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Recipe: Shrimp Louie is a California classic worth modern consideration

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Shrimp (or crab) Louie is a salad that originated in early 1900s San Francisco and the primary elements include shrimp or crab, iceberg lettuce, boiled egg and a very ketchupy Thousand Island dressing (or aioli on the side).

Although I never lived through it, I find myself deeply nostalgic for the time when dishes were named for a person or event: Cobb salad. Bananas Foster. Shrimp Louie.

It has recently been brought to my attention, though, that the last one — shrimp Louie — might not be as popular as my Californian self had thought it to be.

Shrimp (or crab) Louie is a salad that originated in early 1900s San Francisco. I don’t know who Louie is, but I know that the primary elements of his salad include shrimp or crab, iceberg lettuce, boiled egg and a very ketchupy Thousand Island dressing.

The first time I had one was at Swan Oyster Depot, a local institution and the place where I, as a 22-year-old pastry cook, spent all my money and free time. The Louie there is great. (Everything there is great.) The shrimp was fresh, the lettuce was crunchy, and there was plenty of lemon for squeezing over it all.

But the salad was smothered with Thousand Island dressing and, as with most things smothered in Thousand Island dressing, I wished it hadn’t been. I know many people love their seafood and vegetables to be doused in some thick, creamy business, but I am not one of those people. When it comes to ordering a shrimp Louie and other creamy-dressing salads, I am a dressing-on-the-side person. (I hope you’ll keep reading.)

I have since seen the borders of the Louie become more fluid, almost reaching nicoise territory. Olives, blanched asparagus or green beans, halved cherry tomatoes, avocado — it seems like nearly anything goes in a Louie as long as there is crisp lettuce, poached shrimp (or crab) and that beloved Thousand Island dressing. How relaxed and extremely Californian!

Leaning into that relaxed nature that I had all but forgotten after 10 years in New York, I felt empowered to make a new shrimp Louie, one that has everything I love about the original but with a few additions that I find make it that much better, including shaved radish for more crunch and avocado for creaminess. There is, however, one glaring omission: Thousand Island dressing.

Instead, I season the salad with a very lemony vinaigrette made with lots of shallot and tarragon. But don’t worry, there is a creamy aioli — a bowl of seasoned mayonnaise will also work — and it’s served on the side for dipping and personal dressing. (There is no ketchup here, and no, that is not a mistake.)

All changes and liberties aside, the spirit of the classic shrimp Louie remains: fresh seafood (picked crab or poached salmon would be lovely here), crunchy lettuce and lemon.

All the other ingredients are what I prefer, but I’ll admit are negotiable and should be added or left out according to your taste and preference.

Except the Thousand Island, obviously.

NEW SHRIMP LOUIE (POACHED SHRIMP SALAD)

By Alison Roman

  • 8 ounces green beans, tails trimmed
  • 1-1/2 pounds large shrimp, shell on, deveined if you like
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 large head romaine lettuce or 3 heads Little Gem lettuce, torn or cut into large pieces
  • 1 medium watermelon radish or 3 regular radishes (or a mix of both), thinly sliced
  • 1 avocado, thinly sliced
  • Olive oil, for serving
  • 1 cup aioli or mayonnaise, for serving
  • >> Dressing:
  • 1 small shallot, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add green beans and cook until bright green and just tender, 2 minutes or so. Remove from water and transfer to a plate to cool. (No need to use an ice bath, but if you want to, go for it.)

Add shrimp and cook until bright pink and just cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes depending on size of the shrimp. Transfer to a plate to cool. Once shrimp are cool enough to handle, peel.

Return the water to a boil and gently lower in eggs. Boil 6 to 7 minutes (6 for runnier yolks, 7 for slightly firmer). Remove from heat and run under cold water for a minute or two.

(Feel free to place them in an ice bath, if you wish, but I find very cold running water does the trick.)

>> To make dressing: Combine shallot, tarragon and lemon juice in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper.

>> To assemble salad: Arrange lettuce on a large serving platter or in a shallow bowl and scatter with radishes, avocado, green beans and shrimp.

Spoon dressing over everything and drizzle with olive oil. Peel and halve the eggs and nestle in salad. Serve with aioli or mayonnaise alongside for individual dressing. Serves 4.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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