Traditionally, spring festivals celebrate the blooming of flowers and the return of green to the gardens, but in Seattle, the best food of the season comes from the salt water: local prawns.
As the crowds flock to Copper River Salmon and rave about the area’s Dungeness crab, spot shrimp somehow stay under the radar – maybe they need a new hype man, maybe because those who know are worried about a run on make the cute sea creatures.
Spot shrimp deserve parties in recognition of their delicate texture and a place of honor among regional delicacies – alongside Olympic oysters and Rainier cherries – for that clean, subtly salty taste that brings out the terroir (or in this case, the merroir) of the Pacific Northwest . They are also a rarity in the shrimp fishery – a field full of inferior sustainability, hideous working conditions, and terrible farming practices.
In the Pacific Northwest Seafood Cookbook, I wrote that Americans, by and large, are “addicted to bad shrimp.” But despite the downsides of the terrible shrimp, which is imported by billions of pounds, the Pacific Northwesters often eat this instead of the local specialty, which is basically the exact opposite: fresh, wild, and closer to a Maine lobster in taste and texture than a bag of frozen farmed shrimp. But while Maine’s lobster is freshly flown across the country and celebrated with feasts, few Seattle folks celebrate the spot shrimp the way they should.
There is no such hesitation in British Columbia – the spot shrimp season starts there with a bang and (in times without a pandemic) big events; Customers gather at the boat dock to buy the prawns fresh, and restaurants advertise arrival on their menus to attract diners during the short season. But in Seattle, spot shrimp show too little fanfare in mid-April and disappear in late summer towards early September without saying goodbye.
Close-up of spot shrimp at the 2014 annual Spot Prawn Festival in Vancouver.
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What are spot shrimp?
Although often referred to as spot shrimp, it’s a type of shrimp – although the difference is minimal and technical and matters little when it comes to how you buy, cook, or eat them. They get their name from the white spots on their tails, but they also have distinctive white stripes along the head. The rest of the bowl is generally a bright red. While they can get up to four inches tall, most you find in stores aren’t quite that big – though they’re always buttery flavored. You can use them anywhere you use a different type of shrimp in a recipe, but you can also replace them with lobster or eat them like a fresh lobster or crab: barely cooked and unadorned for easy access to the taste get the big one nearby.
Spot shrimp for sale in Vancouver, BC.
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When and where can you buy shrimp in the store?
The shrimp season varies from state to state and region to region, resulting in longer availability depending on whether they are local from California or Alaska. The cute sea creatures fill the seafood tanks and swim around until the second comes to choose them. While you can find frozen shrimp in freezers year round, one of the great joys of eating them is their ephemeral freshness. Frozen spotted prawns are almost always headless, as spotted prawns deteriorate immediately after they die – you see black between the head and body and it destroys the precious meat.
But forget about the frozen ones – the reason to wait until shrimp season is to buy them fresh from the tank, keep going and still swim around. Most fish markets and Asian markets in the area keep a live tank full of them and fish them out and pack them up for you. Preseason prices range from $ 18 to $ 30 a pound, though most years drop later in the season. It is significantly more than you would pay for many other shrimp, but you are paying for the quality, sustainability and humane treatment of the people who bring them to you. The great taste also makes it worth buying just a few prawns as part of a meal – two prawns on their own are great as a starter, and you can get as much flavor for a broth from one broth as you would get from one sack fully farmed prawns.
Try to buy them the same day you plan to eat them as they will only last a few hours out of the water in your fridge. Even if you don’t plan on using the heads in a bowl, leave them intact until you are ready to cook them (and then use the heads to make a sauce or broth).
How to cook your spot shrimp
Try to keep prawns with fresh spots as unadorned as possible: My personal favorite preparation is to heat kosher salt in a 500 ° F oven and then bury the prawns in hot salt for exactly four minutes. Pull them out, brush them off, peel them, and eat them. Then save the heads and tails for broth or gravy. Alternatively, gently turning the head and body in opposite directions, peeling the tails, and marinating with chopped shallots and herbs in lemon or lime juice for at least ten minutes, or up to 30 minutes for a quick ceviche. While this is marinating, dip the heads in a mixture of cornstarch, salt, and pepper, then fry in hot oil for two minutes until brown.
You can quickly toss them on a grill, lightly poaching them in a miso soup, or really just about anything you would do with shrimp – just keep in mind that to get the enviable texture of the undercooking side, you should be mistaken Spot shrimp.
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Where to find shrimp on menus
If you’re not ready to immerse yourself in the world of shrimp at home, seek out local restaurants. Due to their fragile nature and limited availability, they rarely appear on the standard list of dishes – mostly they appear on specialty boards, seasonal menus, and delicious Instagram shoutouts.
Although it’s still early in the season, Layers Sandwich Co has so far had a Jean Prawn Van Damme special on their truck with spot prawn escabeche, fried artichoke hearts and lemon dill aioli on a toasted hoagie bun, Taiwanese pop -up Ba, carried Ba Lio put them in their noodles, and Sushi Kappo Tamura serves them as nigiri. But when the local season is in full swing, look for them to toggle menus and specials on and off for the next few months – and when you see them, grab them.