Food & Drink

Pickled Shrimp, Savannah-Style

In her new cookbook, Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking, author Toni Tipton-Martin traces the history of a favorite Lowcountry dish

Photo: Jerrelle Guy

Escovitch fish is a delicious dish of Spanish origin that is beloved by Jamaicans. Known throughout the Caribbean as escovitch or caveach fish, it is made by cooking any variety of whole, small, or sliced fish, then pickling it in a vinegar sauce and garnishing with julienned vegetables, sliced onion, and lemon. I saw strains of escovitch in recipes for pickled shrimp recipes throughout my research for The Jemima Code.

Daisy Redman catered extravagant parties in some of the finest homes in Savannah, Georgia. In 1980, she and three other renowned black caterers and restaurateurs shared favorite party and homestyle dishes in Four Great Southern Cooks, a romantic collection of traditional and regional recipes from the grand houses of the Lowcountry South.

Redman’s pickled shrimp is classic Savannah, marinating shrimp in vinegar overnight with onions, chile peppers, and pickling spices. Texans add cilantro and lime to the dish for Southwestern flair, while Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers make Jamaican “pepper shrimp” fiery.

I asked another celebrated Savannah chef how she adapted her pickled shrimp for guests today. Mashama Bailey is the creative force behind Savannah’s award-winning restaurant The Grey. Located in a formerly segregated Greyhound bus station, the fine-dining eatery built its reputation on Bailey’s sophisticated nods to the foods of her childhood, fine foods introduced to her by her grandmother: trout, collard greens, chicken liver mousse, pimento cheese, chicken schnitzel with white barbecue sauce, and pickled shrimp.

“My grandmother became a nurse and a caretaker who worked for rich families too,” Bailey explained in a Garden & Gun feature story. “And so she always had this elitism about food. It was a sign of success to her. It gave her great pleasure to have the best ingredients she could afford.”

For her restaurant, Bailey wanted to turn a spotlight on Georgia shrimp by incorporating “warm spices, like cinnamon, clove, allspice, star anise and nutmeg. We do toast them to bring out the essential oils. And for vinegar, my favorite is white wine, but a nice apple cider also works.”

I experimented with multiple recipes from across the diaspora, including Bailey’s, to come up with my own version. This spicy specialty is also delicious served on a bed of salad greens for a first course. Be sure to use a fork to remove the shrimp and a few onion slices from the marinade so you and your guests don’t get a mouthful of spice.—Toni Tipton-Martin


Reprinted with permission from Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking by Toni Tipton-Martin, copyright © 2019. Photographs by Jerrelle Guy. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.




  • Serves 6-8

    • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more for cooking shrimp

    • 3 celery stalks, diced

    • 1 cup sliced yellow or white onion

    • 2 bay leaves

    • 1 large lemon, sliced

    • 2 pounds shell-on large or jumbo shrimp

    • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice

    • ¾ cup white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar

    • 1 teaspoon pickling spice, toasted in a pan until fragrant

    • 1 teaspoon dried or 1 tablespoon fresh dill

    • 1 Scotch bonnet pepper, minced, or ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

    • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (1 clove)

    • 3 sprigs fresh tarragon

    • ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil

    • ½ cup sliced red onion


  1. In a large saucepan, combine 2 quarts well-salted water, the celery, onion, bay leaves, and lemon slices and bring to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook until just pink, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain the shrimp in a colander and rinse under cool running water to stop the cooking. (If you’d like, reserve the liquid and use it as a seafood stock; you can further flavor the stock by simmering the shells from the next step in it for another 20 minutes.)

  2. When cool enough to handle, peel the shrimp, devein, and set aside to cool completely.

  3. In a glass bowl or a wide-mouthed jar with a tight-fitting lid, whisk or shake together the lemon juice, vinegar, pickling spice, dill, 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste), chile pepper, garlic, tarragon, and oil until well blended. Add the red onion and shrimp. Refrigerate, covered, overnight. Use a slotted spoon or fork to serve.