The house was quiet. No one was complaining about having to do chores or negotiating a waiver from cleaning up his or her room. There was no homework to be done. The pets were fed. The kids were fed. The television was turned off. Miles Davis and Bill Evans were riffing back and forth in the speakers overhead. I was sitting at the breakfast room table across from my wife. We were talking about non-kid/school related topics and eating boiled shrimp. It was a grown-up moment. All was right with the world.
The peace and stillness was refreshing, the company was great, but what brought the moment together was the shrimp. Food has such strong connections with my memory. Tastes and smells can take me back to another time in a single bite.
In that moment I was reminded of my youth at our small fish camp on the Pascagoula River in South Mississippi. We had a small shrimp troll that we rigged up behind our fishing boat. Sometimes we would shrimp all night. Each haul was filled with surprises— flounder and several other species of fish and saltwater dwellers— but the gold in the nets was the shrimp.
We filled our ice chests with shrimp and hauled them back to the camp and boiled them minutes out of the water. Fresh Gulf shrimp are one of the many reasons I love living just 60 miles north of the Coast.
In my mind’s eye I can see my brother and grandfather prepping the water for boiling. My mother and grandmother would soon be cooking and peeling. I always made the cocktail sauce.
As a child I ate boiled shrimp often. It wasn’t a meal reserved just for when we were on the Coast. In those days we had a good seafood market in town and were always able to purchase fresh shrimp from late May through October. A boiled shrimp supper was a treat, but I loved lunch the next day even more. My mother would fill a tall thermos with ice-cold, peeled, boiled shrimp and fill the top compartment with cocktail sauce. The best school lunches I ever ate were in the days following boiled shrimp night.
Last night in our breakfast room was perfect. It was a little different though. The shrimp were boiled perfectly and already peeled. I add a little finely chopped lemon zest to shrimp these days. The cocktail sauce had three decades of restaurant experience behind it and I was sitting with my wife enjoying the moment. I sometimes forget to enjoy the basics. Life with five restaurants, two teenagers, and 230 employees is hectic. I am not very good at slowing down and enjoying the moment.
Shrimp is the medicine that slows me down. It’s coastal comfort food. It was my go-to birthday meal when I was a kid. Whenever we ate out in restaurants (which was not very often), fried shrimp was my go-to entrée,
This year our shrimp season started out with a bang. Early on the brown shrimp were larger than normal. We are still catching big browns, which is unusual. The white season opened on the 18th of this month and they are a little smaller, and I’m told by my suppliers are “Still in the bays.” The whites have been slow to grow because the water was cooler later.
Shrimp thrive in water that is in the 85 degree range. They grow one full size every 10 days to two weeks when the water is optimal. We’ll be purchasing fresh white shrimp until mid-November. After that we move to pink shrimp from down in the Florida Keys.
Last year Crescent City Grill purchased over 32,000 pounds of shrimp. That’s a far cry from the days when I was pulling small troll nets from the back of a 25-foot fishing boat. But there is a reason we buy so many shrimp each year. Our customers love shrimp. Me too.
We sold the fish camp years ago. I sometimes wish it were still there so my kids could experience the joys of living in and around the South Mississippi Coast. For now we’ll have to settle with chartering a boat to go deep-sea fishing on occasion, and staying with friends who own fish camps.
There is one major difference these days. I have a list of seafood suppliers that stretches from the Louisiana coastline to Apalachicola. I have been doing business with most of them for over 27 years, and we get deliveries every day. It’s the next best thing to being there.
Boiled Shrimp with Three Sauces
5 pounds large shrimp, heads and shell on
3 quarts water
5 Tbl salt
1 Tbl liquid crab boil
2 bay leaves
1 /2 cup white wine
1 lemon, halved
Place everything except the shrimp in an 8-quart stockpot. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook for five to seven minutes. Drain and spread the shrimp onto baking sheet pans refrigerating immediately.
Serve with Comeback, Seafood Remoulade and Cocktail Sauce
1 1 /2 cups Ketchup
3 Tbl Fresh lemon juice
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 /4 cup Horseradish, prepared
1 /2 tsp Black pepper, fresh ground
1 1 /2 tsp Salt
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate two hours before serving. Yield: two cups
1 /4 cup Celery, finely chopped
1 /3 cup Onion, finely chopped
1 /2 cup Ketchup
1 1 /2 Tbl Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 Tbl Prepared horseradish
1 /2 cup Homemade Mayonnaise (recipe page xxx)
1 1 /2 TBL Creole Seasoning
1 tsp Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
1 /2 tsp Garlic, minced
Place onion and celery into a mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients and blend well.
Remoulade sauce tastes better if made at least 1 day in advance.
Yield: 2 cups
2 cup Mayonnaise
1 cup Ketchup
1 cup Chili sauce
1 cup Cottonseed Oil
1 Large Onion, diced
1 /3 cup Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
4 Tbl Garlic, minced
2 Tbl Paprika
2 Tbl Water
2 Tbl Worcestershire
1 Tbl. Pepper
2 tsp Dry mustard
2 tsp Salt
Puree all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Allow to sit overnight in refrigerator before use.