts of water

¾ cup of salt

Mix water and salt in a pan and bring to a simmer. Working in two batches, poach shrimp for 2 minutes, remove from pan and allow to cool to room temperature.

Pickling marinade

1 cup olive oil (not extra virgin)

2 tablespoons fish sauce (find in the Asian section of the grocery store)

2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning

Zest of 2 lemons

Mix well and pour over cooled shrimp. Pickle for 4 hours minimum or up to 4 days in the refrigerator.

For the vegetables:

½ red onion

5 stalks of celery

2 carrots

1 fennel bulb

1 red bell pepper

Thinly slice all vegetables and toss with ⅓ cup of salt. Allow to sit for 2 hours, then purge in water and rinse away salt.

Pickling marinade

Pickle veggies for a minimum of 12 hours in:

½ cup lemon juice

½ cup Champagne vinegar

½ cup olive oil

1½ teaspoons celery seed

1 tablespoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons green chili powder (check the Hispanic section of the grocery store, local tiendas or order online)

To serve:

Heavily butter 4 large slices of the best rye bread you can find. Brown on both sides in a pan or on a grill. Slather one side with aioli (1 cup Duke’s mayonnaise, 1½ tablespoons sherry vinegar, 1 teaspoon garlic powder). Cover bread with one layer of halved shrimp, then top the shrimp with pickled vegetables. Garnish with chopped Italian parsley and fresh dill. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with a tiny bit of salt and freshly ground pepper. Devour.

Libby Wiersema writes about dining, food trends and the state’s culinary history for Discover South Carolina as well as other print and online media. Contact her at libbyscarolinaspoon@gmail.com.

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