I have to say this is one of the best recipes we’ve made all summer. What’s great about it is that it’s every bit as good hot off the grill or griddle as it is when the shrimp are cooled down or even chilled. Sitting on a bed of garlick-y, lemon-y aioli, the shrimp are flavored with Old Bay, Baltimore’s gift to seafood of all stripes. We first served it for lunch poolside and then brought it into the dining room for a dinner party. The surprise on both occasions was how good the shell-on shrimp were and how easy they were to eat. Some guests de-shelled each one but an equal number consumed the entire thing going on to rave about how they enjoyed the crunch-y shell. That’s the way the originator of the recipe recommended they be eaten and who am I to go against the advice of Molly Baz, a Senior Associate Food Editor at Bon Appetit where this recipe first appeared. Besides, if you don’t eat the shell, you don’t get the full flavor of Old Bay, the 80-year old seasoning mix of mustard, paprika, celery salt, bay leaf, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, mace, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom and ginger.
Old Bay is most associated with crab cakes, but its inventor, Gustav Brunn, first called the spice mixture “Delicious Brand Shrimp and Crab Seasoning”. Brunn had arrived in this country in 1937. A refugee from the Nazis, Brunn fled his Bavarian birthplace of Bastheim and came to Baltimore, MD where he started the Baltimore Spice Company. It became most associated with Crabs because the Chesapeake Bay was so filled with them, they were offered free with drinks at bars in Baltimore. Brunn’s seasoning mix was salty enough to create a thirst only satisfied with another drink. After a time, its original name was changed to the snappier “Old Bay” after a passenger ship line that took travelers from Baltimore to Norfolk, Virginia. Its familiar yellow can is a fixture in our house and after you’ve made these Grilled Shrimp, it will be in yours, if it isn’t already.
The recipe calls for the shrimp to be seasoned with Old Bay, Garlic and Salt briefly while you prepare the Aioli. The first go-round, I was lucky enough to have our friend and phenomenal cook, Keith, in the kitchen with us. My first attempt was so water-y that Keith heated a third egg yolk and we finally got a smooth, silky, garlic-y sauce that was just the right consistency to spread over the bottom of the serving dish. The next time, absent Keith, I looked at videos of Aioli being made and discovered a couple of things that made like a whole lot easier. The first was using Canola Oil, as the recipe called for and not the Olive Oil we’d used in version one. Canola Oil is lighter and far less flavorful than Extra Virgin Olive Oil. So Canola Oil brought out the flavors of both garlic and lemon in the Aioli that our EVO version did not. The second change I made from our first go-around was making the Canola Oil garlic-flavored. I heated the canola oil with 3 smashed cloves of garlic for about 10 minutes over low heat. Then cooled it all the way down to room temperature. Using the garlic-flavored oil, I cut down the raw garlic to just one clove. I won’t lie. There’s a lot of whisking that goes on to make the aioli and the oil must be added in miniscule amounts to get the sauce to the rich consistency you want. Think of it as a bit a workout while cooking. As to the shrimp, the first go-round we lit up the grill and no doubt added smoky flavor to the shrimp. The second time, I used a grill pan on the stovetop. Other than the smoke, the shrimp were every bit as delicious. Here is the recipe with my adaptations.
Grilled Shrimp with Old Bay and Aioli
A truly remarkable Shrimp dish that can be served hot or cold or in-between. And oh that Aioli...
- 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. canola oil, plus more for grill
- 2 lb. shell-on shrimp (16–20 per lb.)
- 3 small garlic cloves, crushed
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced, divided
- 3 tsp. Old Bay seasoning, plus more for serving
- 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided, plus more
- 2 large egg yolk
- 3 lemons, divided
- Step 1 Combine 1 cup of Canola Oil with 3 cloves of crushed garlic in a small saucepan. Heat on low for about 10 minutes or until garlic cloves brown. Remove spent garlic cloves and cool oil to room temperature.
- Step 2 If using your outdoor grill, Prepare it for medium-high heat. Lightly oil grate.
- Step 3 Using kitchen shears, snip down back of each shrimp shell along the vein, stopping at the tails. You may end up cutting a little but of the flesh, but the aim here is to make it easy to peel the shell later (if you choose!) without compromising the shrimp’s tenderness. The shells are a protective barrier, so keep them on when grilling.
- Step 4 Transfer shrimp to a medium bowl. Add 2 Tbsp. oil, 2 cloves minced garlic, 3 tsp. Old Bay, and 1 ½ tsp. salt and toss to combine. Let sit 10–15 minutes while you prepare the aioli.
- Step 5 Whisk egg yolks and remaining garlic in a medium bowl. Finely grate 2 tsp. lemon zest into egg mixture. Whisking constantly, gradually stream in 1 cup garlic infused oil until thick and pale yellow. Stir in juice of one lemon. Season well with salt—it should taste really vibrant.
- Step 6 If using stove top grill pan, set it over high heat.
- Step 7 Cut remaining lemons in half. Grill shrimp and 4 lemon halves (cut sides down) until shells are golden brown and charred in some spots and flesh is opaque and cut sides of lemons are deeply caramelized, 1–2 minutes.
- Step 8 Spread aioli on a platter. Arrange shrimp and charred lemons over. Season lightly with more Old Bay.