Kwame Onwuachi’s James Beard Award-winning 2019 memoir Notes From a Young Black Chef chronicled his dynamic journey of rising the ranks in the culinary industry. But the restaurateur and Top Chef judge wasn’t finished telling his story. His follow-up cookbook My America: Recipes from a Young Black Chef shines a brighter light on the food—with particular emphasis on the cultures that have not only helped define global cuisine, but also Onwuachi’s own life. This is the lens through which Onwuachi defines his version of the American experience.
“I really wanted to give people a catalog of my recipes…and to show the dishes that made me,” says Onwuachi. “The first book was really about my story, and this [cookbook] is about where I come from. Growing up, my America looked a little different.”
When asked how he describes “his” America, Onwuachi sums up the vast richness in a word: never-ending. “America is a true melting pot,” he says. “What makes America beautiful is the people that inhabit it. People come here, and they’re able to put their own influences on American food and add something to its history. So, never-ending and ever-evolving.”
To craft My America, it was important for Onwuachi to go back to his roots—literally. “I went back to Trinidad and Tobago with my grandfather. I went to Louisiana with my grandmother. I went to Jamaica. I went to Nigeria. So, all of those things directly impacted the book, and I think that’s what makes it so rich.”
His mom, who Onwuachi calls his greatest inspiration and to whom he dedicated his 2019 James Beard Award-winning memoir, also played a big role in helping to shape many of the cookbook’s recipes. “I just wrote down everything I remember eating as a kid up until now, and for certain things I definitely didn’t make, I had to call her and say, ‘What did you put in this? Like, was it onions, hot spice, then potatoes, and then how do you cook it down?’”
There are more than 125 recipes presented in Onwuachi’s treasure trove cookbook, which also includes stories and anecdotes woven throughout to explain “why these recipes stood the test of time and how they came to be.” But one that definitely has a special place in Onwuachi’s memory—and heart—is “Mom Duke’s Shrimp,” his mother’s version of peel-and-eat shrimp. “That’s how I fell in love with cooking, by just wanting to be around her,” says Onwuachi. “When we’re in the kitchen together, we’re having a good time. Those are the moments that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”
And of Mom Duke’s Shrimp, he says, “My mom threw all these parties, and she would sauté shrimp with garlic and house spice and thyme and butter. The depth of flavor, how refined and beautiful it is—it reminds me of my mom, so that’s why it’s a dish that I truly love.”
It’s also one he’s confident people who get their hands on his cookbook will love, too. “It’s a little spicy and it’s super savory,” says Onwuachi. “It has some acid from the lemon, so you can eat it with rice or you can eat it with torn bread. It’s a real crowd pleaser.”
Get Onwuachi’s recipe for Mom Duke’s Shrimp below.
Plus: Looking for the perfect wine to pair with this dish? Sweet July’s wine consultant Julia Coney suggests Lambrusco. Coney says, “Instead of one grape for this dish, I am selecting a wine style. This dish will have a lot of flavors going on, and you need a wine with some slight sweetness for balance, and that works well with the butter. For years, Lambrusco has been given a bad rap, but there are many producers now making interesting and delicious Lambrusco from its grapes of Maestri, Mariani, Montericco and Salamino. Look for wines with the label DOC.”
Kwame Onwuachi's Recipe For Mom Duke’s Shrimp
10 large (16– 20 size) raw Gulf shrimp, shell-on, head-on if possible
Kosher salt, to taste
1 tbsp House Spice (below), plus more to taste
2 tbsp grapeseed oil, plus more as needed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
1/2 stalk celery, minced
1/2 green bell pepper, finely diced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 fresh bay leaf
3 fresh thyme springs
3 tbsp Abita Amber Lager or other amber lager
3 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tbsp dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
3 tbsp Shrimp Stock (below)
5 tsp Worcestershire sauce
8 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cubed
Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to serve
2 tsp finely chopped chives
THE HOUSE SPICE
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons kosher salt
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
1/4 cup + 3 tablespoons + 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated onion
1/2 cup Worcestershire powder
5 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons cayenne
5 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
THE SHRIMP STOCK
1/4 cup grapeseed oil, divided
1 lb shrimp shells (and heads, if available)
1 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, halved
3 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh parsley stems
4 whole black peppercorns
1. Prep the shrimp: Peel and devein the shrimp, keeping the tails and heads on. (If you like, stash the shells in a ziplock bag and keep them in the freezer until you have enough to make shrimp stock.) Season the shrimp generously to taste with salt and house spice.
2. Sear the shrimp: Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of oil and, when it shimmers, add the shrimp in a single layer. Sear the shrimp on both sides, 1 to 2 minutes total—they should be about halfway cooked. Remove from the pan and set aside.
3. Build the sauce: In the same pan, sauté the garlic, onions, celery and bell peppers until translucent, about 5 minutes, adding more oil if needed. Add house spice, oregano, bay leaf, thyme, beer, orange juice, wine, stock and Worcestershire sauce. Increase the heat to a brisk simmer and cook, stirring often. When about 80 percent reduced, after 2 to 3 minutes, return the shrimp to the pan and toss to coat. Continue to cook until the liquid is evaporated, then remove the thyme and bay leaf.
4. Remove the shrimp from the heat and add the cold butter a cube at a time, stirring constantly, until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and lemon juice, sprinkle with chives, and serve immediately, with additional house spice and rice and/or torn French bread.
5. Note: Mom Duke’s Shrimp is best served immediately.
6. For the House Spice: Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and whisk well to combine. (House spice keeps in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to 4 months.)
7. For the Shrimp Stock: In a large pot over high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of oil. When it shimmers, add the shrimp shells and sauté until deeply browned and fragrant, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and the tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until caramelized, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and sauté until the onions are translucent and softened, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients along with 4 quarts of water, and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any browned bits, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve before using.