[Remembering] a white Christmas in June with tasty shrimp dip

Even though summer isn’t official until June 20th, here along the coast of South Carolina we’ve had summer-like weather for a couple of months. School is out and a tropical storm passed within shout’ in distance in May. And while we haven’t landed any monster crabs yet off our community dock, local commercial shrimpers have been filling their nets for several weeks and a neighbor of ours hauled in a couple of beautiful red drum (known around here as redfish or reds) over the weekend.

Thinking about all this ocean bounty started me thing about…Christmas. Yes, I realize this makes no sense, as Christmas is in December and that means winter and cold weather (even here). Let me explain…

There are a few recipes for which I have a claim to fame, if you will. Well, I use the term ‘fame’ loosely, as the scope of my celebrité reaches the farthest corners of… family cookouts and neighborhood potlucks. Nevertheless, my shrimp dip is probably my most-requested dish.

This recipe goes back, way back – to 1989. It was created out of necessity and a snowstorm, if you can believe it. I was staying with one of my sisters and her family on the isle of Hilton Head and it was Christmas time. While I was supposed to head up to my parent’s home and my sister was supposed to travel to her in-laws in Pinehurst, NC the weather took an odd turn, with frigid temperatures and icy conditions shutting down parts of the Interstate 95 corridor. We could not travel so we went into emergency mode and stayed put at home

After running to the Piggly Wiggly on an emergency supply run, we settled in for a long winter’s nap and woke up to about 4 or 5 inches of the fluffy white stuff and no hot water. While the power was on, a pipe burst and we were without hot water. Oh well, we made due with what we had or were able to purchase the day before. My brother-in-law mentioned he had some shrimp fresh frozen so, “please try to make some kind of appetizer out it and whatever else you like.” Our family likes to snack but snack well, especially while we cook up the ‘main event’ for a holiday dinner. I was up to the challenge.

So I created this spread. The fresh parsley and lemon along with the shrimp really make this sing so I would not substitute or go for less than fresh on these items. Now I did state the shrimp were fresh frozen and they were tiny as well, if memory serves me. But they were locally caught, wild shrimp (not farmed) caught by my brother-in-law in month prior to being used in this recipe.

Letting the mixture sit makes a difference too. I made the inaugural concoction early in the day and it sat refrigerated for a few hours before being gobbled up, so the flavors had time to meld together. Lastly, I prefer noticeable chunks of shrimp in the dip so usually I roughly grind half the shrimp in the food processor and then chop the other half by hand to the perfect size – you’ll get shrimp in every bite!

This is a shrimp boat at the Bluffton Oyster Company. That big pile of shells are actually oyster shells, which will be recycled into paving and decorative building materials.

These are fresh, w-i-l-d shrimp for sale – yum! (This is Bluffton Oyster Company.)

A much smaller pile o’shrimp, ready to be lightly cooked.

Cooked shrimp have been drained and are ready to peel.

Chop the shrimp by hand or use a food processor – usually I use both so half the shrimp are finely minced and half are chopped.

I mix the cream cheese and mayo first and then add the other ingredients. I prefer homemade mayo but Duke’s is my first choice for store-bought.

Adding the hot sauce. I like Crystal or Tabasco but use your favorite!

Finally, fold in those delicious shrimp. Let the mixture rest in the refrigerator so the flavors meld – if you can keep your kids, your spouse, your friends and yourself from snatching samples!

Tasty Shrimp Dip

  • 1- 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked shrimp, peeled with tails removed
  • 1 lemon
  • ¼ cup sweet onion (preferably Vidalia), grated
  • 1 large clove of garlic, minced or pressed
  • ½ cup fresh parsley, washed, dried and finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce
  • salt and pepper

Finely chop the cooked shrimp but do not pulverize. You can do this by hand or with a food processor. Grate the zest of the lemon and squeeze the juice and set aside. In a medium bowl mix all the ingredients together including the shrimp and the lemon except the salt and pepper. I suggest this order: Mix mayo and cream cheese until smooth. Then add onion, lemon zest and juice, garlic, and mustard. Mix in parsley and the hot sauce. Fold the shrimp in last. Taste the mixture, adding salt and pepper if you like.

Store in a covered bowl in the refrigerator at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. Serve with crackers or toast points.

Cracker meal of any other brand would never taste as sweet…

Local shrimp – light and crisp, the best you’ve ever had!

Okay, so here I am waxing poetic (Shakespeare forgive me!) about cracker meal. Please don’t stop reading yet. This post is really more about fresh, locally caught shrimp (or prawns outside the US) than cracker meal, although cracker meal does have a part to play in this seafood tale.

Okay, so first off, there is my mother’s fried shrimp… and there is ALL the other fried shrimp in the world. To be perfectly clear, my mother’s fried shrimp recipe is the unequivocal best ever.

What I took for a run-of–the-mill shrimp preparation in my childhood, i.e. my mother’s, is something of an anomaly in the outside world, apparently. I realized this quickly once I was on my own, dining out often and started really paying attention to exactly what I was eating. And now it was close to being rendered… extinct!

Forget the shrimp tempura, dismiss the coconut shrimp, and by all means pass over the gunky batter-dipped farmed–raised blob that may (or may not) be actual Penaeus setiferus making daily appearances at your local fast-food restaurant (And I use the word ‘restaurant’ loosely here, folks). After all, friends don’t let friends buy foreign, farm-raised shrimp!

But I digress; I will assume you, my knowledgeable readers, only purchase wild shrimp preferably caught by local or nearly local fishermen. Now back to the cracker meal…

This meal, specifically Nabisco cracker meal is the bomb according to my mother and many others too (search “Nabisco cracker meal” online and see what shows up). There is no other substitute according to the de facto expert, my mama. The good folks at Kraft (who bought Nabisco) did not think much of their cracker meal, though, and it was discontinued for consumer sale about 2 years ago.

However, it is still available for those who are willing to make a commitment – a 25-pound commitment. This would include restaurants with superior taste, as well as my own mother. She pledged her commitment and now many little cracker meal-filled baggies line her freezer. She also shares with family and friends – thanks Mama!

Without further ado, I give you this well-lauded recipe with step-by-step instructions for Sarah Ann’s Fried Shrimp. If you are unable to commit to 25 lbs. of Nabisco cracker meal (I don’t blame you honestly) here are a few alternatives I found (although I have not tried them myself). If you do, send me some feedback/reviews, please.

And thanks to my mother who spent her Saturday evening at the beach making these with my 4 year-old daughter and me last weekend. Good times!

Cracker Meal from nuts.com – Currently $1.99 for a 1 lb. bag, $9.65 for a 5 lb. bag.

OTC Cracker Meal from amazon.com – Currently $24.99 for (12) 10-oz packages

“The cracker meal”…

And here’s the shrimp, caught the day we purchased and ate them.

And here’s the shrimp after they have been shelled and washed. Leave the tail on.

Mix the beaten egg with the milk.

Toss the shrimp with the cracker meal.

Dip each shrimp into the egg mixture…

Dredge each back through the cracker meal. Shake off excess.

All the little shrimp lined up on the cookie sheet. Allow to chill in the refrigerator for a few minutes or up to two hours.

Into the hot oil they go! Don’t crowd the pan – about 11 or 12 medium sized shrimp is max for a 10 inch fry pan at one time.

One batch of fried shrimp just out of the oil. Light and crunchy – Yum!

Sarah Ann’s Fried Shrimp

  • 1 1/2 lb. fresh medium sized shrimp, washed and shelled with tails left on
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup, more or less, Nabisco cracker meal
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Oil for frying (good quality, clean vegetable or canola oil)

Line a large cookie sheet with waxed paper or parchment and set aside. Have at a least 2 other large pieces of waxed paper or parchment on hand. Wash the shelled shrimp and dry on paper towels. Whisk the egg with the milk. Sprinkle the shrimp with some salt and pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon of each) and mix. Pour about 1/3 of the cracker meal onto one of the pieces of waxed paper and dredge each shrimp individually in the cracker meal. Place the dredged shrimp on the other piece of waxed paper.

When all the shrimp have been dredged, add some more cracker meal to your original pile. Dip each dredged shrimp into the egg mixture and then back into the cracker meal. Shake off excess and place on the lined cookie sheet. Continue this process until all shrimp have been dipped in the egg and dredged in the cracker meal.

Cover dredged shrimp loosely with another sheet of waxed paper and place in the refrigerator while you get the pan and oil ready or complete up to this step ahead of time. Keep shrimp chilled until ready to fry – up to 2 hours prior.

Fill a heavy bottom fry pan (cast iron skillet works great) about 1/2 way with oil. Be sure you have a platter lined with paper towels, a heat resistant fryer scoop/skimmer and a good pot holder or two on hand. Frying the shrimp will not take too long so fry when everything else you’re serving is done.

When the oil gets hot (but NOT smoking) add shrimp one at a time quickly. Do not crowd the shrimp by trying to fry too many at a time. In a 10″ skillet you should fit about a dozen medium shrimp. Fry about 2 minutes per side, turn over, continue to fry another 1-2 minutes and remove to the platter. The shrimp should be light to medium golden brown. Continue to fry in batches. Serve immediately with cocktail sauce, if preferred. Serves 4 adults.  This recipe can be doubled, tripled or for a crowd quadrupled!