Okay, I know. If you don’t have any southern roots, the name “pickled shrimp” might not sound that appetizing. It conjures up images of all the notorious pickled fish out there that make noses wrinkle at the very mention of them: pickled herring…lutefisk…I know.
If I’d been given the opportunity to name this dish I might switch it up to something more relatable. Marinated shrimp? Antipasti-style shrimp? Okay, there’s a reason they don’t ask me to name things.
But I’m telling you, this is a really delicious dish. Jumbo shrimp (this is the time to go for those prawns, don’t hold back) hang out in a slightly spicy marinade with sliced bell peppers, capers and red onion. The marinade is complex and boasts some heat; made with apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard and hot sauce. To be honest, this dish reminds me of one of my favorite cultural culinary blends: Southern United States and Italian cuisine. Don’t get me wrong, pickled shrimp is a legitimate and wonderful part of the Southern historical food canon. The title is secure, nobody is coming for it. I can’t think of a straight-up Italian equivalent to this plate of food. But this particular version of the classic always struck me as one that I could sneak onto the antipasti table without risking my figurative-Italian-Nonna clutching her rosary and fainting dead away. And during the Feast of the Seven Fishes, no less.
I also love an appetizer that forces you to be kind to yourself when you’re entertaining — that is, one that forces you to prepare it in advance. This one needs a couple of days in the fridge to marry the flavors, so planning is required*. Once you’re ready to serve, don’t toss the extra marinade! Pour it over the top of the dish because you’re going to want to dip some crostini in there, sure as shrimp.
*a piece of advice on this: If you’re using a smaller size of shrimp, you might want to consider lowering the time you keep the shrimp in the marinade. Depending on their size, they may only need a day in the fridge, or, if we’re talking bay shrimp (which I wouldn’t recommend) they’ll be ready in just a few hours. If left in too long, they’ll take on a mealy texture, and that’s no fun for anybody.
Adapted from Lee Bailey’s California Wine Country Cooking
2 bell peppers, thinly sliced
I small red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons capers, drained
1.5 lb jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined with the tail left on
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon hot sauce (I used Frank’s Red Hot)
1 tablespoon worcestershire
¼ tomato sauce
½ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup grapeseed oil, or other neutral oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
A few grinds of black pepper
In a blender, combine dijon, hot sauce, worcestershire, apple cider vinegar, tomato sauce, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary (If you like a lot of heat, feel free to add more hot sauce). Set aside.
Heat 2 teaspoons grapeseed oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add shrimp and cook until just pink on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool.
In a large container with a lid, combine shrimp, peppers, onion, and capers. Pour marinade over the mixture and stir gently, making sure the shrimp and vegetables are fully coated. Place in the fridge and allow to marinate for at least 24 hours, but preferably 2-3 days.
Serves 6 as an appetizer