If you spent time in Jamaica at any point, you are likely to come across vendors walking around with small bags of shellfish hooked on a handmade wire ring and shouting catchy melodic rhymes for “Swims” or “Schwims.” They are lined off in Middle Quarters, St. Elizabeth in Jamaica, as well as walking along beaches, primary and high schools, public bus stops and the 521 million athletic meets held annually in Jamaica from kindergarten to tertiary levels. Where there are people, there are Jamaican Pepper Swims.
Jamaican Pepper Shrimp Recipe
At first glance, if you are a “foreigner”- as we call tourists – you may think they are langoustine or crayfish because of the intense red color, and the fact that heads and shells and feeler are all intact but truth is, that they are mutton dressed as lamb- salty, extremely peppery, and superbly tasty shrimp amped up in loads of red food colouring. Practically every Jamaican loves Pepper Shrimp- except those who don’t because well they don’t eat shellfish for one reason or another. NO one ever complains about the biting heat from the seeds of scotch bonnet peppers laced shrimp. You learn to eat them without touching your lips and you learn that there is indeed a right and a very wrong way to swallow heavily peppered food.
But seriously, as Ackee and Saltfish is the national dish of my flavourful island home, Pepper Shrimp would equally earn its place as the national snack… if ever there was such an official title. Since the National Hertiage Trust and the Institute of Jamaica have yet to come up with this nomenclature, I hereby grant such powers to myself and declare that Chef and Steward has been vested with the cultural authority to record the modern culinary landscape and I hereby mark the commencement of said powers with the pronouncement that Pepper Shrimp is the National Snack of Jamaica, according to the Chef and Steward, Trustees of Jamaican Food Culture, Order of the Belly (OB).
Back in my day… before the Jamaican dollar devalued, they sold in bags for like 10 and 20 dollars maybe up to 50. Jamaican kids eat this thing like how Americans eat chips. Think of it as jerky… salty, spicy and totally keto snack. And hella moreish!
When Gary from Highnoon Spice reached out to me and sent me a tub of his Jamaican Scotch Bonnet Seasoning, I immediately thought of Pepper Shrimp. Please do not make the mistake I did. Out of sheer eagerness for this completely revolutionary product, I took a whiff of the bottle. Bad idea. I knew better, but I really wasn’t thinking. Take my advice, resist that urge! At least wait to apply the authentic, Jamaican grown powdered scotch bonnet seasoning on actual food marinades, then smell once they are sticking to the surface of your meat, fish, poultry or vegetables. As an expatriate Jamaican, this seasoning has COMPLETELY changed the flavour of my cooking…. allowing my food to amp up on more authentic flavours than I would from peppers (habaneros and otherwise) source outside Jamaica. This recipe also features Highnoon Spice Caribbean Red Pepper Seasoning. It also features very few ingredients and makes a great make ahead dish as you can make it the day before and event and keep it in the refrigerator. This is usually made with the whole shrimp-heads, shells and feelers but I bought this fresh from a lovely Dominican fishing family and they had already removed the heads. If you are not squeamish about the heads, by all means cook them whole. If so, this may be more appealing to you or your non-Caribbean guests.
Jamaican Pepper Shrimp Recipe
Bring the flavours of this Jamaican National Dish -according to Chef and Steward, by Order of the Belly (OB)- to your family night or party right now! This recipe does not contain any red food colouring.
- 1/8 teaspoon Highnoon Spice Scotch Bonnet Pepper Seasoning
- 2 dashes Highnoon Spice Caribbean Red Pepper Seasoning
- 1 kilo deveined shrimp whole, or headless with shells
- 3 stalks scallions/green onions/spring onions
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 /12 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt (more or less to taste)
- 1 teaspoon whole pimento/allspice
- 2 tablespoons plain oil (like peanut, sunflower, canola)
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
Heat a large frying pan or wok on med -high until very hot. It is essential that the pan is very hot.
Add all ingredients and allow to saute. Don't move around the food for about 10-15 secs when you first put it in pan in order to ensure that the pan stays hot and you dont create steam from the water generated from a cooling pan. After that, stir for another 2-3 minutes.
Remove from pan to cool. Serve at room temperature.
Tastes even better the next day. Simply refrigerate and bring to room temperature before serving (no reheating).