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Friday, September 24, 2010

How to Buy Shrimp

While here in Maine, Jake found out that he loves fried Maine shrimp--those little tiny shrimp that they have up here.  They are really sweet and tasty.

The Morning Call recently ran an article about shrimp.  As you know, the BP oil spill threatened not only the shrimp, but livelihood of the many shrimp fishermen who fish the Gulf.  But according to virtually all reports, shrimp from the Gulf is safe to eat--and a good thing, too. 

Shrimp is the favorite seafood in the U.S.  According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch (you'd be familiar with this if you received my September newsletter), wild and farmed shrimp from the U.S. & Canada are an environmentally favorable seafood to eat.

The article has tips from Chef John Besh, one of the top chefs in New Orleans (and the country, for that matter) about buying the best shrimp:
  • Dark brown heads, legs or tails can mean old shrimp.  The color should be light, "almost transparent in a way," Besh said.
  • Use fresh shrimp immediately, if possible, or within a day.  (In our area, fresh shrimp are almost impossible to find because they are very perishable.  Even the shrimp that you find in a seafood store has been frozen.)
  • Whole, fresh head-on shrimp should still have antennae attached; shrimp without them were likely frozen.
  • Besh said shrimp should smell "fresh and briny from the sea."  (A good hint for any kind of seafood.)  Perform a "sniff test" at the counter, if you like.  If the store refuses, try an old Julia Child trick: Buy the shrimp, open the package right there and complain, loudly, if unsatisfied.
  • Buy shrimp with the shells still on; use them to make a shrimp stock for use in recipes.  "Shrimp shells have more flavor than the actual shrimp meat itself," Besh said.  Here's his simple recipe: "Toast the shells in olive oil, add onion, garlic and celery.  Cover with water and cook 45 minutes."
  • Frozen shrimp can be as good as fresh, Besh said.  He prefers shell-on shrimp because they're less prone to freezer burn.  He also prefers to thaw the shrimp himself when he's ready to use them, rather than buy thawed shrimp at the market.  (Cook's Illustrated suggests the same thing.) 
  • Avoid precooked shrimp, Besh said.  "I can't control it.  I'm at the whim of someone else cooking my food."
  • Develop a relationship with a reputable fish dealer who cares about the freshness and quality of the product.  (Just a few in our area are Captain Bob's in Quakertown, Heller's in Warrington and Bucks County Seafood in Dublin.)

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