God Hates Shrimp?!?
This is poof positive of man’s inability to divine the true will of God.
"Whatever in the water does not have fins and scales is abhorrent to you."
Leviticus 11:9-12 (New American Standard Bible)
|Long before the loaves and fishes,|
folks like this High Priest were
spreading the word that shrimp, oysters,
crabs and catfish were not fit to eat. That's
my idea of a doctrinal error.
In any event, I love shrimp, and so do most of us. American shrimp consumption has increased hugely since shrimp caught on the Gulf Coast were a major part of the market. The farm-raised and wild-caught product from overseas now dominates the market.
Wild-caught shrimp are harvested with a shrimp trawl, which is basically a bag which is dragged across the bottom of the bay or gulf. Farm-raised shrimp are a variety of shrimp that can be raised in a pond, packed and shipped overseas.
Not only does God not hate shrimp, she (or he) wants you to eat wild-caught shrimp. They are available fresh, they taste is more subtle and they are the shrimp of Gulf Coast Gourmet. There were no "Black Tigers" (an Asian pond-raised shrimp) in my mother's day.
|Black Tigers, pond raised shrimp|
imported from Asia. This may have been
what the Almighty was referring to when
he said "they shall abhorrent to you."
Get a big stockpot fill with water, leaving space for the shrimp. Season with commercial crab boil or simply salt and lemon. You can also add beer, wine, rocket fuel or any of the hundreds of variations folks come up with. The technique is the thing here.
Boil the water. When it is at a rolling boil, put in the shrimp. Test them after you put them in. (Yes, take one out with your Asian dipper cool it under running water and taste it) By the time the water returns to a boil, take the shrimp out -- now! If the shrimp are really small, even this method may overcook them. I always watch the shrimp, dip one out, cool it in ice-water, then peel and eat it to test for doneness. Whatever you do, don’t overcook!
When I was a child we ate boiled shrimp as informal "company" fare. You can, of course, pile in corn, potatoes, and all that stuff if you want. Ours was a lower key event. We were not trying to imitate a crawfish boil. (I never ate a crawfish until I went to college in Louisiana in 1974).
|Boiled shrimp. Properly done, the best|
and simplest way to enjoy shrimp.
Years later, when I made a rouille for seasoning food, the rust colored sauce I mixed furiously as a little child came back to me.
We would eat boiled shrimp until we were tired of them. They were never seasoned aggressively to be “hot” or anything of the kind. (I was introduced to crawfish seasoned to burn your lips purple as a college student while taking advantage of “free” crawfish and 50-cent draft beer, that’s another story.
Rouille is a great sauce for lots of things. I make it for boiled beef or boubassise. When cooking a long-simmered dish where vegatables are there for flavor, you can use the spent onions or carrots to thicken the sauce.
|When I was a child we were making something|
very similar, and enjoying it without benefit
of the Food Network. Who knew we simple heathens
were getting the benefit of a sauce which had
its origins in a classic French seafood condiment.
½ cup +/- olive oil
Splash white wine
1 T. water
Saffron strand (You can’t afford much of the stuff)
Stale bread, two or three slices
4 cloves of garlic
2 egg yolks
Paprika (use the expensive Hungarian stuff if you can find it. Elbow your way through the new-agers and hipsters at Whole Foods, you’ll find it there.
Steep the saffron strands in hot water until the water is as yellow as (well, you know)… Grind the bread, garlic cloves in the blender, add the cooked carrots now if you are using them, add the egg yolks & wine -- all while your food processor or blender is buzzing away. Add olive oil in a slow stream until you get a consistency of mayonaise.
You can store this in the ice box covered. If you use carrots and other things, the color may be a little off the red from the paprika. I used a big handful of carrots once and came out with a kind of brownish-yellow sauce, prompting James’ girlfriend to note that it looked like something out of a diaper. (an awkward silence ensued) Color can be important!
Shrimp, the beginners guide to the universe
Shrimp are a good and misunderstood seafood. Because they are so easy to store, so efficient to ship and pack, shrimp are everywhere. Some good, some not.
A great friend of mine used to laugh about the guys selling shrimp on the side of the road. The product that some of them sell, poorly handled, mushy and just not what they should be would never pass muster with a Jane Coleman or other experienced seafood buyer. “How do they sell that stuff?” I asked.
He clenched his then ever present cigarette between his teeth. “Because those Yankees don’t know the difference.”
Well, now you know the difference. A shrimp should not smell like anything. It should be firm and not mushy. There should be no black smudges or spots under the edges of the shell. (more on that later). The shrimp should be covered in ice. (Remember the old proverb -- if you can see the product there is not sufficient ice.)
Here are the kinds of shrimp wild caught you’ll see on the Gulf Coast. There are tons of others shrimp that come fresh from the Gulf too -- from the Gulf of Tonkin, the Gulf of Thailand or what’s left of the mangrove swamps that were adjacent to those water but bulldozed to make shrimp ponds.
The U.S. shrimp fishery is regulated and pushed to reduce by-catch (see below) and not kill sea turtles. The domestic industry is a pale shadow of its former self at a time when shrimp are the most popular seafood in the world.
|We produce as much as we ever did, but are now a tiny part|
of the US market for shrimp. Imports control the price and
domestic shrimpers are less viable every year.
In 2009 the United States imported $3.75 billion worth of shrimp, 1.2 billion pounds. Our domestic catch is a fraction of this number.
The suprising news is that we catch more shrimp now than we did in 1960, with about the same effort. (Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, 2008. http://www.gulfcouncil.org/beta/GMFMCweb/downloads/BB%202009-10/D%20-%204%20Stock%20Assessment%20Report%20GOM%20Shrimp%20Fishery.pdf )
However, the realities of the market and the domestic loss of control of the price makes this figure meaningless. With the domestic catch accounting for only 10 percent of consumption price is not effected by the flucuations in the domestic catch.
In 1960 -- and beyond -- it was a far different story. When the catch was low, the price was high. When the price was low, the catch was plentiful. In both cases, the boat operator and packing house made money.
Enter the imports, and a dramatic change and decline in the industry. The domestic fishery lost control of the market long ago. The price paid to domestic shrimpers is about the same in real terms as the price in the 1970s. The expenses are much higher, and the fleet is worn out.
GULF of MEXICO SHRIMP
Gulf shrimp are a story in Brown and White. Shrimp are essentially an annual “crop” they don’t live very long in any event. This makes the fishery responsive to management techniques, and vunerable to natural changes in weather and other factors. The shrimp harvest can vary greatly from year to year.
|White Shrimp, but not was white as you think!|
How To Buy
When buying shrimp, work hard to buy fresh, never frozen. You will have to use the ultra sensitive spoiled shrimp detector device to make sure the shrimp are not past their prime. These devices are handed out at birth and can be found on your face above your upper lip and below your eyes. Stick the device an inch or so from the shrimp and breath in. You should smell……. nothing. If the shrimp smells fishy or like ammonia, buy something else that day. I’ve heard a lot of stuff about how the shrimp should smell like the odor of the sea, and such poetic nonsense. The shrimp should have no odor except for maybe saltwater.
I like to buy heads on, ungraded. You will not have this luxury unless you live very near where the shrimp are caught. I do this for three reasons:
|Black Spot, nasty looking and probably harmless|
2) I am smarter than you think. Ungraded heads on shrimp are less likely to be frozen and thawed. They are also much more likely to be local, and can be effectively tested by the Spoiled Shrimp Detector, mentioned above.
3) I use the heads for stock.
Visually, look for black spots near the edges of the shell. This discoloration is essentially harmless, but kind of nasty looking. The most common way black spot is discouraged is dipping the shrimp in a soloution of Sodium Bisulfite right on the boat. Some people are allergic to this stuff. If you have ever had a reaction to shrimp, it may be the sodium bisulfite, not the shrimp.
Try to avoid shrimp that has been peeled before freezing. Remember, cold takes moisture away. Freezing the peeled shrimp will dessicate (dry out) the shrimp.
Shrimp are sized by how many per pound. This is the language you should use to ask for shrimp. Aside from drawing jokes from those ignorant about seafood (Paula Poundstone comes to mind) -- “Hey Tony, he wants......Jumbo...Shrimp, (cue laugh track) Ha, Ha Ha." You want to sound like a pro.
If you want some shrimp for Shrimp Camellia say in a casual but authoritative voice: “Hey Nick, you got any nice 36 40s?” See how professional that sounds! Nick may even stop trying to push you to buy that mashed up, under-iced crap up on the counter, and sell you to good stuff.
You should make nice with a doctor, lawyer, barber, priest, butcher and fish-man. The hot looking little woman at the fish market wearing the leopard patterned rubber boots qualifies as a fish-man too. She holds the future of your seafood dinner in her tiny gloved hand. If you know what you are talking about and know what you are seeking, she will avoid trying to sell you the stuff that is slowly turning to kitty-food before her eyes, and sell you the good stuff.
A good place to buy seafood is hard to find. The grocery stores insist on selling nothing but fillets. This keeps you from being able to see what the fish actually looked like while it was whole. What kind of fish was it? What did its' eyes, gills and skin look and smell like? You'll never know, pal. You'll never know.
They also insist on arranging the fillets on top of the ice, so they look pretty. The fish is exposed to the cold, dry air and becomes dried out. It is also not as cold as it should be.
When you find your fish-market-home you won't have these worries.
Ask the little rubber-booted babe for shrimp of a size appropriate to what you are cooking. The 36/40s are a little large for Shrimp Camellia, but they looked good, and will not over cook as easily.
Shrimp are graded by size and type.
Here are the sizes you’ll find commonly available:
Name Number Per Pound Average Per Pound
Extra Jumbo 16/20 18
Jumbo 21/25 23
Extra Large 26/30 28
Large 31/35 33
Medium Large 36/40 38
Medium 41/50 45
Small 51/60 55
Extra Small 61/70 65
If you buy frozen shrimp, handle them properly. Never defrost shrimp in the microwave oven. Don’t even defrost them at room temperature. Remember, with all seafood, thawing quickly damages the structure of the product. Thaw slowly and gently. If you want to brine the shrimp as you thaw them, prepare a salt water solution and place the frozen shrimp in the brine. Put the whole works in the ice box. Thaw them slowly. I don’t brine shrimp if I am going to cook them in liquid. Brining will add some salt to the shrimp, and make the shrimp a little firmer.
Seafood is about texture. Freezing (like overcooking) will effect the texture. Handle frozen seafood properly and thaw it carefully.
Finally, if your fish guy is one of those folks who buys frozen, and then thaws it out and sells it to you as fresh you should hide by his back door some night after closing time and rough him up a little. You may need to take some friends, because seafood guys are usually pretty tough. Still, it will be worth it.
Better yet, just ask him to sell you the product frozen, and you’ll thaw it yourself. Understand, fresh -- really fresh -- will always be best. If you are very far away from the coast, your shrimp will probably be frozen. If you find someone who can sell you fresh shrimp that is really good, pay his price and be happy to have him. Most dealers are just to lazy to go to the trouble to provide superior product. Selling seafood is a lot of trouble and hard work. Most places won’t do it. You will rarely find good seafood in a supermarket, with the possible exception of shucked oysters or crabmeat.
After thawing -- if you must -- an important and dramatic moment.
"To devein, or not devein?"
Was that the question? Well, it depends. The “vein” is really the (harump) alimentary canal of the shrimp. If you like shrimp innards -- and there is no sand in the vein, it is no big deal. When you get into shrimp 31/35 or bigger, you will want to take the “vein” out. If you buy already peeled and deveined shrimp (which are put through a machine charmingly named a “P&D” machine) you don’t have to worry about this.
If you are buying fresh shrimp, peel and devein yourself. If you grew up eating shrimp, you’ll be fast at this -- and amaze your friends. Put the peelings in a container and make stock with them. After peeling, devein the shrimp. You can use a handy little plastic gadget made for the purpose. Or, just use the tine of a fork. Either is fine.
Finally, buy the shrimp the day you are going to cook them.
I have a friend who knows everything about everything, just ask. Because this person knew about my past with the shrimping industry he told me about the shrimp boat that was on display in Foley, Ala. during the shrimp festival. Because I had seen several boats I used to know pushed up on the beach to advertise one thing or another I took a look.
The boat was a small enough to put on a trailer, and big enough for grandpa to play with on the weekends. Folks, that's not a shrimp boat.
|Cute, but not a real shrimp boat. And yes, I know the|
structure on the stern can pull and even haul a net.
Still, it is not a shrimp boat. Those are, however, real
trawl doors in the foreground, with the "bag end" of a trawl
draped over them
|Typical Bay Boats on Coastal Mississippi,|
dressed up for a fleet blessing. This was an
annual event where the Catholic Bishop
blessed the fleet, praying for safety of the
crews and, of course, a good catch.
As capital from banks and engine manufacturers flowed into the industry in the 1960s, the family run bay boats gave way to larger shrimpers that would go farther, and catch more. The basic design of these boats was created by an English naval architect in the 1950s.
The Shrimp "Trawl"
The trawl is the net towed behind the boat to gather up the shrimp. There are now special "holes" and gates built into the trawl to reduce the catch of fish incidental to the harvest of shrimp. There is also a special device made into the net to allow any sea turtles who are caught to be released unharmed. To say these government mandated devices created a lot of controversy is an understatement. The net is held open by trawl "doors" which act as kites to pull the net open. They are constructed of wood and metal to have a neutral bouancy so the net will stay near the bottom. A chain, running across the trawl, drags through the mud or sand on the bottom and encourages the shrimp to pop up into the net. It is poetically known as the "tickler chain". We sold many, many half-drums of this 5/16 inch chain to the fleet.
|A Blume triple drum hoist on a smaller shrimp boat.|
These hoist were obsolete by the late 1970. The single
bronze winch-head was their distinctive feature.
There are still some captains around now who know how to shrimp. In the late 1970s a young man who would work and could get on as a deckhand could make $30,000 per year. That's a lot of money for a guy right out of high-school. Most neglected to pay the IRS. The crews were paid on "shares" with the captain taking the most money and the deckhand taking the least. Usually three or four men were on a boat.
The remains of Oil City Brass Works in
Beaumont, Tex. They supplied try-net blocks,
all bronze hand winches and other castings.
The try-net blocks had "Coleman Marine"
cast into them. When one of them failed
after being overloaded and killed a fisherman,
I had my first day in court ( as a 10-year-old).
I was not impressed. The judge ruled that
the block was defective because our
witnesses testified that the best boatmen
modified the blocks by safety-wiring
the nuts which held the block together.
Good law, bad result. Daddy went to his
grave believing the judge was paid off.
I sure wish I could find one of those
old blocks, just to remind me to
prep witnesses carefully.
Much of this stuff was housed in a special warehouse, the "Landry Room" in the store in Bayou La Batre. We kept on hand enough hardware to build two boats. Joe Landry's crew would pick product up several times a day. The purchase was posted on a ticket with the hull number being built. Coleman Marine handled the supply end, the boat builders constructed the boat. Bayou La Batre's boat building industry grew rapidly. At one time there were more hulls under 100-feet being built in Bayou La Batre than anywhere in the world.
|A young and skinny me standing|
on the dock in Bon Secour, Ala. in
1979 . I was very proud to be part
of the shrimping industry, and proud
of the men and women I worked with.
Mr. Authority returned in 1979 on a boat purchasing trip. My wife Frances and I took him on a shopping trip to the Piggly Wiggly supermarket so he could load up one of the boats they bought with personal items like shampoo, cologne and such as gifts for his three wives.
The high point of the day was seeing Mr. Authority hold up a bottle of after shave and say to me -- in his beautiful English accent -- "Ahhh Jimbo, if you wear this you will drive the ladies crazy!" The little red-neck checkout girl who heard that come from the very black Mr. Authority nearly fainted. It was as if she saw a creature from Mars. I am sure it was a cross cultural experience she never forgot.
Coleman Marine & Hdw. is now a memory. Stroudsburg Engine works is a Museum. The commercial fishing industry I knew as a child is gone. The forces of a world market have made the industry which grew up after WWII inviable. There will always be some activity. I only hope that we can be smart enough to keep the industry we have going, to produce a product that your just can't replace with imported product. The industry has done a great job in keeping the natural resource intact. Compare this to the debacle that destroyed the commercial fishing industry in the the Canadian North Atlantic because there simply are no more fish.
We still have the shrimp. Will we be smart enough to cherish and keep the natural resource and the industry necessary to share that resource? If not, your grandkids will never know the shrimp of Gulf Coast Gourmet.
Next posting, Shrimp Camellia