Maine Shrimp: For A Limited Time Only

A plateful of pasta with shrimp, topped with parsley and red pepper flakes

hide captionLinguine with garlic and red pepper flakes are tossed with fresh Maine shrimp in a simple, memorable dish from food writer Jessica Strelitz's childhood.

Jessica Strelitz for NPR

I have two favorite fresh food memories from the Maine winters of my youth: fried smelts for breakfast, and rose-hued shrimp sold out of the back of fishermen's pickup trucks. We would buy the shrimp on the side of the road, go home, clean them and toss them raw with hot linguine, garlic and vermouth — which most likely explains my penchant for martinis as an adult. The shrimp would be cooked before reaching the plate, and Mom could feed the entire family for about $5.

The shrimping season in the northern reaches of the U.S. Atlantic Coast has slowly been getting longer over the past decade, and 2010 marks the second consecutive six-month fishing season for Pandalus borealis, allowing fishermen to fish and trap the crustaceans from Dec. 1, 2009, through May 29, 2010. Projections of robust stock in the cold Northern Atlantic waters off Maine's shores prompted the powers that be to decide there was plenty to go around this season.

Maine shrimp are smaller than their larger and more familiar cousins. They are prized for their sweet, delicate meat that requires little, if any, cooking time. P. borealis are true Mainers, spending their entire lives breeding and growing in the Gulf of Maine instead of migrating like many other kinds of shrimp. Born male, they move out into deeper waters offshore after about a year and, two years later, become females, swimming back closer to the coast for spawning.

Fresh Maine shrimp in red mesh bags in a styrofoam cooler i i

hide captionIf you're not close enough to New England to pick up fresh Maine shrimp yourself, you can have them shipped to your door.

Jessica Strelitz for NPR
Fresh Maine shrimp in red mesh bags in a styrofoam cooler

If you're not close enough to New England to pick up fresh Maine shrimp yourself, you can have them shipped to your door.

Jessica Strelitz for NPR

If you're not accustomed to driving along the Maine coast with a cooler in your back seat, there are other ways of getting in on the short-lived bounty. All Maine shrimp is wild-caught. Port Clyde Fresh Catch offers the crustaceans through its community-supported fishery program, the ocean-based version of community supported agriculture (CSA). Pickup is available at a number of winter farmers markets across the state and at pickup points in Rhode Island and New York.

If you're not in New England, though, you can seek them out in local fish markets or do what I did last month — mail-order them. A number of seafood markets in Maine will overnight them, but considering Maine shrimp cost $1 a pound whole, on average, and overnight shipping is eight to 10 times that cost — try to find a place that will pack them second-day mail for a fraction of the cost and exactly the same quality.

Twelve pounds of shrimp arrived at my door packed in dry ice, heads on, firm and vibrant. I carefully rinsed them and put aside a few pounds to freeze, then peeled six pounds of crustaceans — reserving the heads and shells for making risotto and bisque stocks. Piles of pink meat rose in a bowl next to the sink, bound for spicy scampi or raw crudo, while I rinsed, dried and removed the sharp point, known as a rostrum, on the heads of about 30 others for deep frying later. Once my tasters had assembled and the sauvignon blanc and pinot noir was flowing, the Maine shrimp extravaganza in my Virginia kitchen was on.

About The Author

Jessica Strelitz is a fiercely proud Maine native living in Arlington, Va. A food and spirits freelance writer, greeting card scribbler and news geek, she is obsessed with Virginia wines, where to find the best dumplings, and spreading the gospel of New England lobster across the world. Find updates on her food work and other favorite things on Twitter.

I started with the bisque, rich with cream and sherry and served with a no-knead whole wheat bread. It was quickly dubbed a hit. Moving onto the starches, I prepared a fiery scampi — cooked the way I remember from my teens, but with extra red pepper flakes — and a more mellow risotto, which split the tasters depending on their heat thresholds. Then came the crudo, as a palate cleanser — chilled, raw shrimp dressed with just a touch of olive oil, salt and fresh lemon melding into a creamy, sweet bite. Everyone tried it with minimal hesitation, and, surprisingly, the dish was embraced.

I finished the night with the cleaned, head-on shrimp, lightly dusted in cornstarch, quickly deep fried and served with a simple dipping sauce of pepper, rice wine vinegar and fresh lime. Everyone had insisted they were full five minutes earlier, but before I turned my back, they were munching away. I've never been happier than I was watching some of my best girlfriends suck down shrimp heads in my living room.

After nearly an entire Saturday of cleaning, peeling and cooking crustaceans, my entire condo smelled of garlic, cooking oil and shrimp (nothing some extra air freshener couldn't handle). My fingers were sore and raw from being poked by 400 sharp carapaces — and my five friends were strewn across the couch in happy food comas.

Pandalus borealis may only be around for a little while each year, but it's always worth the wait.

Shrimp Bisque And Stock

Making stock from scratch is time-consuming but very simple, and it builds a flavor-packed foundation for this rich, savory soup and for the risotto. To clean the shrimp, rinse the body, put your fingers at the base of the head and pull it off whole, being careful not to stick yourself with the spiny head. Then pinch the tail and pull off the rest of the shell. There is no vein to remove. I omitted the bay leaf from the recipe from The Union Oyster House Cookbook: Recipes and History from America's Oldest Restaurant (Seapoint Books 2008) because I don't care for it, but add one if you're a fan. Remember that shrimp is the star; a little sherry goes a long way. You want to feel the depths of the bisque's flavor layers, not get drunk off it.

Shrimp bisque i i
Jessica Strelitz for NPR
Shrimp bisque
Jessica Strelitz for NPR
Shrimp shells and heads, carrots, celery and other ingredients in a stock pot i i
Jessica Strelitz for NPR
Shrimp shells and heads, carrots, celery and other ingredients in a stock pot
Jessica Strelitz for NPR

Makes 4 cups or more of stock; 6 servings of bisque as a starter, 4 as an entree

2 pounds Maine shrimp, shells and heads on

1 cup dry vermouth (or dry white wine)

2 cups water

3 tablespoons butter, divided

Olive oil

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped shallots or diced white onion

1/2 a medium-sized fennel bulb (or whole small), roughly sliced

1/2 cup chopped carrot

2 tablespoons white flour

3 tablespoons tomato paste

5 to 6 crumbled saffron threads

Kosher salt, to taste

White pepper, to taste

Old Bay Seasoning, to taste

Dry mustard, to taste

2 cups light cream

3 tablespoons sherry

For Stock

Clean the shrimp, removing heads and shells. Set aside shells and heads.

Combine the vermouth (or dry white wine) and 1 cup water and bring to a boil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the shells and heads and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove everything from the pot, reserving the liquid.

In the same pot, melt 1 tablespoon of butter with a splash of olive oil. Add celery, shallots, fennel and carrots and stir until soft. Return shells, heads and liquid mixture to pot and simmer for 25 minutes.

Strain the liquid though a colander, pressing on the solids.

For Bisque

In a medium sauce pot, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter and whisk in flour to form a roux. Cook for 4 minutes on low, making sure all flour is incorporated but careful not to burn.

Whisk in shrimp stock and simmer entire mixture until smooth. Add tomato paste, saffron, salt, pepper, Old Bay Seasoning and dry mustard to taste.

Add 1 cup of the raw shrimp meat, cream and sherry and heat through. Do not bring to a boil. Serve hot.

Maine Shrimp Risotto

This is a standard risotto recipe, but the shrimp stock, shallots and sweet shrimp make it lighter than you would expect, yet still filling. Be sure to add the shrimp meat last; its delicate flavor is canceled out by overcooking. Let the warmth of the rice do the work. If you have any left over, shape into balls the next day, add zest from 1/2 of a lemon, roll them in bread crumbs and fry in oil, finishing with a dusting of Parmesan for a lighter twist on arancini, or risotto balls.

Makes 4 to 6 servings of risotto (and 4 cups or more of stock)

2 pounds Maine shrimp, shells and heads on

1 cup dry vermouth (or dry white wine)

2 cups water

3 tablespoons butter, divided

Olive oil

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped shallots or diced white onion

1/2 cup chopped carrot

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 shallot, minced

2 cups arborio rice

3/4 cup dry white wine

Handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley or chives

Sea salt, to taste

Ground black pepper, to taste

For Stock

Clean the shrimp, removing heads and shells. Set aside shells and heads.

Combine the vermouth (or dry white wine) and 1 cup water and bring to a boil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the shells and heads and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove everything from the pot, reserving the liquid.

In the same pot, melt 1 tablespoon of butter with a splash of olive oil. Add celery, shallots and carrots and stir until soft. Return shells, heads and liquid mixture to pot and simmer for 25 minutes.

Strain the liquid though a colander, pressing on the solids.

For Risotto

Heat the broth and keep warm.

Heat the oil, butter and shallot and cook until soft. Add the rice and cook for about 5 minutes, until its color has turned brighter white.

Add wine and cook until it is mostly absorbed. Stir constantly over medium heat. Add 1 cup broth and cook until mostly absorbed. Add a half-cup of broth and cook until mostly absorbed. Repeat and continue to cook until rice is tender but firm — total time should be 18 to 20 minutes.

If the rice is cooked through and some liquid remains in the pan, just add parsley and chives, remove from heat and add shrimp. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stir and serve.

Shrimp should be cooked in less than 3 minutes. If there is no liquid in the pan, add some of the remaining broth.

Fried Shrimp With Dipping Sauce

These fried shrimp must be served right out of the pot, after being drained for a minute on paper towels or napkins. You can crack peppercorns in a bag with a rolling pin if you don't have a pepper mill with settings that allow you to keep much of the peppercorn intact. You can also turn the dipping sauce into a dressing and toss it with mixed greens and some leftover stock vegetables.

Fried Shrimp With Dipping Sauce
Jessica Strelitz for NPR

Makes 2 appetizer servings

15 Maine shrimp, head on and with shells

Cooking oil, preferably canola (enough to fill a medium, heavy-bottom pot with 2 inches of liquid)

1/2 cup cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon roughly cracked black pepper

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Fresh lime juice from 2 limes

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

Wash shrimp. Use scissors or kitchen shears to cut off long whiskers and the sharp point on the shrimps' head. Dry with paper towels.

Heat cooking oil until a flick of water bubbles on the surface. Season cornstarch with salt and pepper. Dredge shrimp in cornstarch, shaking off excess. Deep fry shrimp in small batches, turning once, about 3 to 4 minutes. Shells should be pink.

Combine sugar, lime juice, vinegar and dash of salt and pepper in a small bowl for a dipping sauce.

Spicy Maine Shrimp Scampi

This is an easy recipe that truly showcases the heat of the pepper flake, brightness of the lemon and creaminess of the shrimp as part of one balanced plate. If you don't like too much heat, you can omit the red pepper and increase the garlic; consider starting out with half of the suggested red pepper if you're nervous. You may find it leaves you wanting more when you take your first bite.

1 pound of linguine or fettuccine

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1/2 tablespoon garlic salt

1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes, more if you really like it hot

1 pound peeled Maine shrimp

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2/3 cup vermouth (or dry white wine)

1 1/2 lemons

1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (or chives, if preferred)

Salt and boil water in a large pot and cook the pasta al dente according to package instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water after draining.

While the water is coming to a boil, saute the garlic and red pepper flake in the 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of oil, with a dash of salt and pepper on low for 2 to 3 minutes in a large pan. Add vermouth (or wine) and the juice of 1 lemon and bring to a simmer.

Add remaining tablespoon of butter, oil and raw shrimp. Saute for 3 minutes until shrimp firm up and change color. Add pasta water, 1/4 cup fresh parsley and pasta to the pan and toss with tongs.

Squeeze remaining lemons and add more black pepper, salt and red pepper flake (if you're into heat), to taste. Toss again. Serve with remaining parsley.

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