Grilled, boiled, fried— never get tired of shrimp

By JEFF NORTH,

Fall has arrived! Can you feel it in the air? Are your cheeks just a bit rosy from the sting of arctic air? Is your favorite jacket or sweater enough to protect you from this early wrath from the north? Are you checking the date of this issue to make sure you’re not reading last year’s paper? I wish I wasn’t being sarcastic but summer is still in full swing even though the calendar shows otherwise. Unprecedented heat with no rain has the brakes on fall with no end in sight.

Of course for our farmers, this is perfect for soybean harvest and cotton maturation. We have a long way to go and it’s entirely up to Mother Nature whether we get this one in the basket or not. I will be able to let you know the outcome around Halloween. For now though, these temperatures are more conducive for hanging out at the beach and eating, as Forrest Gump says, boiled shrimp, fried shrimp, barbeque shrimp, shrimp gumbo, and by now you know the rest.

Stacey and I finally found the opportunity to break away from the hustle and bustle of Mississippi and take a few days off. The therapeutic crashing of the emerald seas east of Destin was a much needed retreat for the soul. The heavy load of summer was almost magically lifted off the shoulders when we encountered the laidback lifestyle of the locals. I suppose the icing on the cake were the ice cold drinks and some the best boiled shrimp I have ever tasted at the quaint little eatery in Santa Rosa Beach, Bud and Alley’s.

There are literally thousands of shrimp species found in a multitude of habitats ranging from the seafloor of most coasts and estuaries as well as fresh water rivers and lakes. They play a vital role in the food chain and are an important food source for fish and whales. The term shrimp is used to refer to some decapod crustaceans. Life spans vary greatly between species ranging from one to seven years. Of course, this doesn’t take into account being harvested for the pot.

Mobility occurs through the use of swimmerets on the underside of their abdomens. When escaping from predators, they flick their tail driving them backwards very quickly. Some species will even bury themselves into sand or sediment to hide from danger. Shrimp vary widely in color depending on the species. In my opinion, two species in the genus Neocaridina are the most striking. One is a deep red color and another is a metallic blue and they are gorgeous!

The history of shrimp and use by humans is vast and dates back to 600 AD when fossil remains were found near the coast of Chiapas, Mexico. Clay vessels with shrimp decorations have been found in the ruins of Pompeii. Natives of North America caught shrimp in traps made from branches and Spanish moss. I am constantly amazed how indigenous people figured out ways to catch a multitude of species to sustain them. I suppose necessity is the mother of invention and one had to be very innovative or starve to death.

As populations increased with an ever increasing demand for protein, commercial fishing for shrimp began to increase. In 1735, beach seines were imported from France and Cajun fishermen in Louisiana caught and dried white shrimp in the sun. This practice is still popular today. Chinese immigrants arrived for the California Gold Rush and for many, shrimping became a way of life around the San Francisco Bay area.

As time progressed, huge trawls were developed to catch shrimp in large quantities to meet demand. Technologies like radar, sonar, and GPS were developed to locate shrimp populations farther offshore than ever before. Of course with increasing demand for the delicacies of the sea, so came issues from overfishing. It never fails, does it?

Once again, an untouched pristine resource which helps sustain mankind becomes endangered by the onslaught of abuse and no regard for the future of the species. It seems we just take and take and take never realizing that the resource is fragile. Thankfully though, our marine biologists, along with wildlife and fisheries departments, develop programs that not only allow for harvest but also perpetuate the species. Through science, we are able to continue to enjoy this rich bounty from the sea because of the hard work and research from those dedicated to making things better.

Whether they are marinated with seasoning and limes and placed on the grill, or butterflied and deep fried, or boiled to perfection and placed in a chilled bowl with cocktail sauce, I never tire of this delicious crustacean. Add to the fact that many times the experience is greatly enhanced by enjoying a tropical setting and an ocean sunset. My mouth is watering once again and Bud and Alley’s is only six hours away.

Though I don’t have time to make it back down to the Emerald Coast, I can stop at one of our many local markets and vendors to pick some up and take home. We’re not far away from those hearty winter meals with a fire and a nice vintage so I would encourage you to take in what is surely the end of summer within a few weeks. Enjoy some shrimp and until next time, enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.

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