Great Seafood Alert: Maine Shrimp (Pandalus Borealis)
Good News! Maine shrimp (Pandalus borealis), is starting to get around. Delicious, affordable, wonder of wonders sustainable, the only thing that has ever been wrong with it is that you pretty much couldn’t get it unless you lived in coastal Maine – or ate in extremely expensive restaurants.
That’s changing. More and more high end fish markets are carrying Maine, aka pink, shrimp, and it’s getting a little easier for those far from the shrimp boats to miss a few of the middlemen. Port Clyde Fresh Catch, a fishermen’s marketing cooperative, is now selling in Brooklyn, New York and (go figure) Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
Lucky mid-coast Mainers, who can buy shrimp almost everywhere, know that these delicate little crustaceans are sold in two forms: transcendentally wonderful super-fresh, heads on, eggs attached, and everything else.
Under ideal conditions, super-fresh lasts about two days from catch to consumption, so most of us, most of the time, have to make do with (usually headless) fresh in the shell, still a superior product, or frozen peeled, one of the world’s best convenience foods.
Long about now you might be wondering why I’m jumping up and down like this if they’re all that terrific. Two related reasons: they’re not really all that well known yet, and because they’re unfamiliar they’re often treated like other shrimp, a big large major mistake. Maine shrimp are sweeter than other other shrimp, with no trace of iodine, and the tender texture cannot stand rough treatment. Most shrimp toughen when overcooked; P. borealis turns to mush,
An earlier cooking primer is here. Recipes for the Coconut Shrimp, Sweet and Sour Ceviche and Very Not-Chinese Fried Rice follow in a minute.
But first, a word about shrimp sex, to reassure my friend Carol (the Heath Bar Cookies Carol, not the other one), who wrote not long ago to describe her first bulk-buying experience – 50 pounds, from a fisherman who lives a couple of miles from her.
“…Almost every shrimp was female and covered with eggs, ” she said. ” How could it be that there were no males? Or do the males help and carry eggs too?? I do hope that there are trillions of other shrimp that fishing nets are not capturing.”
No worries. There are trillions not being caught, because only the egg bearing females come inshore (where the fisherpersons operate) in order to spawn. The males stay farther out to sea and do not carry eggs – until they grow up and become females, that is.
Maine shrimp are protandric hermaphrodites. They hatch as males, but when they’re about 2 ½ years old their testicles turn into ovaries and that’s the end of that. Meanwhile, new males are growing to take their place. The trigger for the change is not yet well understood. Shrimp scientists are still investigating (pdf).
In any event, this is an unusually good year; the season will go on to the end of March. Nothing else to say but hooray!
photo copyright Ben Magro, 2010
SPICY MESSY COCONUT SHRIMP
Strictly an eat-with-the fingers treat. Very easy to make and always a hit. The spicy part is Thai green curry paste. Amount suggested is moderate; feel free to bump it up.
For 4 servings (it’s rich)
2 – 2.5 lb. raw headless Maine shrimp in the shell, rinsed and well drained
2 heaping tbl. shredded orange zest
2 – 3 tbl. minced garlic (see note)
1 tsp. Thai green curry paste, or more to taste
¼ c. peanut oil
1½ tsp. salt
3/4 c. shredded unsweetened dried coconut
orange or lime sections for edible garnish
(plenty of paper napkins and beer)
1. Spread the shrimp out on newspapers or paper toweling and let the shells dry. Turn from time to time, replacing paper as necessary.
2. Mix the zest, garlic, curry paste, oil and salt. Stir in the shrimp and let marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes or so. Heat the broiler while this is going on.
3. Stir in the coconut. Heat a heavy sheet pan or jellyroll pan under the broiler. Spread the shrimp on the hot pan in a single layer and broil, turning and moving it from time to time, until the shrimp is just cooked and the coconut toasted with a few burned spots; 2 to 5 minutes or so, depending on your broiler.
4. Serve at once. Eat with fingers, peeling as you go. With luck – i.e. a good hot broiler – a lot of the shells will be so crisp you can just enjoy the crunch instead of having to remove them.
Note: Amount of garlic depends on pungency; it should be strong but not dominant. If like us you’re using hardneck garlic that’s starting to sprout, you’ll want lots. If it’s store garlic not so much. If it were freshly harvested softneck you’d use even less but I can’t at the moment imagine how you’d have fresh northern shrimp and fresh garlic at the same time.
SWEET AND SOUR CEVICHE
For 4 appetizer servings:
¼ cup each orange juice and lemon juice
2 tbl. lime juice
1 tbl. brown sugar, or more to taste
1 tbl. nutty (not peppery) olive oil, or more to taste
1 tsp. salt
a dash of tamari
¾ c. thinly sliced sweet onion, in @ 1-inch lengths
½ c. fresh pineapple, cut in small dice
2 c. peeled Maine shrimp, raw or cooked (see Note)
1 avocado, cut in ½ inch cubes
minced or thinly shredded hot pepper such as serrano (optional; I don’t usually use it)
1. Whisk the juices, sugar, oil, salt and tamari in a wide shallow bowl. Add onion, pineapple and shrimp and stir to coat everything well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, not more than 6 hours.
2. Taste, making sure you get onion and pineapple as well as shrimp. Add sugar if it’s too sour, oil if it tastes thin. Stir in the avocado and pepper, if using.
Note: From the purely gastronomic point of view, raw is preferable. But that’s if and only if: a) the shrimp is right-off-the-boat fresh and b) no one who’s eating it has any previously existing conditions including being very young or old. Otherwise, better safe, etc., and cooked is perfectly ok.
VERY NOT-CHINESE SHRIMP FRIED RICE
This is one of those recipes that instantly inspires additions – peas, for instance, or tiny dice of chorizo. Why not?
6 servings as part of a tasting meal, 2 plus leftovers if it’s the main event.
2 tbl. Butter
2 eggs, beaten to mix but not aerate with ½ tsp oil and a pinch of salt
3 c. cooked wild rice, a generous ½ c. uncooked
6 – 8 oz. cooked Maine shrimp
1/2c. very thinly sliced celery
salt to taste
¼ c. thinly sliced scallion
Siracha (sweet hot chili sauce) and tamari for serving at the table
1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a wide, heavy-bottomed skillet. When it sizzles, pour in the egg. Let it set a moment, then stir, separating the cooked egg into curds. Repeat. As soon as all the egg is cooked, remove it with a slotted spoon and set aside.
2. Spread the rice in the skillet and fry it, turning and scraping with the spoon or a sharp edged pancake turner, until it starts to have gold spots, anywhere from 8 to 15 minutes. It will stick a bit. A bit is ok. If it’s really getting glued on, add a little more butter.
3. Stir in the shrimp and celery. As soon as they’re hot, stir in the egg. That’s it. Add salt to taste and serve sprinkled with the scallions.