Maine Shrimp

“But how did you stand the winters?”

Anyone who’s lived in Maine year round and now doesn’t will be familiar with this question. There are lots of good answers but right now all I can think of is Northern shrimp, Pandalus borealis, the glory of the Maine winter, sweet, tender and buttery.

Like the wild mushrooms of the warmer months, Maine shrimp are a gift of place. If you’re near the coast, they’re everywhere, especially in a good season. Never mind fishmarkets and grocery stores. Trucks!  By the side of the road. Two or three dollars a pound. Or you can be part of community supported fishing (CSF), pay in advance and be confident of the freshest and best every week.

Typical size is 40 or 50 per pound (headless)

Typical size is 40 or 50 per pound (headless)

The farther they must travel, the more they cost. But even at the 8.00/pound I recently paid in Manhattan out of a giant fit of homesickness, they’re a bargain. And talk about easy to cook!


The simplest recipe is to get a big pot of lightly salted water boiling, dump in the shrimp, stir once and drain, reserving a bit of the boiling water if needed for thinning a sauce. Count to ten before draining if the shrimp are large. Cooking takes only 30 seconds to a minute. After draining, serve at once or spread them out right away so they don’t keep cooking each other. (Common shrimp get tough if you overcook them; northern shrimp turn to mush.)

To serve hot: Give everybody a pile of shrimp and a bowl to throw heads and shells in. Provide dipping sauce: melted butter with or without lemon; hot olive oil infused with garlic and crushed coriander seeds; rice vinegar dressing (season the vinegar with tamari, shredded ginger, garlic and brown sugar, then gentle with a drop or two of broth)…

To serve cold: Remove and discard heads after shrimp cools. Chill until wanted. Allow to return to cool room temperature before serving. Just plain is surprisingly tasty but the world is your dipping sauce: vinaigrette or mayonnaise or aioli or pesto or guacamole or tarator … Thick sauces often either fail to cling or cling too well, overwhelming the shrimp. Try a test shrimp and if there’s a problem thin the sauce with a small amount of the reserved boiling water. Cocktail sauce is missing from the list on purpose.

The quantity question: I have seen recipes that say 1 pound of whole shrimp will feed two people. This is a lie unless the people are about 3 years old. Three quarters of a pound per person is closer to the mark and if the person in question is either large or a real shrimp lover he/she can probably put away at least a couple of pounds. Given the deliciousness of both price and product, I err on the side of largesse and count leftovers a bonus. Peel them at the table after you’re done eating, while your hands are still all shrimpified.

 Maine Shrimp Sushi, Sashimi and Ceviche are only wonderful ( and being raw, probably only safe), if the shrimp is right-off-the-boat fresh. This is possible on the Maine coast and at restaurants where dinner costs as much as a trip to Maine. Otherwise, cook as above or make



That’s Carol of the wine colored dahlia and it’s only “Barbequed” because that’s what she calls it. Broiled, is what it is, coated with olive oil, butter, garlic, Worcestershire sauce and rosemary. Plus tabasco, of course, and pepper. That sounds like a pretty violent treatment but in fact the delicate sweetness comes through fine.

For 6 comparatively modest servings:

5 pounds whole Maine shrimp or 3.5 lbs. headless

¼ c. olive oil

1/2c. butter

2 tbl. Worcestershire sauce

2 to 4 tbl. minced garlic, depending on pungency

1 tsp. to 1 tbl.  tabasco

6 tbl. coarsely minced fresh rosemary or 3 tbl. dried

coarsely ground black pepper

1. Rinse shrimp. If the heads look fresh and pink they can be cooked with heads on. If heads look rather tired and pink, remove them and set aside if you want to make shrimp butter and/or shrimp broth (below). If heads look suspicious, assume your suspicions are well-founded and discard heads before proceeding.

2. Spread the shrimp out on newspaper to dry. Put them on fresh paper and dry again. They may still be slightly damp but shouldn’t be wet.

3. Spread the shrimp in a single layer on a large jellyroll pan or similar. They don’t need to be separated but the one layer matters, especially if your broiling equipment isn’t super hot. Use two pans if necessary.

4. Heat olive oil and butter in a small saucepan. As soon as the butter melts, add the garlic, Worcestershire and tabasco and pour the mixture over the shrimp. Sprinkle on the rosemary. Move the shrimp around so each one has plenty of everything. A pancake turner works pretty well. Hands work better.

5. Move the rack so the shrimp will be about an inch below the flame. If your oven won’t let you do this, you can either make a higher shelf by paving the rack with upside-down muffin pans or not worry about it. Heat the broiler thoroughly. By now the shrimp should be room temperature but if it isn’t, don’t start until it is.

7. Broil the shrimp, moving it around frequently with a pancake turner to equalize cooking and minimize char. It will be done, just opaque through, in 2 to 6 or so minutes, depending on your broiler. At the 2 minute end, the shrimp is frying as well as broiling and will emerge so crisp you can eat the shells – and the heads, if the shrimp are very small. Otherwise, eating will involve removing heads (sucking out delicious juices before discarding) and peeling the tails. Not a big deal.

8. Serve with paper napkins and plenty of beer. If you have a slow broiler, there will be sauce. French bread.


There’s a lot of flavor in the heads and shells, so making the butter and broth give you a kind of threefer. Definitely worth the hassle when the shrimp is really fresh. Definitely not when not; if in any doubt at all, don’t bother.

The butter is a beautiful coral, tasting quite strongly of shrimp. I freeze it in small packages and use it as instant sauce for broiled fish and as the butter puddle for chowder. Needless to say, it’s great for sautéing shrimp or scallops and as a replacement for plain butter on the hot toasted rolls for crab rolls.The broth is shrimp stock. What’s to say? Fish soups and chowders.

1. First step for both is to spread the raw heads (and shells) on a sheet pan or jellyroll pan. Toast in a 300 degree oven, stirring occasionally, until they’re crisp enough to crush.

For @ 10 oz. shrimp butter: ( if not wanted skip directly to broth)

2. Remove eyes for prettiest color if you have the energy. Crush everything to small lumps. Combine lumps from 5 pounds of shrimp with ¾ pound melted unsalted butter in a small sauté pan. The more contact the better, but it’s alright if the butter doesn’t completely cover the shrimp. Place over very low heat and don’t really cook but just sort of hot marinate for about 45 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Line a large strainer with a double sheet of cheesecloth large enough to completely enclose the heads with room to spare and put it over a bowl. Strain the butter through the cheesecloth, then gather up the edges into a bag and squeeze mightily. Some butter will still cling to the heads and they will still have a lot of flavor so use them to make broth.

For @ 1 quart shrimp broth:

2. Crush the dried material from 5 pounds of shrimp. Put it in a stockpot with 6 c. water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then lower heat and let bubble gently for about an hour. Strain and cool. If you started with butter shells there will be a sheen of floating fat. Most of the flavor is in the stock and it’s easy to remove from chilled broth. I don’t usually bother.

Make that didn’t usually bother. Now that I’m not in Maine in shrimp season all I can do is remember.

Super-frugal shrimp and corn chowder, made with  butter shell broth and a few leftover shrimp

Super-frugal shrimp and corn chowder, made with butter shell broth and a few leftover shrimp

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  • Pam Said,

    Oh, my. If only I could eat the pictures. I’ve never heard of Maine winter shrimp (and I live close enough that you would think our local uppity market would carry them). I suspect that it’s an intentionally well-kept secret. And may explain why some Maniacs continue to live with their harsh winters.

    Leslie, I’m so glad that I found your blog and can continue to read about your gardens/life/food. I recently re-read 3000 Mile Garden, wondering if you and Roger were still in touch. The photo of his London square after the snowstorm answered that question.

  • leslie Said,

    Welcome, Pam

    A pleasure to have you aboard. Too bad about the uppity market – maybe they’ve never heard of the shrimp either and would be open to carrying them, if they only knew.

    As far as I know, the fishery is reasonably sustainable ecologically but needs a wider market to be able to survive, so if anybody is keeping secrets, shame on them.

  • Jacqie Said,

    hi leslie

    I was lucky enough today to find some Maine shrimp – have literally been searching for 2 years to find them locally (in Massachusetts!) I bought 2 lbs and ordered 10 more to freeze. I totally overcooked them – about 3 minutes on the advice of another blog. They got mushy, but still tasty and I’ll use them for salad or something.

    So I figured some kind soul out there must know how to unlock these little darlin’s secrets and I started to google. So glad I found you to help me understand how to work with these delicate little delights.

    This is the shrimp I remember from childhood here – for some reason, they were much more abundant 40 years ago and we had them all the time. For me, this is what shrimp is supposed to taste like and all others pale in comparison.

    I must say, though, that they are very poorly marketed down here on Boston’s North Shore. I have been killing myself trying to find them. Everyone I’ve told about them has tried them and loved them. So I think there is definitely a market.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom,


  • leslie Said,

    Hi there Jacqui

    Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad to be helpful. But sad to hear it’s so hard to get Maine shrimp when you’re so close to the source. And there’s Pam in Vermont with the same problem…

    I’m sorry to say it’s starting to sound like the same distribution problem that bedevils local produce: doesn’t matter where the fish market is, might be right next to the docks, and it’s STILL getting all the fish from one wholesale market – probably in New York – rather than directly from the boats. Result: not much choice, not much that’s highly perishable and almost nothing that’s special.

    That’s just a guess. I’d be very happy to be wrong.

  • Joe Corain Said,

    I got the shrimp and butter recipes,but what is neccessary to make the frugal shrimp and corn chowder? thanks

    • Leslie Said,

      Hi Joe,
      The frugal chowder is made pretty much the same way you’d make any chowder.For this one, I used bacon instead of salt pork. The thing that makes it frugal is the rich flavor of the broth, which means you don’t have to use much shrimp. In your kettle or wide deep saucepan, try out (completely cook) a couple of slices of bacon per person. Remove, drain and reserve. Put a layer of thinly sliced potatoes on the fat, then a layer of diced onions. Cover with enough shrimp broth to come generously above the onion layer. Cook over low heat until the potatoes are falling apart. Add as much frozen (home grown!) corn as potatoes, and milk to roughly equal the broth. Keep cooking just until heated, add whatever small amount of cooked shrimp you have, heat that. Serve topped with the crumbled bacon and a sprinkle of minced parsley. The orange-gold butter is just what’s left naturally in the broth after you’ve made the shrimp butter. You can put more shrimp butter on but it’s not usually necessary.

  • Hi Leslie,
    I ordered (from Port Clyde Fresh Catch) 10 individual 1-lb packages of headless raw shrimp, frozen, still w/ shells. They got here at 5:30 yesterday, which was the day they were supposed to arrive (she took my order Tuesday afternoon, and they arrived here in Philly Thursday afternoon). They were in a styrofoam cooler, w/ a couple ice packs. When I opened the box, they were still cold, and most of the packages still had some frozen parts, but were a little soft around the edges (but still cold). Put right in freezer. OK? No?

    • Leslie Said,

      Hi Melinda

      With shrimp as with anything else, it’s OK to refreeze if there are still ice crystals, as far as health/safety is concerned. Quality will be more or less diminished depending on how thoroughly thawed they were before re-freezing. Like frozen meat, frozen shrimp tend to weep on thawing no matter what you do; these may simply weep a bit more. BUT, unlike frozen meat, they shouldn’t be slowly thawed in the fridge.

      Instead, get a generous amount of flavored water boiling – quite heavily salted, with a few bay leaves, peppercorns etc. but not many, and a slug or two of vermouth or white wine. I use a big saute pan, so the shrimp can spread out. Meanwhile, let the package thaw in fridge just enough for you to bang it gently and separate the shrimp (they may have been separate originally but probably won’t be when you go to use them.) Chill a heavy sheet pan in the fridge.

      Separate the shrimp. Put them in the water. Count 30-40 seconds and test one. If it’s at least 2/3 done, the rest finished cooking while you were testing. If it’s still utterly raw, try again. Drain the shrimp, spread on the chilled sheet to stop further cooking, then shell and proceed with whatever. Takes longer to tell than to do.

      PS. Frozen shrimp in the shell are not good candidates for either of the broiled-in-shell treatments described here. And I wouldn’t bother to use the shells to make broth, either, though if they’re very fresh-smelling you could re-freeze them ( yet again!) until you accumulate enough to make broth-creation worthwhile. Since all you’re doing is extracting flavor and you’ll be cooking them long enough to kill anything nasty, the multiple refreezings won’t hurt anything.

  • So the downside of buying frozen is a recipe limitation; but the upside is that I paid only $6.20 per lb even including shipping.

  • I would have paid about $9.00 per lb if I bought whole, unshelled, unfrozen shrimp (much cheaper than “beheaded,” frozen shrimp)& had them overnighted (much more expensive than two day shipping of frozen).

  • Sue Said,

    I am in Northern California–can I use a shrimp other than the Northern Maine type you mention? Please tell me I can. The recipe sounds delish and I would like tomake it for friends coming for dinner tomorrow night. Thanks.


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