Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Maine Shrimp Season Is Here: Squeeeee!

Listen up, New Englanders! It's finally here! The long wait is over, because once per year, we get the happy news that Maine shrimp season has begun! 
Maine shrimp
This year the wait has been particularly long, as warm waters have depleted Maine shrimp populations, thereby cutting back the shrimp catch quota for fisherman seeking these pink, lovely morsels of crustacean goodness. But we received word a little over a week ago that the season was open and started visiting our local fish market, a wonderful little shop down by the water in Beverly called Rowand Seafood Market. Unfortunately, on the first visit, the good man at the counter let us know that they had sold out early on the day that the shrimp had arrived, and unfortunately while they were expecting another supply the next day, demand was so high that it was best to call before heading down. Day after day, I called, and there were no shrimp to be had. And finally today, I picked up the phone again, receiving the happy news that a large shipment had come in during the morning and they were available for purchase. The Bigger Half, who stays more local to the North Shore than myself, went down as soon as he was able, only to see that the pan that should have been chock full of tiny little shrimps was down to about only a pound and a half. Signed, sealed, delivered, "Hey buddy, I'll take the rest of your Maine shrimp." He relayed the news that the package was in hand, and I darted out of work at 4:59 like my pants were on fire. 
A pound and a half goes quickly
Now, you might say to yourself, what the hell is the big deal? Maine is famous for lobsters, which have been certainly more affordable recently than in the past, and are undeniably a scrumptious delicacy. But don't be a sap and miss out. Maine shrimp are, as previously stated, only available for a short period of time each year. They are supremely local, and absolutely fresh: never frozen, only given about a day before they reach the fish market and then your eager taste buds. They're affordable, and yes, they are shrimp, but they hold such a special flavor that is unique to the frigid waters of Maine, so sweet, and a touch briny, not to mention the livery, buttery and fatty substances that permeate the liquid of the head, that there is nothing really that you can compare them to.  They're quick to cook (and believe me, Jesus weeps if you overcook them to mush), and they're a social eating experience, as you fight with fellow seafood lovers over a pile of rosy morsels, peeling, and licking each finger after every bite, because you don't know how long they're going to be around, and gosh darn it, the anticipation nearly killed you this time around...
How to cook? We go with two ways, for a little diversity of flavor and a slight bit of textural fun.
Maine shrimp ceviche
Simple Ceviche: Remove the shrimp heads, and peel the shell off of the tail. Throw your raw tail meat into a little bowl or vessel. We went with about ten "big" shrimps for this dish. Give a good squeeze of half a lemon, and maybe a half tablespoon splash of olive oil. A crack of black pepper, and a similar amount of flaky salt. Give everything a mix, and let marinate for about five minutes until the translucent flesh on the outside turns a tad more white, an effect of the acid from the lemon juice cooking the shrimp. 
After marinating a bit in
lemon juice and olive oil
These citrus-cooked suckers go fast. The first flavor that hits is the sourness of the lemon juice, quickly rounded out by the luscious fat of this nearly raw shrimp. A succulent blast of ocean mist hits your taste buds as you begin to chew, which and before you know it, the flesh has simply melted away. The flavor is  cleaner and sweeter and more tender than the sweetest hardshell lobster, which on its best day is still more rubbery than the jewels that you just consumed. 
Steaming hot shrimp boil
Shrimp Boil: Get a pot of water going on the stove. Add a generous handful of salt, ten cracks of pepper, a few dashes Johnny's Seafood Seasoning, and few dashes of Aleppo pepper. Bring everything to a boil, and dump in about a pound of the Maine shrimp, heads and shells on. (You'll peel as you eat, which is really part of the experience.) Now, this is important. You want to boil these guys for one minute. You boil them for two minutes, I'm not your friend anymore. You boil for one minute, turn off the stove, strain your shrimp in a colander. They're going to cook for a few more minutes on their own after you strain them, but I swear to Jesus, you let them boil for two minutes, you're wasting your time, and all them shrimp babies. They turn mushy. Not rubbery like if you overcook lobsters. They turn to mush, and then it's all over. You have a very specific sweet spot to hit with the cooking time... ::sigh:: I'll let Apollo 13 do my talking for me: "The re-entry corridor is in fact so narrow, that if this basketball were the Earth, and this softball were the Moon, and the two were placed fourteen feet apart, the crew would have to hit a target no thicker than this piece of paper."Get it? Got it? Good.
Peeling the shrimp
Anyway, if you don't overcook your shrimp, you're certainly in for a treat. Steaming hot shrimp, each just waiting to be peeled. Pick up one, twist to remove the head, and gently suck out all that livery, buttery juice from the head capsule. Enjoying the shrimp head juice is a huge part of the experience, so please don't miss out. After finished, discard, and turn to the body. Peel away the shell from the tail. In my opinion, due to the flavor you've already taken care to add to the boiling liquid (also, feel free to add some Old Bay to that seasoning, I just didn't have any on hand), you don't really need any dipping sauce. You can pop these little shrimp tails in your mouth and taste even more sweetness than with the ceviche version. The tender, but this time more cooked through flesh, is just salty and briny enough to remind you where they're from, but by the time you've had a moment to think about the intricate harmony of flavors of these sweet pink shrimp, the bite has melted away, and it's time to repeat the consumption process of buttery, minerally head to sweet, delicate tail meat. So fun. So delicious. So worth the wait. 
Delicate, sweet, local
Sooo... what are you waiting for? Start hollerin' at your fish guy, and get there early when he says that the shrimp are in, because they are going fast, and they won't be around for another year once they're gone.  Maine shrimp are a truly delicious, local crustacean and an experience not to be missed if you have the opportunity to try them during the cold winters here in New England. 

2 Cabot St
Beverly, MA

No comments:

Post a Comment