With Mardi Gras quickly approaching (mark your calendars for Tuesday, March 1!), we’re getting in the spirit of the season with three Cajun shrimp recipes. Each one comes from Melissa Martin’s cookbook Mosquito Supper Club, inspired by her New Orleans restaurant of the same name. The Louisiana hotspot serves authentic bayou cuisine that celebrates the local oyster fishermen, crabbers, and farmers who make the dishes possible. Bring a taste of the bayou into your own home with these delicious recipes!
3 Cajun Shrimp Recipes for Mardi Gras Season
Reminiscent of Thai fish cakes or Vietnamese shrimp on sugarcane, these shrimp boulettes are the perfect snack when paired with hot sauce, or you can pile a couple onto a roll with bitter greens, cocktail sauce, or spicy mayonnaise for a tasty sandwich. To make these fried shrimp balls, Melissa combines fresh shrimp in a food processor with pepper, onion, and seasonings, shapes the mixture into balls, and fries them up in a pot. She notes that you don’t need flour or cornmeal when frying the shrimp, as they’re already sticky enough to hold the rest of the ingredients together.
- ¾ cup (100 g) coarsely chopped green bell pepper
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped green onion
- ¼ cup (25 g) coarsely chopped celery
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1¼ pounds (565 g) peeled and deveined small or medium shrimp
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more as needed
- ⅛ teaspoon cracked black pepper plus more as needed
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper plus more as needed
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon hot sauce Preferably Original Louisiana Hot Sauce, plus more as needed
- Peanut oil for frying
- In a large bowl, combine the bell pepper, green onion, celery, parsley, shrimp, salt, black pepper, cayenne, and hot sauce and toss to distribute the ingredients evenly. Using an old-fashioned meat grinder or a food processor, grind the mixture together. If using a food processor, work in small batches and pulse until smooth, then transfer to a bowl. In either case, after grinding, you should not see any vegetables; the boulette mix should be a homogenous paste.
- Fill a large heavy-bottomed pot with 4 inches (10 cm) of peanut oil and heat the oil over medium-high heat to 375°F (190°C). (Alternatively, use a tabletop fryer)
- Using two spoons or a small (#100) cookie scoop, form a ball of the boulette mix no bigger than the diameter of a quarter and carefully drop it into the hot oil. Fry this tester boulette for about 6 minutes, until golden brown on the outside. Transfer the boulette to a paper towel or a brown paper bag to drain excess oil and let it cool. Taste the boulette: Does the mix need more salt? More pepper or more heat? Add salt, black pepper, cayenne, or hot sauce to your liking—I like boulettes to have a slight vinegary taste, and hot sauce gives them that flavor. There is no one perfect formula. You have to taste your mix every time.
- Once you’ve adjusted your mix, drop about 15 balls at a time into the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer the boulettes to paper towels or brown paper bags to drain and cool briefly, then serve.
- The boulette mix will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for 2 days. If making ahead of time, add the salt right before frying to keep the mix from getting watery.
Lucien’s Shrimp Spaghetti
In her cookbook, Melissa writes, “Shrimp spaghetti is to bayou kids what spaghetti and meatballs is to kids in the rest of the United States.” Named after Melissa’s son, Lucien’s Shrimp Spaghetti is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. The dish uses a Creole cooking technique called “smothering,” which involves cooking onions, bell peppers, celery, or tomatoes on the lowest heat setting in a covered pot. While Melissa uses store-bought sauce for her spaghetti, she says you can also make your own and cook it down the same way. Note that homemade tomato sauce can often be thinner, but you can use tomato paste to thicken it.
Lucien's Shrimp Spaghetti
- ½ cup (120 ml) canola oil
- 2¼ pounds (1 kg) yellow onions finely diced
- 1½ tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 garlic clove minced
- ½ cup (75 g) finely diced celery
- ½ cup (70 g) finely diced green bell pepper
- 5 cups (1.3 L) canned tomato sauce (from three 14.5-ounce/410 g cans; see Note)
- 5 teaspoons sugar
- 2½ pounds (1.2 kg) peeled and deveined small or medium shrimp
- ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce, preferably Original Louisiana Hot Sauce
- 1 pound (455 g) spaghetti, cooked as directed on the package (see Note)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion for garnish
- Grated Parmesan cheese for serving (see Note)
- Warm a wide, heavy-bottomed 15-quart (14 L) Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat for 2 minutes, then add the oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add the onions—you should hear a sizzle when they hit the oil—and season with the salt. Stir well to coat the onions with the oil, then cook, stirring often, for about 25 minutes, until the onions are soft and golden (they should not have a lot of color at this point).
- Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the celery and bell pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 45 minutes.
- Now you’re going to add the tomato sauce ½ cup (120 ml) at a time. Each time you add tomato sauce, add ½ teaspoon sugar. (Scandalous, I know.) So, let’s begin. Add ½ cup (120 ml) of the sauce and ½ teaspoon of the sugar, stir, and heat until the sauce is simmering and bubbling but not boiling, then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Repeat this process until you’ve added all the sauce and all the sugar, then reduce the heat to its lowest setting and cook, stirring every 10 minutes, for 45 minutes more.
- Meanwhile, put the shrimp in a large bowl and season it with the black pepper, cayenne, and hot sauce. Let it marinate on the counter while the sauce simmers.
- When the sauce has simmered for 45 minutes, add the shrimp and 4 cups (1 L) hot water to the pot and stir to combine. Raise the heat to medium-high to bring the tomato sauce back up to a simmer, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened to the consistency of pizza sauce and no longer looks watery. Turn off the heat and let everything sit together for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to marry.
- Serve the sauce over the cooked spaghetti, garnished with the parsley and green onion and topped with Parmesan.
Rather than adding ingredients like boiled eggs, sausage, or pork to her stew, Melissa prefers a more seafood-inspired dish. She serves this flavorful stew over cooked rice with a green salad and a side of something pickled. Melissa also notes that you can transform this stew into an étouffée by adding tomato and a pot lid to the mix. Either way, you’re in for a hearty, comforting meal.
- ½ cup (120 ml) canola oil or ½ cup (115 g) unsalted butter or lard
- ½ cup (65 g) all-purpose flour
- 3½ pounds (1.6 kg) yellow onions finely diced
- 1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon kosher salt plus more as needed
- ½ cup (70 g) finely diced green bell pepper
- ⅓ cup (40 g) finely diced celery
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 pounds (1.8 kg) peeled and deveined medium or small shrimp
- ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper plus more as needed
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper plus more as needed
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce preferably Original Louisiana Hot Sauce, plus more as needed
- 4 cups unsalted chicken stock or shrimp stock
- ¼ cup (13 g) finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- ¼ cup (20 g) finely chopped green onions
- Cooked rice for serving
- Pickles for serving
- Warm a heavy-bottomed 6-quart (6 L) Dutch oven over medium heat for 2 minutes, then add the oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add the flour and cook, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the roux is a little darker than café au lait, closer to the color of peanut butter. Don’t walk away—focus on stirring your roux.
- Add the onions, season with a dash of salt, and stir to combine. (Be careful to avoid splattering the roux when adding the onions—this is when folks sometimes burn themselves.) Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 20 minutes.
- Add the bell pepper, celery, and bay leaf to the onions and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and let the vegetables smother (see Note) together until very soft, with no bite remaining, about 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through to make sure nothing is burning and to ensure even cooking. Taste a piece of bell pepper and a piece of celery—if they’re ready, there should be no more crunch to them.
- Meanwhile, put the shrimp in a large bowl and season with the salt, black pepper, cayenne, and hot sauce. Set aside at room temperature to marinate while the vegetables cook.
- Add the shrimp to the vegetables and stir to combine. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the stock and stir. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 30 minutes to let the flavors marry. You want to reduce the liquid by a quarter or a half depending on how thick you want your stew.
- Taste the stew: Does it need more salt or pepper? Add some. Does it need more heat? Add cayenne. Does it need acid? If so, add more hot sauce. Adjust the seasoning to your liking, then stir in the parsley and green onions.
- Serve the stew over rice, with pickles alongside.
Laissez les bon temps rouler!
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