Tacos. Camping. There are some things that just belong together. We made these blackened shrimp tacos while traveling along California’s coast, but honestly, we’d eat them anywhere. A blastwave of Cajun and Old Bay seasoned shrimp, bright quick-pickled red onions, and heavenly guacamole. This is a winning combination no matter where you are!
The best part of this recipe is just how easy it is to throw together, especially if you do a little prep ahead of time at home. A little backstory on these photos: We pulled up at this spot along the coast with 30 minutes until sunset. Even after setting up the stove and taking photos, we were still eating well before dark!
So if you’re craving a full-flavored taco night without a big time commitment, these Cajun blackened shrimp tacos are calling your name!
How to make blackened shrimp tacos
First things first: Prep your guacamole fixings. Mince the jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, and set aside. If you didn’t make the pickled onions before your trip, you’ll want to make those now as well.
Remove the tails and shells from the shrimp if needed, and if they are sopping wet from defrosting in your cooler, gently pat them dry (a little moisture is OK). Place the shrimp into a large bowl and mix in the Cajun and Old Bay seasonings. Toss until each shrimp is completely dusted with seasoning.
“Blackening” is a technique that was popularized by Paul Prudhomme in New Orleans. The original method involves dipping the protein into melted butter, then coating it in seasoning before throwing it into a hot cast-iron skillet.
We did our own little riff on the method to make it easier for camping. Instead of melting the butter (which requires extra time and/or an extra dish), we heated our skillet first, then added the butter to melt. Once melted, toss in the seasoned shrimp. Cook on one side for 2-3 minutes so a slightly blackened crust forms. Then flip with a spatula until all shrimp are fully cooked (pink, firm, and opaque), another 1-2 minutes. Cut the heat. Let the shrimp stay in the skillet to keep them warm.
If you have a two-burner stove, you can toast your corn tortillas over an open burner while the shrimp cook. If you’re using a single burner, then toast your tortillas before you do the shrimp. Cover toasted tortillas with a cloth, plate, or foil to prevent them from drying out.
Open up an avocado and spoon it out into a bowl. Dump in fixings (minced jalapeno, garlic, cilantro). Dribble in some lime juice from your pickled onions. Mash together.
Assemble your shrimp tacos and enjoy!
Pre-trip prep + other tips
Use a spice blend!
One of our favorite camp cooking hacks is using pre-made spice blends! Whether you make your own at home or buy one from the store, this saves you from bringing half your spice cabinet and measuring out individual spices at the campsite. Here are our suggested blends for this recipe: Chef Prudhomme Redfish Magic or Cajun seasoning & Old Bay.
Prep the Pickled Red Onions ahead of time
Slice a red onion in half, then cut thin half-rings. Place onion slices in a sealable reusable container. Squeeze in the juice of 2 limes and add salt. Seal closed, shake to distribute lime juice, and then refrigerate until ready to transfer to cooler. Pickled onions will be ready in 30 minutes but will last for a week or so in the fridge.
Storing shrimp safely in a cooler
Our best tip for transporting and storing the shrimp safely in your cooler is to buy frozen, raw shrimp, and then place it in your cooler. The shrimp will defrost at a safe temperature (assuming your cooler is maintained at 40F or below – which is the minimum temperature for any refrigerated food) and will be ready for you to use after a day or two (source: USDA).
If you want to make these tacos on your first night out, defrost the shrimp in your fridge at home, then transfer to your cooler right before you leave and cook them that evening.
↠ Cast Iron Skillet:Cast iron is the typical pan used for blackening, and it’s probably in your camp kitchen box anyway! We also love cast iron for this recipe because it retains heat, keeping your food warm long enough to come back for seconds.
↠ Camp Stove:This is our current camp stove and we love it because it’s super versatile–two powerful burners mean you can crank the heat up for this recipe, yet it still has great simmer control.
Make the pickled onions up to two days in advance. Thinly slice the red onion into half-moons and place in a jar or small bowl with a sealable lid. Juice the limes and add to the onions, along with the salt. Seal the container, and shake. Store in your cooler.
Prep the guacamole ingredients: mince the jalapeno, garlic, and cilantro. Place in a small bowl and set aside.
Prep the tortillas. Wrap a stack of 8 tortillas in foil and set over your stove burner or campfire, flipping occasionally until they are warmed through. Or, toast each tortilla individually over the stove burner if you would like them to pick up some color. Set aside.
Place the defrosted shrimp (see notes) in a bowl and dust with the Cajun and Old Bay seasonings, tossing so that the shrimp are evenly coated.
Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet over medium high to high heat. As soon as the foaming subsides, add the shrimp. Cook on the first side for 2-3 minutes, then flip and cook until the shrimp are cooked through (1-2 minutes more). Remove from the heat.
As the shrimp are cooking, finish off the guacamole by mashing the avocado with a spoon or fork in the bowl with the rest of the ingredients plus a little bit of the lime juice from the pickled onion jar.
Assemble the tacos. Divide the guacamole and shrimp among the tortillas. Top with the pickled red onions (about a tablespoon per taco). Enjoy!
Defrosting the shrimp: Shrimp can be thawed in your cooler - simply transfer the bag of frozen shrimp from your home freezer to your cooler and allow about 24 hours for it to defrost. If this will be the first meal of your trip, you can start the defrosting process in your fridge at home, then transfer to your cooler right before you leave and cook them that evening.