There have been lots of folks talking and writing lately about the fabulous little local shrimp that are available "fresh from the sea" in our area for just a few months each Winter. There's a shrimp CSF operating out of Seabrook, NH - there have been shrimp at the winter farmers' markets - and there's even a workshop coming up soon at UNH that promises to teach folks how to properly cook and store the little treasures. Shrimp are everywhere this year!
We were going to wait until the next winter farmers' market to get some, but I decided today that I couldn't wait any longer. We went out to Portsmouth, NH and stopped by Sanders Lobster to pick up a 5 lb bag. At $1.99/lb, I believe they're a little more expensive than when you get them straight from the fishermen, but $9.95 for enough shrimp for a couple of meals (plus heads and shells that we can use for stock) seemed still to be a plenty good bargain to me! (Keep in mind if you're buying these that you lose about 1/2 the weight of your purchase to the heads and shells - so 5 lbs of shrimp will yield about 2 to 2 1/2 lbs of meat.)
At first when I looked at the shrimp that we had brought home, I was a little overwhelmed by all the legs and eyes and bodies in the bag... but after a couple minutes, you do get used to them. Reminding myself what a privilege it is just to have access to these fresh, local, sustainably fished creatures definitely helped!
A couple words about sustainability... when I first heard about these shrimp, all I could wonder was "how many other creatures died in the harvest?" I've read about shrimp trawling, and the devastating effect it has on ocean life (on the other side of course there's shrimp farming, and the devastating effect it has on the environment as well). Given all our family puts into making sure our poultry, beef, pork, and eggs are all sourced from farms and farmers who we believe are engaged in ethical, humane farming practices, I wanted to make sure our seafood was given the same consideration. A call to the nice folks at Yankee Fisherman's Co-Op put my mind at ease. They weren't flustered at all by my questions (I'm sure they've answered the same questions 1,000 times before!), and they explained how they avoid issues related to by-catch, how they use a grate system that ensures only those shrimp that are mature enough to be eaten are harvested (and young shrimp go back into the ocean to keep growing bigger and to eventually make more shrimp), and how they just generally use practices that ensure there will be many more shrimp harvests in years to come. I'll not try here to put down all their words, as they're best heard "straight from the source" - if you have questions, I highly recommend that you give them a call too! Suffice to say, I was happy with what I heard, and I feel that these shrimp are sourced in a way I can respect.
Back to our "processing" and cooking adventure - we removed the heads, and then soaked the shrimp bodies for about an hour in cold water to loosen the meat from the shells, as recommended everywhere I've seen. Then we removed the shells, and put them (along with the heads) in a bag in the freezer so we can make stock later. The picture above shows the shrimp just before we cooked them. Aren't they beautiful!?
To cook them, we sauteed them VERY briefly (they really do cook "so quick you can't even turn around before they're done," as a friend of mine said) with a little oil and butter, garlic, onions, and white wine. YUM!! And they truly are just fabulously tasty - I can't wait to get more, so we can try them boiled, in shrimp fried rice, and in an oven-baked shrimp scampi recipe that sounded yummy (except we'll be leaving out the Cheezits the recipe mentions!!).
The shrimp season in our region only runs until I believe April - so if you're looking for a tasty local treat, don't delay!! Or, as the author of the article I linked to for the scampi recipe above said, "Now is the time to buy as much Maine shrimp as can be eaten or stored in the freezer for the summer time." Sounds like a plan to me!