Within the USA, there seem to be two major schools of thought on how to stuff a shrimp (prawn). In New England, most recipes call for crushed Ritz crackers in the ingredient list, and then the shrimp are usually baked. (Parenthetically, Ritz crackers seem to be a basic staple in New England.) Along the Gulf Coast, especially in Louisiana, shrimp are stuffed with a spicy crab mixture and then deep-fried.
My first experience with crab-stuffed shrimp was at Freeman and Harris Café in Shreveport, Louisiana. It is claimed that at one time Freeman and Harris, established in 1921, was the first and longest operating African-American-owned restaurant in the United States. Those seem likely to be highly arguable claims, but what is not arguable is that the food was delicious. Even though the café was located in a poor black section of Shreveport (Saint Paul’s Bottoms or just “The Bottoms”, later renamed Ledbetter Heights), the food attracted politicians, business people, and prominent citizens – black and white – to enjoy chicken and dumplings specially prepared one day a week, other Southern favorites, and the cafe’s famous crab-stuffed shrimp.
Freeman and Harris long ago became Pete Harris’s Café and then eventually closed. But even today descendants of the original families and some of the early cooks still serve up their versions of the stuffed shrimp, to the point that locals think of them as Shreveport-Style Stuffed Shrimp.
This recipe is a pale imitation of the stuffed shrimp I first ate at Freeman and Harris, but it still brings to mind Louisiana cooking.
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ cup finely chopped celery
- ½ cup finely chopped bell pepper (I used miniature red, orange, and yellow “snacking” bell peppers, but you may use whatever you prefer.)
- ½ cup finely chopped green onion
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled between your hands
- 6 ounces crabmeat
- ¼ cup dry breadcrumbs
- ¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the celery, bell pepper, onion, and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until the vegetables are wilted and the onions are translucent.
- Stir in the garlic powder, black and red pepper, and oregano. Remove from the heat and stir in the crabmeat, breadcrumbs, and Worcestershire sauce. Adjust the seasoning with the salt.
- Refrigerate until ready to use.
- 1 pound of unshelled extra-large shrimp (13-15/pound or larger)
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- cayenne pepper (optional and to your taste)
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 1½ teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground thyme
- ¼ teaspoon ground oregano
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup milk
- 1 egg beaten
- fine bread crumbs
- peanut oil for deep frying
- Shell and de-vein the shrimp, leaving the tail.
- With a small, sharp knife butterfly the shrimp by cutting along the central line, being careful not to cut completely through. Open like a book. and set aside. You may see another black line (not the intestine. This is the shrimp’s nervous system, so don’t worry about it.)
- In a small bowl, combine the pepper(s), salt, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme and oregano. Reserve 2 teaspoons for sprinkling on the shrimp.
- Combine the flour with the remaining seasoning mixture. Place the seasoned flour in a bowl or pie pan.
- In another bowl or pie pan, combine the milk and beaten egg.
- Put a good amount of breadcrumbs in another bowl or pie pan.
- Sprinkle the shrimp with the reserved seasoning mix.
- Place a generous tablespoonful of the reserved crab mixture on each of the butterflied shrimp. Press firmly so that the crab mixture sticks to the shrimp.
- Working in batches, dip the stuffed shrimp in the flour mixture, then in the milk and egg mixture, again in the four, and then in the breadcrumbs.
- Have ready about 1-2 inches of oil heated to 350°F in a deep, heavy-bottomed pan.
- Fry the shrimp, 3 or 4 at a time, until browned on all sides. Drain on layers of paper towels and keep warm in the oven until all the shrimp are fried.
- Serve immediately with your favorite seafood sauce – tartar, cocktail, etc. Allow 3 to 5 stuffed shrimp for each serving.