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Your First Shrimp Boil

Julia Bainbridge

We’re sharing the 101 versions of recipes for foods you thought were too hard to make but TOTALLY AREN’T.

Your First Shrimp Boil

Photo credit: Marcus Nilsson, Bon Appétit

“Double, double, toil and trouble” is the sentiment that those who didn’t grow up with shrimp boils attach to the process. A massive cauldron of expensive seafood and other things that are supposed to make up a meal and serve a block party amount of people? Toil. And trouble.

Chef Josh Galliano, who grew up in the River Parishes right outside New Orleans, Louisiana, says that “getting shrimp is usually the tough thing for people who aren’t right by the source. Growing up, we would go down to the side of the road and buy from local shrimper selling right there.” Now, though, Galliano lives in Clayton, Missouri, where he runs The Libertine. That’s the midwest, and that means he’s landlocked. But “frozen shrimp is okay as long as it’s been sourced well,” he says. Look for “anything labeled wild Gulf shrimp,” which you can find with the heads still attached. You’ll need that for flavoring your boil. “If you have that, you’re on a really good path already.”

That wasn’t so hard!

The other classic shrimp boil ingredients in Louisiana are corn, potatoes, and sometimes sausage. Galliano’s family enjoyed a slight twist, though. “My Dad is Italian, so we would throw artichokes and mushrooms into our shrimp boils and plenty of full heads of garlic,” he says. “Then there’s classic potatoes and corn. And, of course, sausage. The town I grew up in is called La Place, which has billed itself as the andouille capital of world. So it’s the best of all these worlds colliding.” Similarly, the Vietnamese community in the South has put its own tweaks on the shrimp boil, adding lemongrass to the mix. “It’s familiar, but a little different,” says Galliano. “There’s a little adventure to it.” Still, in all cases, the host dumps the cooked food right onto newspaper-covered tables, and guests peel and eat as they talk.

Galliano’s Catholic Italian family may have cooked for thirty people at a time—“you never knew which cousins were going to show up”—but this recipe, from Bon Appétit, serves four. It omits the corn and potatoes and sausage, focusing instead on getting the flavoring and the shrimp just right. Start with this, then double it for a bigger party for a challenge.

Bonus: “Cleanup is just rolling up the newspaper, throwing it away, and hoping the trash man comes the next day.”

Shrimp Boil
by Bon Appétit
Serves 4

2 onions, halved crosswise
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
5 whole cloves
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
4 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons dill seeds
2 teaspoons whole allspice
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 lemon, halved
5 dashes (or more) hot pepper sauce, preferably Crystal
1 1/2 pounds unpeeled large shrimp (about 30)

Combine first 12 ingredients and 8 cups water in a large pot; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 20 minutes. Squeeze in juice from lemon; add lemon to pot. Add hot sauce and shrimp. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are just cooked through, about 3 minutes.

Turn off heat, add 4 cups ice cubes, and steep for 5 minutes. Remove shrimp with a slotted spoon and place on a newspaper-lined baking sheet. Serve with additional hot sauce, if desired.