By Henry Schliff
Since people in the United States consume more shrimp than any other kind of seafood and because Ocracoke is blessed with some of the best tasting wild shrimp to be found anywhere in the world, I thought some basic information about shrimp would be helpful for our readers along with a delicious informal way to prepare them.
Farm raised vs. wild shrimp
Ninety percent of the shrimp consumed in the United States is imported and farm-raised. Farming technology has improved dramatically in recent years, and though carefully controlled farm-raised shrimp can be very good and healthful there is very little regulation of overseas producers. In addition, very little inspection of imports is done by the FDA (about 2 percent) and with so little oversight a great deal of contamination has been discovered (numerous cancer-causing agents and salmonella bacteria).
Many foreign shrimp farms rely on antibiotics and pesticides to deal with parasites and diseases in their overcrowded shrimp pools and the resulting toxicity can be so high that the state of Alabama, which does its own inspection, rejects 50 percent of imported shrimp due to contamination. So much toxicity has been found in Vietnamese shrimp that Japan and the European Union inspect all of it. Clearly something has to been done, but in the meantime, it is a good idea buy farm-raised shrimp from a seafood market that you can trust and knows how it was raised. The remaining 10 percent of shrimp that is consumed in the U.S. is wild caught. Unlike overseas there is a good deal of inspection in this country, but even so, it is a good idea to always buy from a seafood purveyor that you know you can trust. Wild shrimp are much sweeter and more flavorful than farm-raised due to their feeding on seaweed and crustaceans. They also have thicker shells and firmer meat due to their ability to swim.
How to buy and store
Because shrimp is highly perishable, most shrimp at the market has been previously frozen. A good market will defrost it slowly under refrigeration and turn it over quickly before it has time to spoil. Only purchase shrimp that has a salty aroma and never any hint of ammonia, which indicates spoilage. Always cook the shrimp you buy within 24 hours of purchase, and keep it wrapped in thick plastic buried in ice in a covered container in the refrigerator until cooking. If you buy fresh shrimp for later use, freeze it as soon as possible immersed in water in a covered container (heads off with shells intact). Never refreeze previously frozen shrimp. It’s best to use frozen shrimp within one month of freezing and always defrost it under refrigeration or in ice water.
How to boil, shell, and devein
Boil only shrimp that has its shell intact. Use one quart of water and 2 Tbs. of salt for each pound of shrimp. In a large pot bring the salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp and cover the pot. Return the water to the boil over high heat. When it reaches the boil uncover the pot and cook the shrimp until they curl and turn pink. I have found that medium shrimp, after returning to the boil, cook in about 2 minutes and larger shrimp 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the shrimp immediately in a colander and rinse with cold water. Let the shrimp cool in ice water. Peel each shrimp by grasping the shrimp on the underside with both hands near the head and push the shell out on both sides with your thumbs until it loosens. Continue the process down to the tail. Turn the shrimp over and lift off the shell starting at the head and work down to the tail. Keep the shelled shrimp in ice water as you continue the process with the remaining shrimp. To devein a shrimp make a shallow cut down the back of the shrimp starting at the head and working down to the tail with a sharp paring knife. Rinse the vein away under cold running water.
Shrimp Tacos (serves 4)
1¼ lbs. cooked, peeled, and deveined shrimp, cut into bite size pieces
Eight 8-inch flour tortillas
½ of a small cabbage, cored and coarsely shredded with a sharp knife
Mango salsa (see recipe below)
Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce (can be purchased at Tai Moon) or your favorite bottled hot sauce
4 medium- size ripe mangos, peeled, pitted, and cut into small pieces (about 3 ½ cups)
2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
2 Tbs. finely chopped cilantro leaves
1 jalapeno, seeds and veins removed, finely chopped
Mix together all ingredients in a small bowl
How to serve
Place all ingredients on a side table for each person to make his or her own tacos. To make one shrimp taco start by wrapping a tortilla in a clean towel and warming it in a microwave for 10 seconds. Place the warm tortilla on a plate and place some shrimp in the middle. Spoon some mango salsa over the shrimp. Sprinkle on some shredded cabbage and then spoon on some sour cream. Add Sriracha sauce to taste. Wrap the tortilla around the filling and enjoy.
Henry Schliff has been the chef of a French, Italian and Mexican restaurant, and was most recently the owner of the Orange Blossom Bakery in Buxton. He is the author of two cookbooks.