Shrimpin’ Season

by Catherine Schmitt

Maine shrimp made the front page of today’s style section in the Bangor Daily News. Reporter Emily Burnham wrote a nice feature of this native seafood, including a handful of recipes. The timing aligns with Northern shrimp season, which began in December and runs until April. Female shrimp move close to shore in winter to hatch their eggs, where they are harvested in muddy-bottom habitat off the coast of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts with trawls and traps. Because shrimp is a day-boat fishery, the fresh product is readily available from New England fish markets and roadside vendors during the season. Maine fishermen take approximately 87% of the catch in the Northeast. It doesn’t get more local than that.

Maine shrimp are small, pink to reddish in color, with a large head that takes up half the length and most of the weight. Early in the season they may be covered with greenish roe. Their shells are thin and easy to remove and they do not need to be de-veined. Shrimp caught in New England are at the southern edge of their range, and so they tend to be much bigger than shrimp caught in Canadian waters farther to the north.

Northern or “Maine” shrimp are tender and sweet, and while they can be used in almost any recipe that calls for shrimp, they do need to be handled a bit differently, as Chef Kerry Altiero of Café Miranda noted in the Bangor Daily News article. I agree with him that often it’s better to cook Maine shrimp separate and then add them to the dish you are preparing; they seem to release a lot of liquid during cooking, which can be a problem if you don’t want a soupy dish or mushy shrimp.

My secret? Broiling. Season peeled shrimp with salt and pepper or whatever and put them under the broiler until they curl up and get brown in spots—watch closely because they cook fast. Remove cooked shrimp from the tray with a slotted spoon (pouring off the liquid if you are not using it) and the shrimp are ready to go. They also do well when cooked in the shell. Try a Maine shrimp boil and you’ll never look at imported shrimp cocktail the same way again.

For more about the science of shrimp, see the story by me and Heather Deese in the November Fathoming column of The Working Waterfront. Last year I subscribed to Port Clyde Fresh Catch’s shrimp CSF (community-supported fishery) and was overwhelmed with more pounds of shrimp than I could handle. Penobscot East Resource Center also offers shrimp shares, and the original Maine Shrimp Cookbook is available from the Island Institute.