With Northern shrimp, timing is everything

by Catherine Schmitt

Shrimp season is upon us, and with big cuts in catch limits, winter-hungry souls should waste no time getting their share. That’s what I was attempting to do a few weeks ago, when I stopped by a Portland fish market to pick up a few pounds of Pandalus borealis.

However, instead of a reward, the purchase ended up being an unsavory reminder of the importance of freshness when it comes to these small, tender delicacies of winter.

Upon shelling and cooking, I caught a slight whiff of ammonia—the tell-tale sign that shrimp are not as fresh as they should be.

In retrospect, upon seeing in the market case only shell-on, headless shrimp, and after asking if they had any whole shrimp and being told no, I should have abstained. Having been reminded, and never wanting to smell aging shrimp again, I am now waiting for a same or next-day delivery, when the shrimp are whole, unwashed and covered in mud and eggs, smelling only of the cold, Gulf of Maine waters from where they came.

When that day comes (according to McLaughlin’s Seafood in Bangor, shrimpers are fishing Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so shrimp come in on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday), I will share my tips for timely, disappointment-free preparation of fresh, wild-caught Maine shrimp.

(Thanks to Ken LaValley of NH Sea Grant for the photo.)