THE FRUIT OF THE SEA
“Anyway, like I was sayin’, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it and saute it. There’s shrimp kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That, that’s about it.” Bubba, from the movie Forrest Gump
Anthropologists have found evidence dating back to 600AD for shrimping off the southeastern coast of North America; Native Americans caught fish in traps made from branches and Spanish moss, or in nets made from plant fiber. By the mid 1700s, beach seines were imported from France and Cajun fishermen began catching shrimp and drying them in the sun, a practice that continues today.
In the 19th century, canneries arrived, reducing the need to sun dry shrimp. The 19th century also saw the arrival of Chinese, many from the Pearl River Delta where shrimping had been a tradition for centuries, in California’s gold rush. Some immigrants shrimped in San Francisco Bay and exported their catch back to China or sold it to Chinese communities in the United States. While overfishing and pollution from mine tailings eventually caused a decline in California fisheries, shrimping continued in the South Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, and modern industrial shrimping methods eventually developed.
Distribution methods improved further when the canneries were replaced by freezers in the 20th century. Commercial methods for catching wild shrimp include trawls, seines and shrimp baiting. Trawling in particular can capture huge volumes of shrimp by dragging a net across the seafloor; Unfortunately, other species also are caught in trawling nets, which can alter the ecological balance in some regions and further endanger fragile species like the sea turtle.
Concern over excessive bycatch, and a growing demand for shrimp, encouraged the production of farmed shrimp. Commercial shrimp farming began in the 1970s, primarily to meet market demand in the United States, Japan and Western Europe. Nearly 75% of farmed shrimp come from Asia, particularly China, the Philippines and Thailand. The other 25% is from Latin America, mainly Brazil. By 2007, farmed shrimp exceeded the capture from wild fisheries. But concern has been raised by organizations like Greenpeace that tropical shrimp farming has polluted estuaries and destroyed vast areas of mangroves in several countries.
Shrimp is now the most popular seafood in America, and fried shrimp are a summer favorite world wide. But, as usual, approach hot oil with extreme caution:
o Most of the recipes that follow call for a skillet. Fill it with oil to about ½ inch depth (if you’re using a wok, fill it to about 1 inch depth). Two cups of oil are sufficient for a 10 inch skillet, and 3 cups will do for a 12 inch skillet.
o DO NOT increase the amount of oil. Hot oil will bubble up, sometimes dramatically, when the shrimp are dropped in. If it overflows the skillet and makes contact with the flame below, your kitchen will be on fire.
o Resist the temptation to make larger batches. More shrimp will reduce the heat of the oil and the shrimp will stick together and not cook properly. More shrimp also increases the chance of an oil overflow.
o The recipes call for oil heated to between 350* and 375*. Remember to reheat the oil to the required temperature between batches.
o Cooking time for shrimp is brief; the worst thing you can do to a shrimp is overcook it. Deep fried shrimp are done in only a minute or so per batch. Really enormous shrimp may need an extra minute to cook through. Slice one in half and look. If the interior is opaque, or nearly so, serve immediately, while the crust is still crisp.