Mississippi’s shrimp season is open.
I was eating oatmeal in my breakfast room watching WLOX’s morning show when the opening-day announcement was made. The television station cut to their on-location camera covering the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and there was one shrimp boat on the water. One boat.
I can remember sitting in the same spot 10 years ago, watching that station’s coverage of the opening day of shrimp season. There were hundreds of boats in the water. As the sun rose near Ocean Springs, boats were criss-crossing the Gulf, lines out, nets down, dragging the Gulf for the single most popular seafood offering in the world.
The history of Mississippi shrimping is rich and storied. Fourth generation Biloxi fishing families, Croatian immigrants and Vietnamese refugees have shouldered the load for us. Shrimping has always been a family business. In 1900 Biloxi was labeled “The Seafood Capital of the World.” Today we have one shrimp boat making news on opening day.
With 2,000-gallon fuel tanks, $4 per gallon gas, and processor’s pricing challenges caught in the middle, we are headed into uncharted waters. The Mississippi Gulf Coast was built on the scarred and calloused fingers of its oyster shuckers and shrimp pickers, and on the backs of its shrimp boat captains. They all seem to be going the way of the buggy whip and moving inland.
Hurricane Katrina wiped out many of the local shrimpers and it seems that Middle East oil prices are working on the rest. We have lost more than 50% of our working shrimp boats since Katrina. Something has to be done, but I’m afraid that I don’t know the answer. I’m not sure if anyone does.
Shrimp is the number one seafood in America. Oysters are more controversial, complex, and complicated, and crabmeat is more delicate and formal, but shrimp are universal. Local shrimpers might be one of the most underappreciated working groups in the country.
Last May a photographer and I travelled to Biloxi to photograph the shrimp fleet. The boats were all docked. At the time gas was $3 per gallon. A few were selling shrimp off of the back of their boats, but most boats seemed abandoned.
A Vietnamese woman in a straw hat and her two daughters were icing down shrimp on the back of their boat. The woman seemed to be in her late 50s, her daughters in their mid 20s. The mother was unloading ice from her pickup truck, loading it into yellow plastic laundry baskets, and then filling large ice chests on the boat. She was lifting amounts that I would’ve had trouble handling. I offered to help, but she didn’t speak English, her daughters said, “No thank you.”
For the 30-45 minutes we spent shooting in and around the dock, the woman was steadily shoveling ice and loading ice chests. She never stopped. She never looked up, and she never once complained, or even hinted at an expression that demonstrated complaint.
The daughters were smiling and joking with each other. Their mother’s face was focused and determined on the task at hand. Here was a woman who had probably dealt with untold controversy before she came to this country, and was steadily enduring life’s daily blows with her family in today’s local seafood industry. The look in her eyes was pure determination and focus— a mother’s mission to endure.
At the time, I talked to my photographer friend about the woman’s work ethic and focus. It was remarkable.
A year has past. As I sit here today, I wonder if the woman and her family will survive today’s economic challenges and the untold trials that lay ahead. If I were a betting man, my money would be on her. I’ve seen the look in her eyes.
What will become of the independent, family shrimper? I wish I had the answer.
Old Bay Grilled Shrimp with Creole Beurre Rouge
When grilling shrimp, either skewer them or use a grill screen so they don’t fall through the grates.
36 Large shrimp, peeled and deviened
1/2 cup No-Stick Grilling Marinade for Shrimp (recipe in New South Grilling)
2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1 Tbl black pepper, freshly ground
1 Recipe Creole Buerre Rouge (recipe below)
Using a pastry brush, coat the shrimp evenly with the marinade. Allow shrimp to marinate for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the shrimp with the old bay seasoning and black pepper.
Prepare the grill. Place a grill screen on top of the grill and preheat. Place the shrimp on the grate over direct high heat and cook for 6-8 minutes, turning once.
Place the cooked shrimp on a bed of dirty rice and top with the Creole beurre rouge
1 Tbl bacon fat (or canola oil)
2 oz ground beef
2 oz ground pork
1 /2 cup diced onion
1 /4 cup diced celery
1 /4 cup diced bell pepper
2 tsp minced garlic
1 bay leaves
1 Tbl poultry seasoning
1 tsp dry mustard
1 cup rice
2 cups pork stock, hot
Heat the bacon fat in a 1-quart sauce pot over high heat. Add the ground beef and pork and brown. Stir in the vegetables and garlic and continue to cook 5-6 minutes. Stir in the seasoning and rice and cook until the rice is thoroughly heated. Stir in the pork stock and reduce heat to low. Cover the sauce pot and cook 18 minutes.
Yield: 3 cups
Creole Buerre Rouge
1 Tbl Olive Oil2 Tbl Green Pepper, small dice 1 /4 cup Yellow Onion, small dice 1 Tbl Garlic, minced 1 /4 cup Celery, small dice 2 tsp Creole Seasoning 1 1/2 cup Tomatoes, medium dice
1 cup White Wine1 cups Chicken Stock
2 Tbl White Vinegar1 Bay Leaf 1 tsp Dried Oregano
1 Tbl Fresh Thyme, chopped
1 tsp Black Pepper, freshly ground
1 cup Unsalted Butter, cubed and kept cold until needed
In a medium sauce pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté peppers, onion, garlic, celery, and Creole seasoning for five minutes. Add tomatoes and cook five minutes longer. Add wine and reduce by half. Add chicken stock, vinegar, bay leaf and oregano and simmer 15-20 minutes, until the sauce turns into a thick paste.
Lower the heat, and using a wire whisk, begin incorporating the butter cubes, 2-3 at a time. Stir constantly to prevent the sauce from separating. Once all butter is added, stir in the black pepper and remove from the heat.
Store in a warm place (120 degrees) until needed.
Yield 6-8 servings