Super Shrimp Salad Inspired By My Childhood Deli

Every now and then, I end up in my old neighborhood.  Specifically, upper NW Washington, DC, American University Park/Spring Valley.  It’s a wonderful, beautiful neighborhood with brick homes sheltered throughout the spring and summer by stately trees so large that they’ve bubbled over the curb in many places.

When I’ve made the 25+ mile drive into the city, I like to stop by Wagshal’s, the old neighborhood deli.  It’s been in a little strip mall on Mass Ave ever since I can remember, and has outlasted People’s Drugstore (which had a fountain counter!), the Giant grocery store and the Apex, a two-story movie theater that stood next door and is now American University’s Law School.

One of my parents’ former patients Maria still works at the deli; ageless, she looks the same to me despite the passage of almost half a century.  I’ve known her since I was in grade school and she always recognizes me even though I am no longer the 8 year old weekly regular stopping by with my parents.  She runs the deli counter which is stocked with all kinds of culinary delights: whitefish salad, empanadas, meats and cheese.

After surveying all the goodies in the store, I inevitably end up at her deli counter and order my all-time favorite:  shrimp salad on a baguette.  My mom and I have been in love with this shrimp salad for decades:  large whole shrimp perfectly poached, dressed in a simple mayonnaise sauce peppered with chopped celery and onion.  The dressing isn’t really a binder; it’s more of a condiment to enhance the flavor of the shrimp.  Stuffed into a healthy length of crusty baguette, this sandwich can feed two– but who wants to share?

I’ve developed my own version of this salad; my husband loves it as does my mom, who lives with us now.  It’s easy to make; shrimp only take a minute or two to poach and once you chop a few stalks of celery and some onion, the salad comes together quickly.  Use a good baguette, one that’s crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside!

Note:  I cook the shrimp in the shells, then peel and devein.  I think the flavor is better this way!

Shrimp Salad a la Wagshal’s Deli

  • 1 1/2 pounds medium to large size shrimp with shells
  • 1 lemon, cut into quarters
  • 1/2 to 3/4 c mayonnaise
  • 1/2 c red onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 c celery, finely diced
  • 1 TB fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 1/2 TB rice wine vinegar, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard, or to taste
  • salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

Fill a pasta pot with water.  Squeeze the lemon pieces to release the juice into the pot, and toss them in.  Bring the water to a steady boil, then salt as you do when preparing pasta.

Don't forget to squeeze the lemon juice into the pot.

Don’t forget to squeeze the lemon juice into the pot.

Add the shrimp and set your timer for 3 minutes.

You want the water to be at a good boil before adding the shrimp!

You want the water to be at a good boil before adding the shrimp!

Beautiful pink shrimp!

Beautiful pink shrimp!

Remove the shrimp into a bowl of ice water (if any shrimp begin to float to the surface before the 3 minutes, go ahead and remove them to the ice water– you don’t want to overcook them).

The ice bath stops the cooking and helps separate the shell from the body

The ice bath stops the cooking and helps separate the shell from the body

While shrimp cool, chop the onion, celery and dill.

Texture and taste boosters

Texture and taste boosters

When shrimp have cooled, remove shells and tails, and devein.  Set prepared shrimp aside in a colander so excess liquid can drain.

Prepared shrimp; I always have to taste test one!

Prepared shrimp; I always have to taste test one!

When ready to assemble salad, place the shrimp in a mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients.

Mix gently

Mix gently

Mix gently and taste to correct seasoning– especially the black pepper!

Eat it as is or stuffed into a baguette!

Eat it as is or stuffed into a baguette!

For me and my mom, just one bite brings us back to the old neighborhood!

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