GREEN & GOURMET
It's time to be seduced by some of the sea's most succulent goodies,
Green-tail shrimp are prized and sought after by chefs and foodies along the Carolina coasts, and we have to wait it out till the fall before the bounty comes in. Just this past week, a marquee at the seafood market at Whalebone Junction in the Outer Banks announced their presence, so I stopped to fill up my cooler. In years past, I've had Atlantic Beach Seafood clean and freeze 20 pounds to last me through the winter, just like many chefs do whose restaurants stay open year round.
The Pamlico Sound in NC is the northernmost border for most shrimp. Core Sound, near Morehead City, and the Wilmington area, at Southport, get loads of shrimp from their waters as well.
Didn't know that there were different kinds of shrimp?
The pink or spotted shrimp are the most scarce and are the first to be harvested in the spring, from April to June. They're most active at night, burrowing into the mucky muck during the day.
There's the brown shrimp, the most plentiful and what you typically find in most seafood markets in the Carolinas, netted from July to November. They are also most active at night in open waters, and that's why you see the big shrimp trawlers out after dark, with the crew anchoring at Lookout Bight and other safe harbors to sleep during the day.
Green-tails, or white shrimp, have a more subtle, sweeter flavor. They like to hang out in brackish marshes, preferring soft, muddy bottoms. Shrimpers start bringing them in during late August and usually their season lasts until the end of November.
Trawler at Wanchese, the ultimate Outer Banks fishing village
SHRIMP WERE PESTS
Can you believe that shrimp were once scoffed at and considered inedible up until the 1900s? Even though the Native Americans considered them gourmet treats, catching them with weirs or baskets made from marsh grasses and supple bark and tree limbs.
Fishermen along the Outer Banks down to Southport would pick what they called "bugs" -the pesky shrimp - from their nets and throw them into barrels, then trade them with farmers for corn that would be dried and ground into cornmeal. Farmers worked the shrimp into their gardens as fertilizer, so it was a win-win.
Then settlers got brave or hungry enough and finally developed a taste for shrimp. Ice plants in the early 1900s enabled them to keep shrimp fresher for longer periods of time, and that helped sales. By the 1930s, commercial canning improved the status of shrimp, too.
The introduction of trawlers, in 1933, proved to be much more efficient than the long-haul seine traditionally used to net catches from the Pamlico and Core Sounds in NC. After World War II, shrimping became NC's major seafood industry.
Today, you'll see the long-armed trawlers working the sounds or just offshore. "Otter" trawls are traditionally used in deeper waters and catch a majority of the shrimp in NC. A newer trawler, called a "skimmer," seems to be more efficient for white or green-tailed shrimp especially, with a lot less by-catch as well.
Once, out in our little motor boat, we followed behind a shrimp trawler as it culled its catch, just outside the Beaufort Inlet. The kids screamed when they saw several six-foot long sharks gobbling up the goodies in the shrimper's wake.
Green-tails are usually sweet, firm and have a very clean taste.
I was in the mood to grill, but didn't want to overwhelm the subtle taste of the shrimp. So after shelling and deveining, I marinated them in a mixture of olive oil, garlic, salt and Spanish smoked paprika, with a bit of lemon juice. Skewered, they shared the grill with some beautiful, firm yellow zucchini that have been so prevalent in our farmers markets lately.
Easy and quick, and, delicious!
GARLIC GRILLED SHRIMP
2 pounds shrimp, cleaned, washed and patted dry
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
couple grinds black pepper
juice of half large lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Soak wooden skewers, if using. Preheat grill.
2. Mince the garlic, then while on cutting board, sprinkle with salt. Using the flat side of your chef's knife, press the salt into the garlic, mashing it together. Place in a bowl large enough to hold the shrimp, then add the paprika, black pepper, lemon juice and olive oil. Whisk until blended well.
3. Add shrimp to the bowl and stir to coat. Let sit while grill is heating.
4. Place on skewers. Grill on both sides for just a couple of minutes, until shrimp is firm and pink. Eat immediately!