Just about every small town in Alabama has a catfish restaurant where folks from all across the neighborhood will gather for a seafood communion. That’s how Rob McDaniel grew up in Haleyville, AL, and that’s why his menus are full of authentic Southern seafood flavor.
Kowaliga Restaurant, named after the Hank Williams song written right there on Lake Martin, was a staple of Alexander City for decades before it burned down several years ago. Thankfully, the location was rebuilt years later, and in April of 2013, the Kowaliga tradition returned to Lake Martin featuring a classic menu from McDaniel. Even Stacy Jones, manager of the original Kowaliga Restaurant, returned to her original post for the reopening.
Needless to say, Alabama Gulf Seafood is prominent on the menu, and the fried shrimp platter is a cornerstone. “It’s a food that everybody knows,” McDaniel said. “It’s simple. And it should be simple. If you’re not doing it right, people will let you know.”
With McDaniel’s fried shrimp recipe, straight from the Kowaliga menu, you won’t have to worry about doing it right ever again.
Note: If you’ll be cooking the Kowaliga Hushpuppies at the same outing, we heartily recommend doing the hushpuppies first. Not only are hushpuppies pretty forgiving, but shrimp are always best right out of the fryer and will cool much quicker than the pups.
Start out by filling a cast iron Dutch oven with the peanut oil and heat it to 350 degrees. You can set up shop indoors if you feel confident, but we chose to fry our shrimp outdoors just to be safe. (If you’ve never fried seafood before, look up the proper technique ahead of time. You won’t want the oil to get any hotter than 400 degrees.) While the oil is warming up, grab a mixing bowl and toss in the flour, salt, pepper and cornmeal. We chose to use yellow cornmeal, but white cornmeal will do just fine.
Find a separate bowl for the buttermilk and pour it in. One-by-one, take your shrimp and dip them in the buttermilk until they’re covered, letting the excess buttermilk drip off. (Make sure you’ve left the tails on the shrimp; this makes them easier to pick up when it comes time to eat.) Once the shrimp are soaked in buttermilk, toss them into the dry mix until they’re gently coated, removing any extra breading to make sure it’s a light coat. This process is often called “dredging.”
As far as what shrimp to use, McDaniel doesn’t limit himself, and neither should you. Whether it’s White Shrimp, Brown Shrimp or Pink Shrimp, whatever’s freshest works best. “It really just depends on what’s the best coming out of the Gulf at that moment,” McDaniel said. “I don’t like to limit myself to one specific shrimp.”
Once you’ve got plenty of shrimp breaded how you like them, drop them into the fry oil for about 4 minutes or until they’re a light, golden brown. When the shrimp are ready to be taken out, set them on a tray of paper towels to soak up the excess oil.
It’s impossible to serve up a proper fried seafood platter without a side of hushpuppies. And since you’ve already got the fryer going, you’ll have a basket full of sweet, crispy hushpuppies in no time.
Find a nice, big bowl and start by mixing all of the dry ingredients together. (We recommend yellow cornmeal, but white cornmeal is perfectly all right.) Once the dry ingredients are mixed thoroughly, whisk the buttermilk and eggs together in a separate bowl and then combine all of the ingredients. Make sure you’ve mixed it well.
Once the mixture is ready, check that the oil in the fryer is between 325 and 350 degrees. Find a small ice cream scoop (or any sort of large spoon) and scoop the batter into the fryer, one scoop at a time. (And don’t worry if they’re not perfect spheres; they all fry up just the same.) Let each hushpuppy cook for about 5 minutes, or until each one turns a deep, golden brown. You don’t have to flip them, but you might want to consider it. Just keep a close eye on the color when they’re in the fryer.
When they’re ready to take out, place the hushpuppies on paper towels or newspaper to let them dry out. Make sure you wait a minute before you serve them, too—they’ll be hot.
When they’re cool enough to eat, grab your shrimp and a handful of French fries and you’ve got a restaurant-quality fried shrimp platter—crunchy outside, tender and full of flavor on the inside.