Bubba Gump Is My Spirit Animal

Indian pickled shrimp and the world's best flatbread in Pickle Nation.

I absolutely love shrimp.

I love shrimp so much that all-you-can-eat seafood buffets and coastal wedding receptions should be afraid when they see me coming.

I was pescatarian for several years, and I didn’t miss meat at all. (Except, perhaps, for bacon-wrapped shrimp.)

But even as a lifelong shrimp connoisseur, I paused for a moment in India when first presented with pickled shrimp.

We went to Mumbai on a whim. I found an amazing deal for round-trip flights from New York for $314 apiece, and we took the boys for a fall break adventure in 2015. They were both teenagers, and while their worlds (and their palates) were expanding, this was very much outside their comfort zone.

I loved how wonderfully exotic India felt compared to our European and North American travels. The people were incredibly friendly, the traffic was death-defying, and the food was mouth-wateringly delicious.

On our third day in Mumbai, we switched on the hotel room television during an afternoon rest and discovered the delight that is Pickle Nation. That’s right — an entire TV series devoted to pickled foods.

Pickles have long been an important aspect of Indian culinary heritage, and they aren’t limited to just vegetables. You’ll find pickled fruit, including mango, gooseberries, and coconut. Pickled garlic, onions, and chilies are popular throughout the country. There are even pickled hibiscus leaves and pomegranate seeds adding a punch to savory dishes. Some pickles can be sweet and others can be spicy, but the most surprising Indian pickles might be the meats.

Everything from shrimp and lobster to lamb and pork can be found pickled in a wide variety of ways across this vast land. During our first trip to India, a cart laden with jars was wheeled to our table during one dinner outing, and each of us selected a variety of pickles to try. From among the pickled proteins, we sampled pickled prawns and pickled chicken, both of which were delicious.

Before you start worrying about eating raw poultry, know that most recipes called for the protein to be cooked in some way before it is added to the pickling mixture, which is usually oil-based. The oil contributes to the preservation of the food, but it also continues to add more flavor over time. Think of it as a post-cooking marinade of sorts.

There are nearly as many way to enjoy pickles as there are varieties of pickles in India. They can be used as condiments for other dishes or even turned into other condiments such as chutneys and relishes. They can serve as an entrée scooped up with flatbread, or they can be mixed with rice (particularly the pickling oil). The pickled proteins are generally eaten as a meal in and of themselves.

Indian pickled shrimp is like no shrimp dish I’ve ever had before. The pickling process changes the texture in a way can make you forget it’s shrimp, and the depth of flavor is nothing short of spectacular. Subtle spices and a terrific umami make it highly cravable.

Forgo the fork in favor of flatbread, and you have an instant winner that will shoot to the top of Bubba Gump’s shrimp dish list.

This week’s subscriber exclusives: Much like Oprah, I’m a big fan of bread. And quite possibly my favorite bread on the planet is Indian naan. Traditionally blasted in a super-hot tandoor oven, it becomes pillowy soft inside while the outside is lightly flecked with charred bubbles that give it terrific texture and taste. You can add garlic to the dough, stuff it with cheese, sprinkle it with herbs and spices, or drench it in buttery ghee — it’s delightful in every iteration. Make your own Homemade Naan Flatbread, and you’ll discover it’s way more delicious than using a fork.

Mangoes are ubiquitous throughout India. In addition to the aforementioned pickled mangoes, you’ll also find mango chutney as a condiment, mango daal with yellow lentils as a hearty entrée, smoothie-style mango lassi yogurt drinks, and mango sandesh, a popular Bengali sweet. But I’m taking mangoes in the cocktail direction with a Frozen Mango Daiquiri that is an undisguised attempt to convince myself that winter is over and this week’s warmer temperatures will last.

Subscribers to Around the World in 80 Plates have access to both of these delectable recipes.

Indian Pickled Shrimp

I originally created this recipe for the World Food Culture course I taught for the Honors College at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Although several students initially said they weren’t shrimp fans, it turned out to be the second-most popular dish of the entire semester. (The most popular was the Italian Death Cookie, which I’ll share in a future post.)

While many Asian grocery stores and online spice retailers sell mustard seed and fenugreek seed, don’t worry if you can’t track them down in your neighborhood market. If you find one but not the other, simply use 1 teaspoon of that instead of 1/2 teaspoon of each.

Enjoy these shrimp with steamed basmati rice, scoop them up with Homemade Naan Flatbread, or serve them on their own as an hors d’oeuvre. It’s a great dish to make in advance, since the flavors develop over time.

1-1/2 pounds (680 g) small shrimp; peeled, deveined, and tails removed
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic, divided
2 tablespoons minced ginger, divided
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seed
2 mild green chilies, deseeded and diced
1 cup white vinegar
4 bay leaves

Rinse the shrimp in cool water and drain well. Place the shrimp in a medium bowl and add the sunflower oil, chili powder, turmeric, curry powder, ground mustard seed, salt, and pepper, along with 1 tablespoon of garlic and 1 tablespoon of ginger. Stir well to combine and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to one day.

In a skillet over medium-low heat, split the shrimp into two batches and sautée each batch in its marinade until the shrimp are cooked through. Remove the shrimp from the pan, leaving any remaining marinade. Add the remaining garlic and ginger, the mustard seed and fenugreek seed, and the diced chilies to the marinade. Cook over medium-low heat until the garlic and ginger begin to lightly brown and the seeds begin to pop. Add the vinegar, bay leaves, and 1/4 cup water to the skillet, cooking until the mixture begins to boil. Add the shrimp back to the skillet. Simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce begins to thicken to the consistency of gravy. Remove from heat and allow to cool, adding salt to taste.

Transfer the mixture to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least two hours to allow flavors to combine. Remove bay leaves prior to serving. Serve at your preferred temperature: reheated, at room temperature, or straight from the refrigerator. May be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Makes 4 servings.

For $5 a month, you can get an additional weekly issue of Around the World in 80 Plates that includes bonus recipes not available to the public.

This week’s recipes for subscribers only:

  • Homemade Naan Flatbread: My favorite bread on the planet is Indian naan. You can add garlic to the dough, stuff it with cheese, sprinkle it with herbs and spices, or drench it in buttery ghee — it’s delightful in every iteration. And I share more than a dozen ways to enjoy it with cuisine from around the globe.

  • Frozen Mango Daiquiri: I’m taking mangoes in the cocktail direction with this brightly-hued treat. It’s an undisguised attempt to convince myself that winter is over and this week’s warmer temperatures will last.