story by Anna Stockton
Bubba Blue from the movie Forrest Gump said it best, “Shrimp is the fruit of the sea,” before famously listing all the ways in which shrimp can be prepared. Fortunately for those of us on the Gulf Coast we don’t have to go far to enjoy all the “fruit” the sea has to offer. All we have to do is stop in our local seafood market.
The shrimp industry is big business along the Gulf coast. From the marine hardware stores to local restaurants to the actual shrimpers themselves, the impact of Gulf shrimp runs deep in our local communities. As opposed to imported shrimp, Gulf shrimp are highly regulated so you get a higher quality product from a natural habitat. Gulf shrimpers are focused on sustainability and are proud of the taste and texture of the shrimp they bring to the local markets.
With the exception of a few changes to protect other marine life, shrimping practices along the Gulf coast haven’t changed much over the years. The trawl net drags along the ocean floor with tickler chains that cause the shrimp to jump. Along with the tickler chains, the bottom of the net has weights to keep it in place while the top of the net has floats to ensure the net stays open. The turtle exclusion device, or TED, allows turtles to escape the net and the bycatch reduction device, or BRD, enables other marine life to do the same. Both of these devices were designed by shrimpers to reduce the negative impact shrimping has on other marine life.
There are four main kinds of shrimp that can be found here on the Gulf Coast. The local brown shrimp gets their name because of the iodine rich diet. This shrimp has a robust flavor that works well with shrimp forward dishes like local favorites, gumbo and jambalaya. White shrimp have a sweet and mild flavor, thanks to the low salinity water in the bayous they call home. These shrimp work best for boiling and sautéing as they naturally soak in seasonings. Pink shrimp are even more sweet and mild than white shrimp and do well with delicate sauces such as shrimp and grits. And finally, we have the Red Royal shrimp, these rich and buttery crustaceans are the pride of the Gulf Coast. Often compared to lobsters, Red Royals can stand on their own or be used in a light dish.
Much like fruit, the different kinds of shrimp have seasons in which they are harvested. Brown shrimp are best during the summer months while the best white shrimp and red royals can be found in the cooler months. Pink shrimp taste their best when harvested in the cold months. Whatever time of the year it is, it’s always a good time to serve up some Gulf Coast shrimp.
As Bubba Blue said, there are so many ways to make shrimp. Whether you boil it and serve it as shrimp cocktail or as a meal in a low-country boil, fry it on up, put it on a kabob, or cook it in a pasta dish, this versatile crustacean can satisfy even the most discerning taste.