SOUTHERN POPCORN SHRIMP
by Renee Behnke and Cynthia Nims
This ever-popular bar menu snack is often made with crawfish tails instead of shrimp, particularly in the South. I like to use large shrimp instead, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. I soak the shrimp in buttermilk before frying to keep them extra juicy and tender. Use the maximum of cayenne pepper if you like spice, with just 1 teaspoon there will be moderate heat.
Although they're delicious as is, popped in your mouth like popcorn, I sometimes serve them with homemade Tartar Sauce. And maybe a dash or two of Tabasco sauce for extra zing For a less casual first course, leave the shrimp whole, with the tails on for visual appeal and doubling as a handle.
Makes 6 to 8 Servings
• 1½ pounds large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
• 2 cups buttermilk
• 1½ cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
• 1 tablespoon chili powder
• 1 tablespoon garlic powder
• 1 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
• 1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
• 1 teaspoon onion powder
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 2 cups vegetable oil
1. Combine the shrimp and buttermilk in a medium bowl, stir, and let sit for 15 minutes (refrigerate if soaking longer).
2. Stir together the flour, bread crumbs, chill powder, garlic powder, cayenne, paprika, onion powder, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish, such as a pie pan.
3. Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat (it's important the oil comes no more than halfway up the sides of the pan for safety; use a little less oil if needed). Line a platter or baking sheet with brown paper or layers of paper towels.
4. Drain the shrimp well and toss in the flour-spice mixture to evenly coat. Let the shrimp sit in the flour for 1 to 2 minutes (allowing the coating to set), then toss them one more time. Shake to remove excess flour and transfer to a plate.
5. In 2 or 3 batches, fry the shrimp for 1 to 2 minutes, until lightly browned and crisp Use a slotted spoon to transfer to the paper-lined baking sheet to drain briefly. Sprinkle the shrimp with a bit more salt if you like and serve hot.
Do-Ahead Tips: The shrimp can be soaked up to 1 hour in advance and flour coated up to 15 minutes in advance They will be tastiest if fried just before serving, the shrimp don't reheat or store well once cooked.