My sister treated me to a taste of the real New Orleans, the places preferred by the locals; many were just blocks from her apartment. (She lives in the neighborhood that hosts the annual Jazz Festival, which, unfortunately, I missed by just a few days). You would never suspect that some of the unpretentious buildings and cottages scattered around the city house the top spots where creative, young chefs find a following among the food-loving populace. I’ve been working on recipes inspired by the dishes we sampled, starting with those that are most amenable to low-carb interpretation. New Orleans Barbecued Shrimp—huge shrimp, swimming in a bowl of peppery butter sauce— was a natural.

Photo: (C) 2008, Denise Caballero

Jacques-Imo’s “Real N’awlins Food” is promised and delivered at Jacques-Imo’s, a raucous, crazy, happy confusion of a place in the area called Uptown. The main entry opens into a dark, smoky bar and leads through the messy, frenetic kitchen, but this is New Orleans where nothing matters but food and music and good times. Tables spill out onto the sidewalk and one party was being served at a table in the bed of a pickup truck parked on the street when we arrived. The dining rooms are decked with a jumble of Christmas lights, Mardi Gras beads, and colorful debris; the walls and ceilings are covered with slap-dash paintings of trees, flowers, frogs, and alligators and hung with paintings of local musicians and Louisiana memorabilia. The enthusiastic wait staff seemed to be enjoying the party as much as the rest of us. An assortment of waiters took care of us; one had a bubble gun and was blowing streams of bubbles at a crying toddler at an adjacent table.

I requested their most popular and most authentically New Orleans dishes. The waiter returned with a slice of shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake—a savory, spicy, quiche-sort-of- thing—that was creamy inside with a crust that seemed to have formed as it baked. (I’m trying to keep that taste memory in my head until I have time to figure it out.) A pool of melted butter, sprinkled with chopped parsley, floated on the indented top of the crispy-crusted corn muffins served alongside. The house salad was spinach with vinaigrette dressing, garnished with a New Orleans crouton: a plump, fried oyster. My main dish was New Orleans-style barbecued shrimp, a messy, spicy, orgy of shrimp and butter and pepper and garlic and spices. My sister had pan-fried drum with pecan meuniere sauce. We shared side dishes of mashed sweet potatoes, red beans and rice, corn maque chaux, and country greens. (This low-carb research is a hard job, but somebody has to do it!)

We didn’t see the chef and owner, Jacques Leonardi, who usually presides over the circus, sometimes jumping up on the bar to shout orders and throw things and generally put on a show. I had to laugh when I was told that Leonardi’s other eatery, Crabby Jack’s, serves the same food at half the price, but that it doesn’t have the up-scale ambiance of Jacques-Imo’s; this is the fancy place.

The day after I got back home to Washington, I set off to find raw, head-on shrimp to see if I could come close to duplicating Jacgues-Imo’s shrimp. It wasn’t as hard as I expected; I found the shrimp at my local Central Market and my first try was successful. As you can see from the pictures, I left the shells on. Jacques-Imo’s shrimp were served with the heads and tails on but with the center part of the shell removed. Not a bad idea, I concluded, after splattering hot butter down my shirt. But all in all, a tasty success, if a messy one.

Note: New Orleans Barbecued Shrimp was invented at Manales restaurant in the ‘50s and it has become one of the city’s signature dishes. It is cooked in the oven rather than over a pit or on a grill; there’s no smoke involved, and it isn’t basted with a sweet, tomato sauce. So why is it “barbecued?” Good question. The only reason that makes any sense is that it might be better to eat it outside. For a more sedate setting, I’d suggest removing the heads and shells after cooking and putting the peeled shrimp back into the sauce before serving. Either way, be sure to provide some low-carb bread on the side for dipping or serve over low-carb pasta so you don’t waste any of that scrumptious butter sauce.

New Orleans Barbecued Shrimp
1 pound fresh, raw shrimp, extra large or larger, heads-on if possible
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice or one half a lemon, sliced
1/8 teaspoon of salt or to taste

Wash the shrimp in cold water and shake off the excess. Remove the center shell, leaving head and tail intact or leave whole. Spread in a baking dish just large enough to hold the shrimp.

Melt the butter in a skillet and add cayenne, black pepper, and garlic. Cook over low heat for a minute or two. Add Worcestershire, white wine, lemon juice or sliced lemon, and salt and bring to a boil. Pour over shrimp. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, turning every 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until shrimp are pink, stirring and turning shrimp once or twice. Divide shrimp into bowls and pour the butter sauce over them.

Allow ½ pound of whole shrimp per person.

Per Serving: Total Carb: 2.7, Fiber: 0.1, Net Carb: 2.6*

*Shrimp have only a trace of carbohydrate, but the wine, lemon juice, and garlic have a little. This count includes all the sauce.

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(c) 2008, Judy Barnes Baker,

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Judy Barnes Baker

The working title for my first book was, “You’ll Never Know What You Are Missing.” It summed up my goal: to make eating for health synonymous with eating for pleasure. Once you discover the secret, you will find that the very best food for weight management, longevity, the treatment and prevention of disease, and over-all health and happiness is also the most sumptuous, satisfying, and indulgent way of eating the world has to offer. You are invited to the feast. Enjoy!
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Bob Lehmann
Bob Lehmann
4 years ago

This recipe is nowhere close to his recipe, except for the shrimp

Bob Lehmann
Bob Lehmann
4 years ago

Hi Judy,

Thanks for answering, especially on such an old post.

It’s no longer online, but I got this recipe shortly (2005) after eating at Jacques Imo’s. It perfectly matched the meal we had.

BBQ Shrimp

1 c (2 sticks) margarine
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/2 c chicken broth (canned is fine)
4 t finely minced garlic
5 whole bay leaves, torn into pieces
4 t dried rosemary, crushed
1 t dried sweet basil
1 t greek oregano
1 t dried thyme
1/2 t salt
1/2 t (or more) cayenne pepper
4 t paprika
1 1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
1 T fresh lemon juice
2 lb whole fresh shrimp in the shell (with heads if possible)

In a heavy saute pan or saucepan melt the margarine, then add the oil and mix well.

Add all the other ingredients except the shrimp and broth, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce begins to boil.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 7 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently, then remove the pan from the heat and let it stand, uncovered, at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Add the shrimp to the sauce, mix thoroughly, and put the pan back on the burner. Cook over medium heat for 6 to 8 minutes, or just until the shrimp turn pink.

Add the broth, shaking the pan back and forth to mix. Preferably, place the pan into a preheated 450 deg F oven and bake for 10 minutes. OR simmer loosely covered on the stovetop for about 5 or 10 minutes.

Serve equal portions of shrimp with about 1/2 c of the sauce ladled over each one.

You will need bibs and lots of bread to sop up the sauce. Also, fingers are a necessary eating utensil.

A good side dish is quartered red new potatoes, baked in olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and several bay leaves.

A green salad and bread finishes the meal. Makes 5 generous (nearly 1/2 lb) servings.

Bob Lehmann
Bob Lehmann
4 years ago

Yeah, I hear that. I don’t use margarine in anything.