Recipe: Citrus and Garlic Shrimp Grilled On Rosemary Branches

Briny shrimp and cippollini onions, marinated in citrus juices, are deliciously sweet when grilled on rosemary branches over hot coals.

Briny shrimp and cippollini onions, marinated in citrus juices, are deliciously sweet when grilled on rosemary branches over hot coals.

How did you spend Labor Day? Rising at noon? Napping in the hammock? Pondering the 324 items on your to-do list?

I’m afraid I was a little too productive. The day began with a Triple Threat muscle conditioning class—a necessary horror considering near daily ingestion of lavender and honey pannacotta last week. (Recipe coming just as soon as I can get my spoon out of the bowl.)

Then B and I drifted around Duke Gardens where we spied a flotilla of magnificent Victoria Amazonica lily pads floating in a greenish pond. With upturned rims, they were big enough for a child to sit upon and dream away the afternoon. Duke has gone tropical, by the way, with towering bananas, pink ginger, and witchy purple-leafed castor bean stalks dangling fuzzy crimson pom-poms in formal beds where prim perennials once held sway.

And then I came home and cut some rosemary branches for grilling shrimp.

Almost the first thing we planted in the garden 12 years ago were three rosemary bushes. They are enormous now, sprawling drunkenly out of the bed bordering the drive, waving tentacle-like branches in the air. Some of those branches are sturdy and straight enough to use as skewers for cooking.

Although rosemary is a natural with lamb and pork, I love its bracing, piney flavor with certain types of seafood as well. I first tasted swordfish, skewered on rosemary branches, and grilled over mesquite coals in New York, at a now defunct restaurant in the West Village. The rich, slightly oily taste of the fish mingled with the assertive scents of rosemary and mesquite smoke was a revelation—a deceptively easy dish that requires absolutely pristine fish.

But today the swordfish was looking a little flaccid, so instead I chose some large wild caught shrimp, attracted by their translucent grey bodies and rose-pink legs. With their briny flavor, I figured that the shellfish could stand up to rosemary’s pungent taste.

The word rosemary, by the way, is derived from the Latin rosmarinus, which some scholars translate as “sea spray” or “sea dew.” In his charming herb and spice compendium, Hints and Pinches, Eugene Walter notes that “others prefer a derivation from rhus, ‘shrub,’ ” which might then lead to a meaning of “seaside shrub.” He adds: “Both make sense, for the rosemary blankets the coasts of Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and thrives on rocky soils and sea mists.”

Rosemary likes orange juice as well, so I concocted a marinade of the zest and the luscious juice from a pair of Cara Cara oranges—yes, I confess, they came from South Africa—blended with the juice and zest of a Meyer lemon and a lime. Garlic went into the marinade, as did black pepper, sea salt and a spoonful of olive oil. In went the shrimp and some sweet cippolllini onions, and for good measure, a sprinkling of chopped rosemary leaves.

(This marinade, by the way, would be just as good with pork or chicken destined for the grill.)

While the shrimp were marinating, I cut four strong, straight rosemary branches, 16 to 18 inches long, and stripped off most of the leaves. The skewers are quite pretty with tufts of feathery rosemary left at the top, but steel yourself and cut away most of the leaves away before laying the sticks over hot coals. The herb is so “resinous” that it can easily catch fire—and do you really want burnt shrimp?

It will also help if you cut one tip on the diagonal, so that the branch easily pierces the shrimp and the little onions without tearing them apart when they are threaded onto the skewer.

And pay attention to the fire: Lay down a good bed of hardwood charcoal in your grill and let it burn down until the flames are low and the coals are red hot, but covered with a fine white ash. (The temperature is important: Too hot, and the shrimp will dry out, too cool and they will sort of steam in their shells.) Plunk the rosemary skewers on the grill over the coals and cook them fairly fast, about 4 minutes per side, until the shrimp are opaque and their shells just barely charred. Both the shrimp and the onions will be sweet and succulent, tasting slightly of rosemary and caramelized orange.

Of course you could also read this recipe, imagine how delicious it would be, and go back to sleep with a smile on your face.

In any event, Happy Labor Day!
Citrus and Garlic Shrimp Grilled on Rosemary Branches

To Serve 4:


20 large shrimp in the shell (about 1-1/4 pounds)
2 Cara Cara or other sweet oranges
1 Meyer or other lemon
1 lime
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
12 cippollini onions, trimmed and peeled
4 sturdy, straight rosemary branches, 16 to 18 inches long each

Zest of one orange, removed in long thin strips
6 to 8 feathery rosemary tips


1. Without removing the shells, devein the shrimp: Using a sharp paring knife, cut through the back of the shell down the length of the shrimp and remove the dark vein. Rinse well. Repeat with the rest of the shrimp. Put the shrimp in one layer in a shallow, non-reactive bowl and set aside.
2. Make the marinade: Using a citrus zester, remove the zest of the oranges, lemon and lime. Sprinkle over the shrimp and toss to coat. Juice the citrus fruit and whisk in the rosemary, salt and pepper to taste, and the olive oil. Pour over the shrimp, making sure that they are well coated on all sides. Strew the garlic cloves over the shrimp
3. In a steamer over boiling water, steam the cippollini onions for a few minutes, or until they are just tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. If there are some large onions in the mix, steam them for a little longer if necessary. Do not overcook or the onion will become too soft when grilled. Add the onions to the marinating shrimp and cover with plastic wrap. Let everything marinate for 1 hour at cool room temperature or for 2 hours in the refrigerator.
4. Prepare the rosemary branches by stripping off any small side branches and most of the leaves. Each branch should be 16 to 18 inches long in order to accommodate the shrimp and onions, leaving an inch or so at each end. Resist the desire to leave the fluffy tips of the branches intact. They may catch fire when placed over the coals and char the shrimp.
5. An hour before you’re ready to eat, build a wood charcoal fire in your grill. Thread the shrimp, alternating with the cipollini onions, onto the rosemary skewers and set aside.
6. When the coals are red hot, but covered with a fine white ash, place the skewers on the grill directly over the coals and cover. Cook for 4 minutes on each side, until the shrimp are opaque and the shells are browned and very slightly charred.
7. Remove and place a skewer on each of four plates. Garnish with a strip of orange zest and fresh rosemary tips, and serve at once.

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