These pickled shrimp are a Southern staple made with poached shrimp and a spicy lemon, garlic, and dill brine.
Making pickled shrimp is essentially as simple as boiling water—and then patiently waiting. The flavors of this Southern entertaining staple are eminently customizable, as author Toni Tipton-Martin explains, by tossing in some Scotch bonnet or habanero pepper along with the veggies, pickling spice, and aromatics to make it more like Jamaican “pepper shrimp.” Or squeezing in some lime along with jalapeno and cilantro to lend it a more Texan flair. The shrimp are equally adept at sating guests before dinner or elevating even an everyday salad to the realm of memorable.–Jenny Howard
☞ Table of Contents
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt plus more for cooking the shrimp
- 3 medium celery stalks diced
- 1 cup (4 1/2 oz) thinly sliced yellow or white onion
- 2 whole bay leaves
- 1 large lemon preferably organic, thinly sliced (1/8 inch | 3 mm)
- 2 pounds shell-on large (31/35 count) or jumbo (21/25 count) shrimp
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon pickling spice toasted in a pan until fragrant
- 2 teaspoons dried or 2 tablespoons fresh dill or more to taste
- 1 Scotch bonnet or jalapeño pepper minced, or 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 3 sprigs tarragon
- 1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz) sliced red onion
- In a large saucepan over high heat, combine 2 quarts well-salted water, the celery, onion, bay leaves, and lemon slices and bring to a boil.
- Add the shrimp and cook until just pink and opaque throughout, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to a colander and rinse under cool running water to stop the cooking.
☞TESTER TIP: Don't let that shrimp cooking liquid run down the drain! You can save it for shrimp stock. Note that you can further intensify the shellfish smack by simmering the shells that you later remove from the shrimp in the reserved liquid for 20 or so minutes.
- When the shrimp are cool enough to handle, peel and devein them. Let them cool completely, about 5 minutes.
- In a large glass bowl or a very large, wide-mouthed Mason jar with a tight-fitting lid (or 2 to 3 smaller jars), whisk or shake together the lemon juice, vinegar, pickling spice, dill, chile pepper, garlic, tarragon, oil, and 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste) until well blended. Add the red onion and shrimp.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or seal the jar(s) tightly. Refrigerate the shrimp for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. The longer you wait, the more infused with pickling spice the shrimp will be.
- To serve, briefly stir the pickled shrimp and onions in the bowl or give the jar a good shake to blend the brine evenly. Use a slotted spoon or fork to lift out a few onion slices with each serving of shrimp, making sure to avoid any hard pickling spices.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This is a really fabulous pickled shrimp recipe. The ease of preparation belies a really flavorsome recipe. The hardest thing to do was to leave it to marinate overnight! They have a wonderful acidity that’s tempered by the olive oil and the spices that are added.
These shrimp can be served as nibbles with drinks, as a starter on salad, and they would work really well as part of a mezze spread.
Please note: Don’t overcook the shrimp as they “cure” in the marinade overnight so have the potential to toughen. I will be adding these to our rotation as they are so easy to make and will be great to have as a quick and very tasty snack.
Would I make this again? You bet!! It was easy, tasty, and a definite winner in my books.
Where I live, fresh shrimp are unavailable but frozen are. After talking to my “fish guy,” I got some pointers for using frozen shrimp that should work for this recipe. He told me to place the frozen shrimp in a colander and trickle cold water over them. By keeping them out of the ice and water while they defrost, it keeps them firm and only takes about 15 minutes. But the best would be to allow them to defrost overnight in the fridge if you can.
Using a very large pot I prepared the poaching water as directed and poached the shrimp for 3 minutes before placing them in cold water to stop the cooking. I put the shrimp in a large glass bowl with a lid to marinate overnight before packing the jars the next day. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but what came out of the bowl was a firm shrimp that had a bit of bite to it and was delicately pickled. The jalapeno pepper had mellowed but still had a little heat and there were hints of the tarragon and lemon. I LOVED it.
The fact that I couldn’t get any liter jars meant that I had to use 500 ml wide mouth jars. I used 3 jars but could probably have used only 2 if I had packed them more tightly.
I can’t wait to take some of these to have on my salad again tomorrow.
This pickled shrimp recipe was a novel idea that didn’t disappoint and it was fabulously easy to pull together. Pickling is one of those cooking procedures that sounds far more complicated than it really is, and this recipe reminded me of how much bang for your buck pickling really affords if you just have a little bit of time.
The only ingredients, besides the shrimp, that I didn’t have readily on hand were the pickling spice (made a homemade mix from my spice cabinet) and some fresh tarragon (I substituted dried). I think it should be emphasized that since this is all about the shrimp, they should definitely be really high quality: fresh and plump and with any luck, already deveined (but not peeled).
It took the better part of two large wide-mouthed mason jars to fit all of my shrimp.
I would probably add a little more salt and lemon to the pickling brine if I make this again, as I kept wishing for just a bit more zip, but perhaps if I had used a habanero pepper instead of crushed red pepper flakes, I might have felt differently. I think you could play around with many of the components here to make the shrimp suit your preferences; I might add more dill and less tarragon, for example, since in my book, cold shrimp and fresh dill is a perfect match.
I let these pickle overnight before serving them on a green salad alongside a bowl of gazpacho and they were bright and flavorful, but I liked them even more the next day for a quick and light lunch. The texture of the shrimp softened ever so slightly by the second day and took in the lemon and onion flavors of the brine that much more, making them pretty much irresistible for snacking, too. (Just one more, just one more…)
I declared this the Summer of Salads and these zippy shrimp are a novel addition to the array of bowl-ready ingredients I have in the fridge. I’m not usually a huge fan of listless, plain, cold shrimp on salad, but the extended brine bath really brings these to life.
In the future, I’ll try to shortcut by using the brine from a pickle jar to replace the pickling spices and vinegar. The recipe calls for 1 tsp of pickling spice, but that’s a pretty small amount to get a representative amount of all the spices. I broke a cinnamon stick but some tough shards have gotten mixed in with the shrimp. (And when I next make these, I’ll bump up the celery vibe with some lovage from my garden!)
I will start off by saying yes, I liked this a lot, and enjoyed these pickled shrimp on a bed of salad greens. They were easy to throw together and, as an added bonus, you’ll have a lovely quart of shrimp stock when you’re done.
For my taste, if I make this again, I will plan to let the shrimp marinate, or pickle, for just a short amount of time, maybe 4 to 8 hours. The texture of the shrimp 24 hours later was a bit more cooked, as you would expect. I’m recommending this recipe though, because likely this is the desired outcome in terms of the texture of a pickled shrimp. It’s not meant to have the texture of a freshly cooked one.
I adore shrimp, and appreciate one that has been freshly cooked. I imagine that even with light pickling, the essence of the flavors would come through, and in my mind, the texture would be better. I’ll try it with a shorter pickling time next, without the added wait of 24 hours before we can dig in!
The pickled shrimp in this recipe are excellent and more than a little addictive! There is a wonderful array of flavors and the texture is perfect. They are not dried out, tangy little things like you would find commercially prepared. The pickling liquid is very smooth and lightly tart. There is just a hint of a “heat tickle,” which is perfect for most, but I was a little surprised. I thought there would be more heat because I used a small Scotch Bonnet pepper. Although great the day after marinating overnight, I feel the complexity of the flavours in the shrimp will benefit from another day or two.
Tips: Leave the tails on the shelled shrimp. It makes for a prettier presentation and the shrimp are large enough that removing the tails at your plate isn’t much of a hassle.
You may want to ease back a bit on the tarragon. I used three 6-inch sprigs in this batch and got a definite taste of Béarnaise. It’s okay but it seemed to mask the other flavors a bit. I would also recommend an olive oil with peppery notes, rather than grassy notes to help the other flavours to assert themselves.
Originally published August 19, 2020