Fried Shrimp

from The Fearless Frying Cookbook

I love fried shrimp, and I've never had better than at the Edisto Motel on the banks of the Edisto River in South Carolina's lush lowcountry. The Edisto closed its doors after 51 years in 1998, but not before I got to dedicate my book to the Hickman family, who owned the restaurant where people stood in line fo hours to taste their perfectly fried fish. Sisters Zelma Hickman and Doris Cook will tell you that there's no secret to their artful frying -- just clean, hot grease, and fresh local shrimp. Their shrimp are small -- more than 40 per pound -- and they are truly local, caught right offshore from the beach, a few miles down the river. They clean and devein the shrimp, but leave the tails intact.

They make up an egg wash with milk and a little salt and pour it over the shrimp, then let it drain well. The shrimp are rolled in cracker meal, then put in baskets and shaken well to remove any excess meal; the coating is delicate and light. The shrimp are fried in clean, hot oil for just a minute or two. They are served with tartar and cocktail sauce, cole slaw, and hushpuppies. You won't find better fried shrimp anywhere. If you're as generous as the Edisto, you'll count on 1 pound of raw headless shrimp for each person! Other lowcountry cooks allow 1/2 pound; outside the area, you seldom get more than 1/3 pound.

Here's the Edisto's shrimp. Serve them hot with tartar and cocktail sauce, cole slaw, and hushpuppies (recipes for all four are in The Fearless Frying Cookbook or you can order our cocktail sauce).

Peanut oil for frying
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds fresh small shrimp, peeled and deveined, with the tail intact
1 cup cracker meal or corn flour

1. Pour 3 inches of oil into a stockpot or Dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat. Beat the eggs with the milk and salt and pour over the shrimp, making sure all of them are coated. Drain the shrimp in a sieve, shaking well to remove excess. Place the cracker meal on a plate.
2. When the oil reaches 365° , roll the shrimp in cracker meal, then place in a dry sieve. Shake off the excess meal over the plate, then fry the shrimp in batches in the hot oil until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the shrimp from the oil with a wire mesh strainer and shake off all excess oil. Serve immediately.
Serves 2 to 6