Thanks to Mexican, Peruvian and other Latin influences, many Houstonians are quite familiar with the concept of seafood pickled or "cooked" in citrus juice. There's an abundance of good ceviches to choose from in the city.
They don't have a lock on this technique, though. Pickled shrimp is a Southern staple that may have originated in South Carolina. A warm brine is prepared and cider vinegar provides most of the acid in it, although lemon juice may also be incorporated.
There aren't many examples of the dish here in Houston. When chef Brandi Key was conceptualizing the dishes for Punk's Simple Southern Food, she decided to draw from all parts of the South. Punk's could have ended up serving typical country café foods and been like a dozen others in Houston, but thanks to a wider-reaching menu, it isn't.
Punk's pickled shrimp can slightly vary from one batch to the next. The tartness level depends on how long the shrimp stays in the brine. I'm happiest when they land a little on the sour side and when they're not quite there yet, I reach for the lemon half on the side.
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The exterior is tart but the interior stays fresh-tasting and firm. The pickling process brightens the color of the shrimp, too. The pink areas become more vibrant and the white parts more opaque.
Rather than using celery ribs, the leaves are used for their intense, verdant flavor. In the mix are pickled cauliflower, fennel and pickled jalapeños. Depending on how many seeds remain in the rounds of pepper, they may or may not bite. It's a fun game of roulette. I consider myself a winner when I get the hot ones.
Not only is it tasty, it's a guilt-free dish--a rare quality in a cuisine perhaps too often identified with fried food, potatoes and bread. It's low calorie, low carb, low fat and high protein. There's no reason to not give it a try.