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Test the simple cuisine at St. Helena Island's well-known The Shrimp Shack, where the unique shrimp burgers show why the restaurant landed on my list of "1,000 Places To See Before You Die."'
Well, I have a list of places I wish to visit, and as The Shrimp Shack is right in my backyard, I made it a place to spend a day -- and what an enjoyable day I had. '
Across the street from The Shrimp Shack stands Gay Fish Company. Living in the Lowcountry, one learns to associate names with certain events, landmarks or occupations. The family name Gay causes many to think of shrimp boats and seafood. I did not know the relationship between the people across the highway, but I knew there had to be a connection.'
When I am out interviewing and enjoying food, it is like killing two birds with one stone. The people on the porch were all connected to The Shrimp Shack, and as I introduced myself, they smiled and welcomed me. '
The waiting customers gave me an accusing look as I was allowed to walk right in. I assured them that I was not cutting in line; I was on assignment. You can bet I was happy to use that phrase.'
The restaurant began in 1978 after Bob Upton had a bad shrimping season. He and his wife, Hilda Gay Upton, thought of the idea. '
With young children, Hilda knew she would need help and asked Martha Jenkins to be the cook. Martha and Hilda worked together to prepare the dishes, and as Southern women do, they discussed their children and wanted the best for them.'
As the restaurant grew, Martha recommended her cousin Mary Wilson Simmons as a possible employee, and Mary was hired. As the family grew, so did the payroll.When I mentioned the closeness of everyone, I inquired if their working relationships were the same. The answer was affirmative. '
I then wondered if this was the reply for me or whether it was really true. When I asked to accompany the crew work, everything came into play. I would have helped if I was asked, I felt so close to this familial circle. '
Although Hilda was in charge, the crew handled everything so well that her service was not needed. This explained her ability to teach the business and handle it from afar.'
I watched the operation, making sure to keep my distance so as not to cause the operation to go haywire. Everyone showed skill that was amazing. The orders come in, and everyone snapped into motion. '
"Do you do this all day?" I asked. '
Everything is prepared there. The shrimp are peeled and cleaned. The fish and crabs are fresh from the dock.'
"Just whisper to me; tell me what I should not order. What food is just for the tourists?" I asked.'
"We have not had anyone to complain," Mary said. They are all authentic recipes.'
"May I see a menu?" I asked.'
The specialties sounded so inviting, and I wanted to taste the shrimp burger -- that burger that is at the top of the menu, right along with red rice and deviled crabs of the Lowcountry.'
I thought about asking for a job, but that is not the way to get hired. I must become family first.'
Well, I now have 999 places to see before I die.'
SPICY SHRIMP BURGERS'
1 pound raw peeled and deveined small shrimp'
1 celery stalk with green, leafy tops, coarsely chopped'
1/2 small to medium yellow skinned onion, coarsely chopped'
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped'
1 clove garlic'
A handful parsley leaves'
1 Tablespoon all-purpose seafood seasoning, '
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or 1 teaspoon hot sauce (recommended: Tabasco)'
1 lemon, zested'
Salt and pepper'
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan'
4 English muffins, sandwich size or sour dough flavor'
1/4 cup mayonnaise or reduced fat mayonnaise'
1/2 cup chili sauce or salsa or taco sauce'
Butter or Boston lettuce leaves'
Divide the shrimp in half. Put half the shrimp into a food processor, and grind it up. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl using a rubber spatula. Add the whole shrimp to the bowl. Add celery, onion, bell pepper, garlic and parsley to the processor, and pulse-grind it into a fine chop. Add the vegetable mixture to the shrimp. Add a palm full of crab boil seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, lemon zest, salt and pepper to the bowl, to season. Stir the shrimp mixture to combine.'
Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium to medium high heat. Add extra-virgin olive oil, and turn the pan twice until the oil runs with a slow stream. Use a large metal scoop to scoop 4 mounds of shrimp burger mixture into the pan. Gently pat down to form patties. Fry patties 3 to 5 minutes on each side, until they firm up and the shrimp turn whitish-pink.'
Split and toast the sandwich size English muffins. Mix mayonnaise and chili sauce, salsa or taco sauce. Place burgers on muffin bottoms and top with lettuce. Slather the top of the muffins with sauce and set in place.'
3 level cups white cornmeal'
4 1/2 cups water'
7 teaspoons sugar'
3 teaspoons salt'
Add salt and sugar to water. Bring water to a hard rolling boil. Meal must be warmed to room temperature while dry. Pour boiling water into warm meal, and stir briskly until mixture is smooth. After mixture is cool enough to handle, roll into balls approximately one inch in diameter. Cook in deep fat fryer at 350 degrees until golden brown. Can be prepared as much as 24 hours ahead of time and cooked just before serving. Makes 3 to 4 dozen'
CRISPY SHRIMP BURGER'
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter'
3/4 cup chopped yellow onions'
1/4 cup chopped celery'
1/4 cup green bell pepper'
1 1/2 teaspoons salt'
3/4 teaspoon cayenne'
2 pounds medium-size shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped'
2 teaspoons chopped garlic'
1/4 cup chopped green onions or scallions (green part only)'
2 large eggs plus 1 egg, beaten'
2 cups fine dried bread crumbs'
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour'
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning'
2 Tablespoons water'
1/4 cup vegetable oil'
8 hamburger buns, toasted'
Sliced vine-ripened tomatoes'
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, bell pepper, salt and cayenne. Cook, stirring, until soft, about 6 minutes. Add the shrimp, and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl, and let cool slightly. '
Add garlic, green onions, 2 eggs and 1 cup bread crumbs. Mix well. Divide into 8 equal portions, and form into patties. Put the flour in a shallow bowl, and season with 1 teaspoon Creole seasoning. Put the remaining 1 cup bread crumbs in another shallow bowl, and season with the remaining 1 teaspoon Creole seasoning. Put the beaten egg in yet another shallow bowl, add the water and beat lightly. '
Heat the vegetable oil in 2 large skillets over medium heat. Dredge each patty first in the flour, then in egg mixture, then in the bread crumbs, turning to coat completely and shaking off any excess. Cook 4 patties at a time in each skillet, until lightly browned, 5 to 6 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels. '
To serve, spread both sides of each toasted bun with tartar sauce, place a patty on the bottom half of the bun, dress with lettuce and tomatoes, and top with the other bun half.'
2 lbs. dressed fish'
1/2 cup cornmeal'
1/2 cup all-purpose flour'
1 teaspoon salt (optional)'
1/4 teaspoon pepper'
1 Tablespoon water'
If fish fillets are large, cut into serving pieces. Combine cornmeal, flour, salt and pepper; coat fish. Beat egg and water until blended. Dip fish in egg mixture, and coat again in cornmeal mixture. Heat oil (1/2-inch) in skillet until hot. Fry fish in hot oil over medium heat, turning carefully until brown on both sides, about 10 minutes.'
1 can shortening'
1 cup milk'
Salt and pepper to taste'
Fish, cut into fillets'
Melt shortening in deep fryer. Mix eggs and milk. Season fish. Dip into milk mixture, roll in cornmeal. Drop in hot shortening, fry until brown, turning once. Drain on absorbent paper, and serve hot with hush puppies, if desired.