Food & Drink

Try this Island-inspired Margarita Shrimp recipe

“Cooking shrimp is an exercise in quickness” says Fred Thompson who shares his Island Time Shrimp recipe.
“Cooking shrimp is an exercise in quickness” says Fred Thompson who shares his Island Time Shrimp recipe.

My sister has a sign outside her place at Atlantic Beach that states “You are now on Island Time.”

When she hits that door, she really lives those words. Don’t try to get her to do anything complicated or think deep thoughts; she truly leaves the outside world on the bridge from Morehead City. I hate her. Well, not really. Yeah, I hate her. OK, maybe not.

Sometimes you just need to unplugand food can help with that. A bowl of field peas takes me to my roots in Johnston County. Pinto beans with onions and cornbread, and I journey to a western North Carolina vista. A steak sizzling on the grill, and I see my Dad and his Saturday night ritual. Quickly seared tuna and I’m off the coast, near the Gulf Stream fishing. The list goes on.

So put down those pesky cell phones and take a moment around the table.

If I want to take a trip to the islands without the physical trip I make these shrimp. I used to do this dish with all fresh lime juice, but when the price of limes went nuts last year I discovered an easy hack. The base of my marinade is a frozen margarita mix. It sure beats juicing a bag of limes. (By the way, this is also a great marinade for fish tacos.) You can buy the cream of coconut in a squeeze bottle (look in the mixers’ section) instead of opening a whole can for two tablespoons, or use the rest of the can for pina coladas, which is not a bad thing either.

Cooking shrimp is an exercise in quickness. Overcooked shrimp tastes flat and chews like rubber. I have a saying, “You can put cook on but you can’t take cook off.” Meaning if you take the shrimp up and they are not completely cooked, you can add some cooking time, but if you have over-cooked them, well ... Look for pink color and opacity, but a great clue is the curl that happens as shrimp cook. You want a very gentle “C” shape, and definitely not an “O.”

This recipe is great for a meal, but can also be used as a finger food for all the upcoming events in the next few months.I really like double-duty recipes and I bet you do too.

So give this a try, and sit back as the waves wash over your feet: At least in your mind.

Fred Thompson is a Raleigh cookbook author and publisher of Edible Piedmont magazine. His latest cookbook is The Kamado Grill Cookbook.Reach him at

Island Time Shrimp

1 (10-ounce) can frozen margarita mix, thawed

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped, divided

1 pound (no smaller than 32 count per pound) shrimp, peeled, deveined and thawed if frozen

1 tablespoon green pepper sauce, like Tabasco or Cholula

1/2 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons cream of coconut

1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper, more if you like it hot

1/2 teaspoon course sea salt or Kosher salt

Cooking spray

Whisk together the margarita mix and 1/2 cup cilantro until blended. Reserve 1/2 cup for later use.

Place the shrimp in a shallow baking dish large enough for them to be in a single layer. Pour the remaining marinade over shrimp, turning to coat both sides; let stand 20 minutes to marinate.

Stir the pepper sauce into the reserved marinade mixture. Set aside. Whisk together the yogurt, cream of coconut, remaining 2 tablespoons of cilantro, and red pepper until blended. Set aside.

Remove the shrimp from the marinade, and discard the marinade. Place a grill pan over medium high heat and spray with cooking spray. When the pan is hot (you want to hear the sizzle), add the shrimp. You may have to do this in two batches depending on the size of your pan. You don’t want to crowd the shrimp, as this will retard the caramelization, which is a big part of the dish’s flavor.

Cook the shrimp about 2-3 minutes per side or until they are pink, opaque and a gentle “C” is created. Overcooked shrimp are rubbery and not much fun to eat. Remove the shrimp to a platter, pour some of the reserved marinade over the shrimp, and sprinkle with the salt. Serve with the sauce.

Yield: 4 servings.