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Shrimp and Macaroni Salad

July 1, 2018 by Nicole Collins

Today is a special day, folks.

I'm giving you my number one most requested, top secret, ultimate celebration recipe today!

That's kind of a big deal.

Ok, so here's the story on this recipe...this is actually a recipe that I picked up many, many years ago. I was probably still in high school at the time. And, it was a top secret recipe at that time, too.

One of my high school friends had an aunt, Aunt Sandy, who always brought her famous dish to parties (at least the parties that I remember attending). And, everyone always swooned over how amazing and delicious it was. I remember her being very tight lipped about the recipe, because it was her special thing. I truly don't know if she really kept it a secret from her family, but it always seemed that way to me.

At one of the parties, I took my turn at asking if she'd tell me how to make her signature dish. She knew that I had culinary aspirations, and she started telling me what was in the recipe! She was very, “a little of this, a little of that” with this recipe, but she did her best to translate it for me. She even wrote it down on a little sheet of mini yellow notepad paper, which I still have to this day.

Over the years, I've made some minor adjustments to some of the measurements in her originally guesstimated recipe. And just like her, some of the best batches of this recipe comes out when I keep that “little of this, little of that” mentality. I've spent MANY years trying to perfect the process. And, I think she'd be very proud of my finished product.

This recipe is pretty much my entrance fee to any holiday, party, or event that I'm asked to attend. My friends and family LOVE it! Friends of friends ask if they can get some if they know I'm making it. My mom always asks me to put some aside for her if I'm making it for a party. People seriously fiend for this stuff.

And I must say, I've stayed pretty tight lipped about this secret recipe too.

Until now.

And honestly, I seriously considered not sharing it. It's such a special recipe for so many reasons. And, all of those reasons make appearances in both the “to share” and the “not to share” columns. But ultimately, my job is to provide you with delicious, soulful food. And, this recipe couldn't define that ideal any more.

So what is this super secret showstopper family recipe that I'm sharing today? It's Shrimp and Macaroni Salad!

Here's the thing. I don't even like macaroni salad. It's way too sweet for me. And if the macaroni is overcooked and mushy, which always seems to happen in macaroni salad, that's a total wrap for me. Bleh!

But, this macaroni salad is EVERYTHING!

We start with some perfectly cooked al dente elbow pasta. DO NOT OVERCOOK YOUR PASTA! Yes, I'm shouting at you; because yes, this is very important! Every pasta box has cooking instructions, and there's usually a 3 minute gap between suggested cooking times. Choose the earliest cook time. That's how you'll end up with perfectly chewy, “to the tooth” noodles. And, don't forget to salt your water before you start cooking your pasta!

Once the pasta is cooked, we're going to coat it in a mix of mayo, water, and sugar. Now, I told you that I don't like macaroni salad because it's sweet. But the sugar doesn't make this sweet at all. In fact, it helps to perfectly balance out all of the salty elements we're going to add. The mayo and water get mixed together in a bowl before you toss the pasta in it; and honestly, it's going to look pretty strange. But, we need to thin out the mayo, and this is the best way to do it. Just trust me. This is not a typo in the recipe.

After we toss the pasta in the dressing, we add some REALLY finely minced onion and celery. I mean a fine, fine mince. We don't want hunks of veg throughout this salad. So, chop it up as tiny as you can.

Next, we add some steamed shrimp that has been peeled and chopped. I'm fortunate enough to live in a coastal state where it's a common thing to be able to buy steamed shrimp at the grocery store. Steamed shrimp is totally a Maryland staple, so it's easy to come by for me. If that's not the case for you, you could easily steam your own shrimp (here's a tutorial that looks like the right method, though i haven't tried it), or you could use some roasted shrimp that's been dusted with Old Bay. I'll add that instruction in the recipe note below.

The final ingredient that makes this mac salad the best thing you'll ever eat is the Old Bay, of course. This is also where I've tweaked Aunt Sandy's original recipe the most. I adjusted her onion and celery amounts just a bit too. But, her original recipe called for 2-3 tsp Old Bay. Over the years, my teaspoons seemed to become more and more heaping to the point where I was actually scooping in 2 whole tablespoons of Old Bay. That is totally the sweet spot for me! If you don't have Old Bay in your bloodstream like Marylanders do, and you're worried that might be too spicy for you, you can start with 1 tbsp and work your way up to 2 tbsp. But 2 tbsp is how my loved ones love to eat this.

When you first finish mixing the mac salad, it's going to look like something went very very wrong. It's going to be thin, and bubbly, and it's not going to look very appetizing. THIS MAC SALAD HAS TO SIT IN THE FRIDGE FOR A FEW HOURS! Yes, I'm yelling again. But, it's for your own good. This salad has to rest and give the flavors a chance to meld together and to give the dressing a chance to thicken back up. This needs to sit for a minimum of 4 hours in the fridge, but best case scenario is overnight. “The longer it sets, the better it gets” definitely applies here. Give it a good stir before you're ready to serve, and you've got perfection on a plate.

I've recently reconnected with the high school friend that introduced me to Aunt Sandy. And, I've recently learned that she's no longer here on Earth with us. I hope that this recipe would really make her proud, and that it can help her family feel like she's still here with them.

Ok guys. Well, you officially know my deepest, darkest secret...the secret to what's become my famous Shrimp and Macaroni Salad.

And, don't think I didn't perfectly time this so you can serve this up at your Fourth of July celebrations too! It's a winner, I'm telling you!

So enjoy, and let's eat!


Shrimp and Macaroni Salad Serves: 12-15 Print


  • 1 box (16 oz) elbow macaroni

  • 2 cups mayonnaise

  • 1 cup water

  • ¼ cup sugar

  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped

  • ½ small onion, minced

  • 1 lb steamed shrimp, peeled and chopped

  • 2 tbsp Old Bay seasoning


  1. Cook macaroni to al dente in salted water according to package directions. Drain, and transfer to a large mixing bowl.

  2. In a separate mixing bowl, combine mayo and water. Stir until mayo is thinned out. Transfer mayo mix to the bowl with the macaroni. Add sugar, and stir to combine. Add celery, onion, shrimp, and Old Bay. Stir well to combine. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight. Stir well before serving.

Recipe notes:

*I like to buy already steamed shrimp from the store to save time. It's seasoned with old bay when it's steamed, so that adds another layer of flavor. You could also make some roasted shrimp at home by seasoning 1 lb peeled, deveined shrimp with about 1 tsp of old bay and roasting them at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

*The mayo/water mix is going to seem a little strange, but trust me. The mac salad will look really thin when you first mix it, but it thickens up significantly while it rests in the fridge. It just needs a good stir before you serve it.

*Make sure you have a really fine mince of the celery and onions. I run my knife through both a few more times after my initial fine dice.

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