Admittedly, it may seem strange to feature fried shrimp on a healthy cooking site. I'm not going to claim for a minute that this recipe is low fat! This recipe is, however, quintessentially Cajun, and I have reduced the sodium content, so I think there's a spot for it on here! Plus, it is a very unique recipe handed down from my mother and grandmother, so it's worth preserving for posterity! I've never known anyone else to make shrimp this way, and I've never seen a printed recipe even similar to this!
Momma G only fried about 6 times a year when we were kids. On our birthdays, we could pick whatever we wanted for dinner, and all of us almost always picked fried shrimp. The only other time she fried was on a summer Thursday when one of us was at scout camp. That was family day, and Momma would fry up a hamper full of fried chicken and make a picnic for us to have at the campsite.
Any good Southern cook is only as good as her deep fryer, and Momma G was no exception! She had an old harvest gold fryer that she always complained about bitterly- "why can't someone invent a fryer that can hold its heat?" She would be so impressed by the modern immersion fryers we can buy today! Because the heating element and temperature probe are submersed in the oil, they regulate the temperature accurately and recover quickly. Because everything comes apart, clean up is a snap, and all the oily parts can go in the dishwasher! Still, frying is stinky business, so this Queen prefers to do it outdoors!
Momma G's recipe is more of a process, really. To feed her family of 6 hungry men, she would buy 15-20 pounds of shrimp! We all took shifts at the sink, heading and peeling (unless it was YOUR birthday!) and Artie and I usually helped with the breading process. I took my place at the front end, running the food processor, and Artie worked the other end of the line, breading the shrimp and lining them up for the fryer. To bread that many shrimp, Momma would clear all the stuff off of the kitchen counters and line them with waxed paper. It's been years since I've seen that many shrimp in one place!
Before you start your shrimp, make your cocktail sauce so the flavors can blend. This is a Louisiana classic, but here's my low salt version:
1 cup Heinz Salt Free Ketchup
2 tablespoons Salt Free Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons reduced sodium Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish (more or less to taste)
4-5 dashes Tabasco sauce (more or less to taste)
Stir all ingredient together and refrigerate
Now, prepare your shrimp. This can be done earlier in the day if you wish, as long as you have space to refrigerate the shrimp on baking sheets.
Drain, rinse, and pat your shrimp dry on paper towels. Place them in a large ziploc bag or clean paper bag with about 1/2 cup of all purpose flour. Shake to coat.
In a blender or food processor, pulverize one sleeve of unsalted-top saltines until they are the consistency of cornmeal. Repeat with another sleeve.
In a bowl, beat 3 eggs.
Cover a baking pan or cookie sheet with waxed paper or paper towels.
Working a few at a time, dunk the flour covered shrimp into the egg, and then toss into the cracker crumbs. Coat all sides with crumbs and transfer to the prepared pan. Repeat until all shrimp are coated.
It is impossible to bread the shrimp without breading your fingers as well, so work near the sink and rinse them often!
Once the shrimp are all breaded, deep fry them in batches at 350 degrees, for about 2-3 minutes, until the cracker crumbs are golden brown.
Drain on clean paper towels and serve hot!
I once asked Momma G why she used crackers to bread her shrimp, and she told me "because that's how my momma taught me to do it, and because they taste good!" I certainly couldn't argue with that, but now that I am older, and wiser, and have sample many, many, MANY fried shrimp over the course of my lifetime, I can tell you why these are far and away the best fried shrimp in the world!
But first, consider the other contenders. Many people fry their shrimp in cornmeal. Cornmeal has oil in it, so anything fried in it will become more oily. Plus, cornmeal has a distinct "corny" flavor that competes with the taste of delicious Gulf shrimp!
Battered shrimp are iffy. Some batters don't stick well. Some batters overpower the shrimp. Some batters absorb too much grease. And worst of all, many batters don't cook quickly enough. If you cook them long enough to cook the batter through, the shrimp get rubbery. And if you protect the shrimp with a short cooking time, you risk having raw, wet batter in the interior. Quelle dommage!
These shrimp are perfect every time, because crackers are already cooked! The morsels only need to be cooked long enough to brown the crackers slightly; about the same amount of time it takes to cook the shrimp. Because they are already cooked, they don't absorb as much oil. And because they are already cooked, there is never a "raw" center!
Because Momma G always did, I always fry in peanut oil. I find that it tends to be the most neutral in fried foods, and doesn't leave an oily "mouth feel" the way canola and corn oil do. You can use whatever oil you wish, as long as it can be heated to 350 without smoking.
So next time a special birthday or other occasion rolls around, try these! I promise, if you have them once... you will want them again!