By Chef James Briscione — Director of Culinary Research
The role of a chef goes far beyond preparing food. Be it in a restaurant, culinary school, test kitchen or anywhere else, great chefs find a way to educate, inspire and create connections. They may seem secondary to the job of cooking, but these duties of a chef can often be more important than the meals themselves. As Director of Culinary Research here at ICE, I find myself spending more time in these roles than I do behind the stove. Not that I’m complaining — it’s this part of the job that has taken me around the world, and recently brought me back home.
Since its inception four years ago, my wife Brooke and I have hosted The Wharf Uncorked, an end-of-summer food and wine festival on the Alabama Gulf Coast, right next door to our hometown of Pensacola, Florida. It has become a very important weekend to us for multiple reasons. First and foremost, it’s an amazing event that raises money for local charities. Secondly, it’s a fun day at the beach with a talented group of chefs. Finally, it’s a celebration of Gulf seafood — the food that both my wife and I grew up eating. Ever since an oil spill devastated the fisherman of this area, it has become increasingly important to let the world know that the Gulf of Mexico is open for business. Gulf seafood — shrimp, oysters and fish of all varieties — is both clean and delicious. In fact, the seafood from this region is some of the best I’ve ever tasted. But nothing is more tasty and unique than royal red shrimp, a lesser-known species that’s very popular with local chefs.
Royal red shrimp hit their peak, in terms of flavor, from the end of summer through fall. Unlike brown and pink species of shrimp, royal reds prefer the cool deeper water far from shore. They can be found up to 60 miles off the coast and their flavor is reminiscent of a fellow cold-water crustacean: the lobster. At this year’s festival, royal red shrimp were not only a secret ingredient in the Chef Showdown — a live one-hour cook off between four of the area’s top chefs (luckily, I have retired my competition apron and get to play host, judge and taste-tester for the evening), they were also a feature ingredient for my main stage cooking demo. Below is the recipe that I prepared so you can taste for yourself (sadly, you won’t get to experience all the terrible dad jokes that accompany my live cooking). Don’t worry if you don’t have royal red shrimp at your local seafood market — this dish is delicious with any variety of shrimp. I hope you are inspired to try this Gulf Coast favorite, and if you do, tell us in the comments how it turned out!
Bacon-Basted Royal Red Shrimp with Low Country Rice
Yield: Serves 4
2 cups long grain rice (like Carolina Gold)
24 pieces royal red shrimp
12 bamboo skewers
Barbecue rub, as needed
2 tablespoons water
8 strips thick cut bacon, sliced into lardons (small strips)
1 yellow onion, minced
2 red bell peppers, small dice
2 jalapeños peppers, ribs and seeds removed, small dice
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 cups canned tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
Juice of ½ lemon
Hot sauce, to taste
- Preheat a grill or broiler.
- Start by cooking the rice. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. Add the rice and stir once to make sure rice doesn’t stick.
- When the rice is just tender, pour it through a colander and quickly rinse with cold water — this prevents overcooking and separates the grains of rice.
- Peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the heads on 12 if possible. With these 12, make three small (about ¼-inch deep) incisions on the under side of each shrimp tail. This will allow you to straighten the tail and thread each shrimp onto a skewer so that the tail is completely straight and in line with the head. Lightly dust the shrimp with your barbecue rub of choice and set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.
- Remove the heads from the remaining 12 shrimp. Chop the tail meat and reserve.
- To prepare the rice, heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and water, and cook until the water evaporates and bacon is browned and crisp, about 12 minutes. (Note: cooking bacon in water may sound surprising, but the liquid helps to render the fat and the result is crispier bacon.)
- Keeping the bacon in the pan, drain all but one tablespoon of the bacon fat from the pan and reserve.
- Add the onions to the bacon pieces and fat in the pan. Sauté onions until just tender, about three minutes. Add bell peppers and jalapeño and cook two minutes more.
- When the peppers are slightly tender and fragrant, add the garlic and cook until lightly toasted, about one minute. Add the chopped shrimp meat and cook one minute more, so the shrimp has just turned white on the exterior.
- Stir in the chopped tomatoes, bring to a boil and cook two minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, to desired consistency. Finish with the cilantro, butter, lemon and hot sauce to taste. Cover the rice to keep it warm while you prepare the shrimp.
- Brush the shrimp skewers with the reserved bacon fat and place on a grill over high heat. Cook for two minutes on one side. Just before flipping, brush the shrimp with more bacon fat, then turn and cook for two minutes on the second side. Brush again with bacon fat before removing from the grill. Rest on a rack for a few minutes after grilling.
- Divide the rice between bowls and top with grilled shrimp skewers (three per bowl). Serve immediately.
Ready to study the Culinary Arts with Chef James? Get more information on ICE’s career programs.