When you think of U.S. wild caught shrimp, I am willing to bet your mind first takes you to the Gulf States, such as Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas. Or it could be that you are from the West Coast, so you think of Oregon or Washington. If you are really into seafood, or just happen to own some real estate there, Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia might come to mind. But how many of you, especially those living outside of Mystic, think of Connecticut as your go-to shrimp locale? Well, starting this week, D.C. natives might need to start re-thinking where they believe great shrimp are caught.
In my opinion, Connecticut royal red shrimp, also known as Stonington Reds, may be one of the best kept seafood secrets of the last few years. Unbeknownst to us living in the district, locals in Stonington, CT have been enjoying these gorgeous shrimp for over a decade. Can't really blame them for not spreading the word though, as it's easy to imagine why they would want to keep such a delicious secret all to themselves.
Species-wise, royal red shrimp are not exactly new to our market. These kind of shrimp are found throughout the Gulf of Mexico, where our previous shipments have come from, and along the Atlantic Coast from Cape Cod, MA to French Guiana in South America. Traditionally, we have received frozen-at-sea product from Florida, which is delicious in its own right and creates quite a stir when available. The royal red shrimp fishery began off the coast of Florida in 1962 and, until this point in time, the only royal reds available in the D.C. area were caught in this fishery and shipped frozen. However, we are now able to source fresh, never frozen product. Combine that with the fact that they are coming from Connecticut and the season could last as long as 4-6 months, now that's something to tell your friends about.
Royal red shrimp are found in deep, extremely deep waters with depths ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 feet. In Florida, you will find royal reds hiding in the dark expanse off of the Continental Shelf, and just like the royal reds from Florida, Connecticut reds are no different. To harvest Connecticut reds fishermen must haul 12 hours and over a hundred miles to reach the Continental Shelf, where the shrimp can be harvested. The fishery is a very small one. Actually, as of 2007 only one boat, The Neptune, bothered fishing for the royal reds out of Stonington, CT. That's fine by many, as the dearth of fishermen targeting these delicacies keeps them sustainable and primarily local.
The first thing you notice that is different about royal reds is their color. Most shrimp do not turn an eye-pleasing red color until you cook them, but royal reds are true to their name in the fact that they are a flaming dahlia even before hitting a hot pan. But you don't taste color, you taste flavor, and that is really where royal reds separate themselves from every other shrimp. Royal reds are rich, almost like candied shellfish butter. Think lobster sweetness, without the dense texture, with a succulent, yet crisp finish. They are more delicate than the typical Gulf shrimp, so be evenhanded when cooking them, paying much attention not to overcook, as this can easily happen. They don't need much in the way of seasoning, a little butter, salt, and pepper will go a long way. If you are poaching them, be quick with it and don't leave them on too long.
Fresh shrimp are difficult to get to market because shrimp tend to spoil faster than fish, and most other seafood for that matter. Shrimp harvested in the depths off of a Continental Shelf are even harder to get fresh. This fact, coupled with their remarkable flavor, makes getting these fresh Connecticut reds even more special. Right now there are many of the uninitiated walking the hot streets of Washington D.C., dinning on inferior seafood. With the help of some good people from the north, and a little duplicity, we can enjoy some of the best shrimp available, while ensuring that a secret remains a secret.