Anatomy of a Classic

Nina Compton’s Shrimp in Rundown Sauce

Caribbean flavors mingle with a dash of New Orleans in this chef’s saucy shellfish

Photo: Johnny Autry

​​Nina Compton is an unabashed superfan of barbecue shrimp, that stalwart of New Orleans menus that drenches good Gulf shrimp in a hot bath of butter, lemon, and Worcestershire sauce heavy with garlic and black pepper. (She’s a particular fan of the version at Emeril’s. “They serve it with those little rosemary biscuits. It’s so good!”) 

In her kitchen at Compère Lapin, her New Orleans restaurant that shot her to national fame, she likes to take Gulf shrimp on an equally saucy journey, one that reflects her Caribbean roots, in a preparation called Rundown. 

Although versions are made throughout the Caribbean islands and in many other countries with a Caribbean coastline, the original began in Jamaica, where salted mackerel or other fish is simmered in spices, tomato, and coconut milk until the sauce is almost as thick as custard and the fish falls apart or, in some interpretations, is “run down.” Older Jamaicans might call it Dip and Fall Back, because diners dip in something starchy like a dumpling or a boiled green banana and then tip their heads back to make sure the bite goes in without drips.

Compton, who was raised in St. Lucia, takes the base of the Jamaican recipe but swaps shrimp for mackerel and adds in aromatics like ginger and lemongrass. The result is a sauce that is at once creamy and spicy, with a subtle brightness that elevates the shrimp and whatever starch you might want to scoop it up with. Dumplings or boiled root vegetables are traditional, but she likes to eat it with a flaky flatbread like roti or, as she does at her restaurant, tossed with spaghetti.

photo: Johnny Autry

“It’s kind of like a sauce américaine but using Caribbean flavors,” she says. “It’s a fun sauce, and I just love the playful name.”

Start with a couple of pounds of unpeeled fresh Gulf shrimp. Headless work fine, but if you can find some with the heads still on, the sauce will be that much shrimpier. A slow, low simmer is key once everything is in the pot. The sauce should be thick but still liquid enough to coat pasta. 

Other seafood can get the Rundown treatment, too. Snapper, salmon, or even chunks of lump crab or lobster would work as well (add a little fish stock to the coconut milk in place of the shrimp shells). But as in New Orleans, the fish or shellfish should be absolutely fresh. “The sense of appreciation for seafood here is huge, so you really want to showcase that,” Compton says. 

She sees her version of Rundown as a perfect bridge between the Creole cooking of her two homes. The coconut milk, habanero, and ginger are time-honored Caribbean flavors, while using Gulf shrimp and tossing the sauce with spaghetti give it a New Orleans Creole vibe. Both traditions are packed with flavor, she says, but in different ways. “This gives you the best of each.”

photo: Johnny Autry


  • Shrimp in Rundown Sauce (Yield: 4–6 servings)

    • 2 lb. unpeeled jumbo or extra jumbo shrimp, preferably with heads on

    • 1 cup plus ¼ cup olive oil

    • 1 orange, zested

    • 1 lime, zested and juiced

    • 1 lemon, zested

    • ½ cup ginger, roughly chopped

    • 1 stalk lemongrass, slightly crushed and finely chopped

    • 1 habanero, torn into a few pieces

    • 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste

    • 4 (14 oz.) cans coconut milk (do not use coconut cream)

    • 4 tsp. kosher salt

    • 1 cup scallions, finely sliced

    • 2 tbsp. butter

    • 2 cups mixed, roughly chopped fresh herbs, including some combination of mint, cilantro, basil, and parsley


  1. Peel the shrimp and reserve the heads (if using), shells, and tails. Devein the shrimp. Mix a cup of olive oil with the citrus zest in a bowl and add the shrimp; let it marinate in the refrigerator while you prepare the sauce. (You can also do this the night before you make the sauce.)

  2. Add ¼ cup olive oil to a large saucepan, turn the heat to high, and add the shells, stirring a bit until they turn pink. Add ginger, lemongrass, and habanero, and continue to cook for a few minutes until the pot smells fragrant. Turn the heat to medium-low, add tomato paste, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  3. Add coconut milk and 2 tsp. salt. The liquid should come to about an inch above the shells. Add water if needed to reach the right amount. Simmer for 45 minutes, giving it a stir now and again. Strain the sauce, pressing the solids to get the last of the delicious juices out. Set aside.

  4. Remove the shrimp from the oil and season with 2 tsp. salt. Add a few tablespoons of the oil used to marinate the shrimp to a large skillet or saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Sauté the scallions just until soft, then add the sauce and reduce it by about a third, or until the sauce is thick enough to coat the shrimp. Add shrimp and cook just until they turn pink, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, swirl in the butter, and then add a tablespoon or two of lime juice to brighten it up. Taste and add more salt if needed. 

  5. Serve the shrimp in bowls, sprinkled with herbs, alongside warm roti, naan, or even French bread for dipping. The sauce can also be spooned over pasta.

Meet the chef: Nina Compton


Gros Islet, St. Lucia


Kitchen item she would grab if the house were on fire: 

“Breadboards made out of reclaimed wood that is over a hundred years old from the original building Compère Lapin is in.”


Favorite music to listen to when she cooks: 

“A range of Steel Pulse to Blood Orange to the Rolling Stones to De La Soul.” 


What she looks for when hiring a cook: 

“A positive attitude and someone who can roll with any curveballs that happen, because they do happen.” 


One thing home cooks can do to be better in the kitchen: 

“Multitask when cooking to make more efficient use of your time. Also, have fun.”