Fragrant Silk Road Barbecue Shrimp

My grandfather used to make barbeque shrimp with nothing but a stick of butter, lemon, and black pepper.  It was very peppery, a bit sour, but quite savory. I'd stand next to him as he went crazy with the pepper shaker and sneeze my head off.  

Over the years I’ve had many a different rendition of this classic Gulf Coast dish, but I’ve found that the ones I love the best have a nice amount of black pepper. Fortunately black pepper goes with just about any flavor, including other peppers and spices.  One of my favorite pairings is black pepper and sumac, which is a Mediterranean spice with a citrusy scent, and cumin.  I also love Jamaican Pick-a-Peppa sauce, which is tamarind-based condiment with a lot more soul than Worcestershire, and melts right into the butter and wine sauce.  These incredibly diverse flavors come together into an luscious, lick-your-fingers sauce.  

This is great to serve at a party or as an appetizer.  Eat with your hands and sop up the sauce with toasted baguette. 

Note: You can buy Pick-a-Pepper sauce and sumac at World Market, many Whole Foods, and on Amazon.  Superior sumac, fennel seed, and cumin can found be at one of my favorite sources for spices, La Boîte.


For the spice mix:

1 tablespoon ground sumac

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon fennel seed

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 teaspoons black pepper

1 teaspoon lemon zest

For the shrimp:

1 pound shrimp, shell on

2 teaspoons olive oil

½ yellow onion roughly chopped

1 rib of celery and leaves, diced small

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon tomato paste

3 cups water

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 garlic cloves, well smashed

1 tablespoon minced shallots

1 tablespoon Pick-A-Peppa sauce

½ cup white wine

1 sprig rosemary

1 teaspoon olive oil

Juice of one lemon

Chopped parsley and cilantro, to finish


1.        Peel and devein shrimp, leaving the tails intact and reserving the shells.

2.        In a medium saucepan, heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the shrimp shells and saute until pink, about 1 minute.  Add the onion and celery and saute until soft, about 4 minutes.  Add the tomato paste, stir to coat the shells and the vegetables, then pour in the water.  Tuck in the bay leaf.  Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.  Cook uncovered while you clear your work space and start the rest of the dish – about 20 minutes. Keep a strainer nearby.

3.     In a small, heavy bottom saucepan, add 1 tablespoon of the butter and heat over medium heat.  Add the garlic and shallots and saute until soft, about 2 minutes.  Add the Pick-a-Peppa sauce, wine, and sprig of rosemary.  Bring to a boil and boil until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.  While this is cooking, strain the shrimp stock into a bowl, then pour it into the saucepan. Stir once, then boil until reduced to about 1 cup of liquid.  Turn off the heat and discard the sprig of rosemary and bay leaf.

4.    Heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil in a large, deep skillet over high heat.  Add the shrimp and sear until pink all over.  Add all of the spice mix and toss with the shrimp.  Pour in the sauce and bring to a boil.  Then add the remaining butter and stir into the shrimp.  Lower to a simmer until you have a nice sauce.

5.  To finish, stir in the lemon juice.  You can serve right out of the skillet pan.  Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and cilantro, and with some toasted baguette.