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Frank McMahon of Hank’s and Brasserie Gigi shares three dishes starring local shellfish
Executive chef at Charleston’s renowned Hank’s Seafood since 1999—and earlier in his career, a sous chef at Le Bernardin, New York’s haute temple of seafood cuisine—Frank McMahon recently donned a second toque as executive chef for North Market Street’s new casual-chic Brasserie Gigi. The eatery’s menu boasts French classics such as soupe de poisson, moules frites, and fish du jour meunière, while a fruits de mer raw bar stars on the second floor.
Our go-to man for seafood recipes, McMahon offers a trio of shrimp dishes reflecting each of these three elements in his career. The shrimp, corn, and pickled okra are his Lowcountry twist on a gazpacho built with a Le Bernardin-style combo of from-scratch fish stock and modernistic tomato water designed to take a simple soup to a sophisticated level. His curried shrimp is a reborn classic with origins partly in the Charleston Receipts cookbook and partly in Henry’s Restaurant, the now-shuttered local eatery that was established in 1932 and served as the inspiration for Hank’s. McMahon describes the dish as “an Anglo-Indian plantation-style hot madras curry with a slightly sweet finish and tropical tones from the coconut and mango.”
You’ll find the shrimp provençal on the menu at Brasserie Gigi, served on a bed of linguine. It has, says McMahon, “the proper balance of roughly chopped tomato, good crisp white wine, and fresh shrimp, with a hint of garlic and herbs. It ends with a smooth and luxuriously rich taste on the tongue.”
McMahon prefers white shrimp for his dishes, citing their particular flavor and quality. “But all local shrimp have a distinct, natural flavor,” he says, “and will be tender, yet properly firm, when cooked correctly.” (Read on for recipes with cooking times and techniques.) He sources from Shem Creek-based shrimpers Tommy Edwards and Wayne Magwood, as well as a domestic packer from Georgetown. Though the fleet is greatly diminished from its glory days of the 1990s, Charleston is proud of its shrimping heritage. During shrimp season, which typically runs from May to December, you can buy local catch at most seafood stores. You can also try to find Magwood and Edwards at their trawlers at the Shem Creek dock. They don’t keep regular hours, but when they are there and have shrimp available, they’ll sell to you directly.
Dishing It Up with Chef Frank McMahon
Restaurants: Hank’s Seafood & Brasserie Gigi
First Restaurant Gig: “At age 13, I was hired as a dishwasher at Bunratty Castle in Shannon, a town in County Clare, Ireland. (The labor laws were lax in Ireland!)”
Education: Secondary school certification from St. Munchin’s College in Limerick, Ireland; associate's degree in culinary arts with high honors from the Culinary Institute of America
Favorite Local Ingredient: Chanterelle mushrooms
Recipe You’ll Never Share: “My mom’s warm German potato salad”