The Optimist - Atlanta
Atlanta chef Adam Evans has a deep and abiding relationship with Gulf shrimp—not uncommon for people like him who grew up in Alabama, where drives to the shore punctuate nearly every childhood. Now he serves up signature seafood dishes at the Optimist. His salt-baked shrimp is like classic beach-bar peel-and-eat shrimp, except instead of steaming flavor away, it’s concentrated in a dish that’s as simple to prepare as it is spectacular to serve to guests. Bake three pounds of rock salt tricked out with coriander, star anise, garlic, and a few other intense flavors, then bury the shrimp in it. Pop the whole thing back in the oven for ten more minutes or so, and it’s done. “It’s a great technique and makes so much sense,” Evans says. “You have seafood in whatever form—a whole fish or whole shrimp—coming out of salt.”
Recipe and photo adapted from The Southerner's Cookbook.
8 to 10 servings
- 3 pounds rock salt
- 10 sprigs fresh thyme
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 head garlic, cloves smashed and skin removed
- 1 jalapeño, sliced, with seeds
- 2 lemon wedges
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 3 star anise
- 2 pounds head-on shrimp (20 to 25 count)
Comeback Sauce: (makes about 3 cups)
- 5 celery stalks, diced
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons cornichons, chopped
- 2 tablespoons grainy mustard
- 2 tablespoons grated fresh or jarred horseradish
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tablespoon capers, drained
- 1 tablespoon shallot, diced
- 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Juice and grated zest of 1/2 lemon
Prepare the shrimp: preheat the oven to 475˚F.
Combine the rock salt, thyme, bay leaves, garlic, jalapeño, lemon wedges, peppercorns, coriander, and star anise in a large bowl and mix well. Pour half of the salt-spice mixture into a large, oven-safe baking dish (or two smaller dishes) and place it in the oven to preheat for 10 to 12 minutes, until the salt becomes hot. Remove from the oven, lay the shrimp in the salt, and add the remaining salt to cover the shrimp.
Meanwhile, make the comeback sauce: combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until the mixture is incorporated. Set aside for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.
Return the pan to the oven and bake for an additional 8 to 12 minutes, until the shrimp are just cooked through. Using tongs, remove the shrimp from the salt and transfer to a plate. Serve with a bowl of Comeback Sauce for dipping.
Note: store any remaining comeback sauce in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 1 week. Stir before serving.