By C.W. Cameron / For the AJC
June 2, 2021
They’re not all the same: Flavor reflects where shrimp was harvested
Atlanta may be landlocked, but Atlantans are lucky to be within about 300 miles of the coast of three states: Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. When we want seafood pulled right from saltwater, we don’t have far to travel.
And when we’re ready for seafood, it’s likely shrimp that we seek. Americans are eating more shrimp than ever before. And over two-thirds of the shrimp harvested in the United States comes from the Gulf of Mexico. From Florida to Texas, boats head out into the Gulf every day to bring home wild-caught shrimp for our dinner tables.
Chandra Chifici, owner of Deanie’s Seafood restaurants in Metairie and New Orleans, Louisiana, has spent all her life in Jefferson Parish and says she firmly believes there’s something in the water that makes Louisiana shrimp more delicious than shrimp caught anywhere else in the Gulf.
Chifici’s family bought the restaurant from the original Deanie back in 1982 and now operates three restaurants and a market. Pre-COVID, they went through 1,000 pounds of shrimp each week — head-on shrimp for barbecue and boiled shrimp, head-off for fried seafood platters and entrees. Two of the restaurants are now open and they hope to reopen the French Quarter restaurant this summer. The market stayed open to ship Louisiana seafood across the country.
“We really didn’t see much downturn in the demand for shrimp at our market. When it comes to Louisiana seafood, people were still buying to cook at home.” Deanie’s has shipped fresh and prepared seafood for 39 years. Chifici says many of their customers are the natives who moved for jobs or after Hurricane Katrina. “They just got to have their Louisiana seafood. Crawfish season is when we ship the most. We ship live or boiled Louisiana crawfish and fresh crawfish tails. And we ship Louisiana oysters and blue crabs as well as shrimp.”
Deanie’s buys from local fishermen and family-run businesses, all of whom survived the pandemic. “It helps that we can get wild-caught shrimp all year round. Brown, white, pink, it’s always the season for shrimp depending on the type. And the big boats can produce individually quick-frozen shrimp while they’re out on the water, so they can travel farther and that also helps us have fresh-caught shrimp year-round.”
Jonathan McLendon, born and raised in Biloxi, Mississippi, is co-owner of Biloxi Shrimp Co. He and partner Mark Mavar are buying off those large shrimp boats whose modern technology and GPS tracking allow them to catch seafood not only in the Gulf but up and down the southeast Atlantic coast as well. McLendon says a captain and two or three deckhands can stay out for weeks because they have the ability to freeze the shrimp right on the boat.
And he remembers when Biloxi was known as the seafood capital of the world and his family was part of that. “I remember seeing pictures of my grandfather working in the shrimp factory. I can remember when I was in junior high and high school, there were more than a couple dozen shrimp factories. Now the shrimp industry has consolidated in Biloxi and there are only a few of us left. But together we put out more than the 28 factories did back in the day.” McLendon reports that over 15% of domestic shrimp in the U.S. comes through Biloxi and his company’s processing plant.
“It’s always shrimp season somewhere. We process pink shrimp from Florida, brown shrimp from Texas, white shrimp from Louisiana.” For home cooks, the shipping arm of Biloxi Shrimp Co. sells shrimp in a range of sizes from extra small with 61 to 90 shrimp per pound to colossal with 15 shrimp per pound, and everything in between, some peeled and deveined, and some with shells on.
Does he agree with Chifici that shrimp tastes different depending on where it’s harvested? “Even though it’s all the same species, shrimp pick up the flavor of the surroundings. Texas and Alabama shrimp come from water with sandy bottoms, and they have a very lobster-type texture and are pretty sweet. Our Gulf white shrimp in Mississippi and Louisiana waters come from more shallow and warmer saltwater. This gives a great mild and sweet taste that keeps our customers coming back for more.”
Where to order Gulf shrimp:
At White Pillars in Biloxi, shrimp can appear in more than a dozen dishes. Shrimp and grits? Yes. Shrimp in a seafood tower, shrimp ceviche, shrimp pad thai, shrimp corndogs made with hush puppy batter, skewered whole shrimp — all are on the menu. For our story, White Pillars’ Austin Sumrall and two other chefs shared their recipes for Gulf-influenced takes on shrimp salad.
Rich and Poor Shrimp Salad (Ricchi e Poveri)
We love this recipe from Andrea’s Restaurant in Metairie, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Feeling flush? Add more shrimp. Feeling a little poor? That’s when cannellini beans are your friend. The textures are complementary.
When he supplied the recipe, chef-owner Andrea Apuzzo of Andrea’s Restaurant told us, “This salad has a rich cultural background. Eating beans is for the poor and eating seafood is for the rich. Forget for the moment that both can be delicious. Thus this mixture of beans and lightly poached Gulf shrimp has picked up the tongue-in-cheek name.”
Rich and Poor Shrimp Salad (Ricchi e Poveri)
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 2 cups cleaned and chopped fresh Gulf shrimp
- 1 cup cooked cannellini beans (if using canned beans, drain and rinse)
- 1 stalk celery with leaves, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup white wine
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped white onion
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 6 cups mixed baby greens
- Lemon wedges, for garnish
- Lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil, to drizzle, if desired
- Prepare an ice bath: Fill a large bowl halfway with water and add 4 cups ice.
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat enough water to cover shrimp and add vinegar. When mixture comes to a boil, add shrimp and stir. Reduce heat immediately and poach shrimp just until firm, about 3 minutes. Remove shrimp from liquid and put into ice bath. Stir until shrimp cools, then remove shrimp and drain.
- In a large bowl, combine beans, celery, olive oil, white wine, lemon juice, onion, garlic, red pepper, Worcestershire and salt. Add shrimp and toss well. If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate. When ready to serve, divide greens between 6 plates. Divide shrimp salad over lettuce and garnish with lemon wedges. If you wish, drizzle with a little lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil. Serves 6.
Per serving: Per 1/2 cup serving: 237 calories (percent of calories from fat, 53), 17 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 13 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 154 milligrams cholesterol, 229 milligrams sodium.
— From a recipe provided by Andrea Apuzzo of Andrea’s Restaurant in Metairie, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.
White Pillars’ Shrimp Roll
Austin Sumrall, chef-owner of White Pillars in Biloxi, likes having shrimp on the menu because he says shrimp is really the backbone of the community. “A lot of Biloxi is built around the seafood industry and shrimp is a big part. Shrimp are a product of their environment and I think our Mississippi shrimp are the sweetest, plumpest and most delicious.” During his culinary training in New York, one of his favorite splurges was a lobster roll. When he opened his restaurant, he made a version with big Gulf shrimp instead.
The biggest surprise in this recipe is poaching shrimp in butter rather than in seasoned water. The result is shrimp with a softer texture and richer flavor. At the restaurant, the sauce starts with house-made aioli. We’ve substituted, with the chef’s permission, Duke’s mayonnaise instead.
You’ll end up with most of your pound of butter at the end of the poaching. Sumrall says the leftover butter is perfect for the next time you’re preparing a pasta dish with seafood.
No creme fraiche on hand? Sumrall says it’s OK to substitute sour cream. And he suggests serving your rolls with the crunchiest kettle chips you can find.
White Pillars’ Shrimp Roll
- 1 pound plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
- 30 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 1 1/2 pounds)
- 2 cups creme fraiche
- 1 cup Duke’s mayonnaise
- 1 cup finely diced fennel bulb
- 1/2 cup sliced green onion
- 1/2 cup finely diced celery
- 1/4 cup chopped fennel fronds
- 1/4 cup finely chopped dill
- Old Bay seasoning, to taste
- Lemon juice, to taste
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 6 buns, preferably brioche
- In a medium saucepan just large enough to hold the shrimp, melt 1 pound butter over low heat. When butter is melted, add shrimp and stir. Keep butter just at a simmer and cook shrimp just until firm, about 5 minutes, depending on temperature of butter. Remove shrimp from butter and cool on a plate. Reserve butter for another use.
- In a large bowl, combine creme fraiche, mayonnaise, fennel bulb, green onion, celery, fennel fronds and chopped dill. Add shrimp and toss to cover. Taste for seasoning, adding Old Bay, lemon juice and salt and pepper as needed. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- When ready to serve, spread remaining 1 tablespoon room temperature butter on cut sides of buns. Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium-high heat and toast buttered side of buns. Divide filling between buns and serve. Serves 6.
Per serving: Per serving: 855 calories (percent of calories from fat, 76), 23 grams protein, 28 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 73 grams total fat (27 grams saturated), 304 milligrams cholesterol, 944 milligrams sodium.
— Adapted from a recipe provided by Austin Sumrall, chef-owner of White Pillars in Biloxi, Mississippi.