Shrimp are the most popular shellfish we serve at Legal Sea Foods restaurants
-- and probably the most popular shellfish in America. People who don't touch any other form of seafood will devour shrimp. They're delicious, it's true, but part of the reason they're so popular is that they're so consistently available -- and so familiar. Virtually no matter where you go, you can find shrimp on the menu. (Shrimp inhabit all the oceans of the world.) But the majority of shrimp you find at restaurants and at the markets are not ocean shrimp. They're most likely farm-raised in freshwater ponds thousands of miles from the United States in countries such as Thailand, which is not the leading producer of farm-raised shrimp anywhere. Many of the tiger shrimp served in America originate there. (Other major producers are Ecuador, Indonesia, the Philippines, and India.) Shipping shrimp for afar is easy because they have the advantage of freezing well. (Unlike most other shellfish, shrimp have enough body texture so that they don't deteriorate when frozen.)
There's nothing sweeter tasting than a wild fresh southern shrimp, such as the hopper, harvested off the Gulf Coast of Florida and Louisiana. Watching shrimp boats head out to sea may soon be a pleasure of the past. Freshwater shrimp farming is the fastest-growing sector of the world's agriculture industry. Farmed shrimp are uniform in size, consistent in quality and flavor, and are available year-round. (If the farms are poorly maintained, however, wastes from the ponds pollute the environment.)
Most shrimp you buy at the market are previously frozen, unless you're lucky enough to live near one of the shipping areas. Whether fresh or previously frozen, shrimp should have a nice, shiny sheen. When shrimp have been standing in the store case too long, they appear dull. Good-quality shrimp also should look clean, with no dark marks on their shells, a sign of deterioration. The shrimp should smell fresh. If there is any ammonia off odor, don't buy them. Any ammonia odor whatsoever means that the shrimp are on the verge of spoiling. When you store them at home, place the shrimp in a colander, layered with ice, within a larger bowl. Shrimp deteriorate standing in water. If you leave them in a plastic bag stuck in the meat compartment and the bag leaks, the shrimp odor is hard to remove. (Baking soda and elbow grease do the job.)
Shrimp are extremely versatile. Most Americans' favorite shrimp dish is still the shrimp cocktail (try a squeeze of lime juice or a soy-and-sesame-sauce mixture for a change from cocktail sauce). We serve shrimp every which way -- steamed, broiled, fried, sautéed, in pasta dishes, and with rice. The simple shrimp dish we developed years ago with jasmine rice and broccoli is still a favorite of our customers.