Farmed Shrimp

I’ve been trying hard not to get on the ‘buy this not that’ bandwagon but this is a place where I feel I must weigh in. There is a lot of mis- and bad information about the different types of shrimp. I’ve talked previously here about northern, cold-water (pandalid) shrimp versus southern, warm-water (penaeid) shrimp but I haven’t talked about farmed versus wild penaeid shrimp (pandalid shrimp are not farmed). The relative wealth of western society and our love for eating shrimp has created an ecological nightmare in Mexico, and in South American and Southeast Asian countries where mangrove beaches and estuaries are being converted into shrimp farms. This eliminates vital mangrove rearing habitat for fish and invertebrates, harming local wild fish populations and the fishermen who depend upon them, all the while creating additional demand for wild fish as shrimp food, and virtually enslaving the disenfranchised local fishermen. The environmental practices associated with these shrimp farms are poor, resulting in an environment and a shrimp product contaminated with PCBs, bacteria, antibiotics, and other chemicals. When this contaminated shrimp hits U.S. docks, the problem worsens, as the lack of an effective seafood labelling program soon renders them indistinguishable from U.S. wild penaeids.
Happily, farmed penaeids can be fairly easily distinguished from wild pandalids, which are an excellent choice from a health standpoint and a decent choice from an environmental standpoint. Penaeids have a strong dorsal ‘vein’ (actually the digestive tract) which is often removed and are never found with eggs attached as they are broadcast spawners. In pandalids, the digestive tract doesn’t need to be removed and there are often eggs attached to the abdomen. Finally, the first three penaeid legs but only the first two pandalid legs, have pinchers. Wild pandalid shrimp are high in protein, and rich in the antioxidant astaxanthin, as well as in selenium, and copper. Although pandalid shrimp are high in cholesterol, their strong, 1:1, omega3:omega6 ratio makes it healthy to consume in moderation even for people with elevated cholesterol. Wild pandalid fisheries are conducted with midwater trawls, beam trawls and pots, all these gears have low bycatch and low to moderate habitat impacts, depending on the substrate.

Lanzarote-style Garlic Shrimp

My son Corwin was home over Christmas and we enjoyed doing a lot of cooking together. It’s such a joy to share the love of making and eating good food with my grown son! Some years ago, we took a family vacation to the Canary Islands where we visited some wonderful Spanish college friends of mine. The weather was sunny, the scenery lovely, but perhaps the most enjoyable and interesting part of the trip was the culture and the food! We had countless incredible meals, but one particularly stood out—-a simple garlic shrimp dish we enjoyed on Lanzarote Island. Ever since this time Corwin and I have been reminiscing about it and plotting to recreate the recipe! Turns out it was a renowned Island specialty and I recently rediscovered the recipe through the wonders of the internet. So, we set about to try to cook it. Here it is!

Lanzarote-style garlic shrimp tapas
Tools:
Oven-proof small casserole, cast iron pan, or terra cotta dish
Fry pan

Ingredients:
1 lb raw peeled prawns
10 cloves garlic
1 tsp red pepper flakes
½ cup olive oil – not extra virgin
Large knob butter
1 tsp spanish paprika
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
½ c chopped flat-leaf parsley

Instructions:
On Lanzarotte, this ‘tapas’ is served in a special oven-proof terra cotta dish. I substituted a small cast-iron fry pan but am on the lookout for a suitable small casserole which would be a more elegant serving method. Before you start cooking, put your serving dish in a very hot oven to heat and prepare a heat-proof place for it on the dining table.
– Put the olive oil in a pre-heated frying pan on high heat.
– Add the prawns, garlic and chili, and cook for one minute at high heat.
– Add the butter and paprika and stir.
– Put hot serving dish on table.
– Carefully transfer fry pan ingredients to hot serving dish.
– Add lemon juice and sprinkle parsley over.
– Eat with a good loaf of artisanal bread to mop up juices.

Post-script:
Truthfully, the outcome of this cooking adventure didn’t measure up to our memories of the dish. Upon reflection, I think the problem was two-fold. First, we used way too much olive oil because the recipe we were following was in ml and I was careless in converting it, and secondly the shrimp were not fresh enough.
Despite initially capturing a higher quality product, wild-capture fisheries sometimes have difficulty delivering it to market at a comparable freshness as a farmed product. Frozen seafood can be as good or better than fresh, but a very short period between capture and freezing and careful handling is required to maximize quality. The main cause of poor quality is high ‘fishery intensity’ or short seasons and excessive effort. This results from too many vessels and too much gear in the fishery, and from managers shortening fishing time to prevent overshooting target harvest levels while fishermen fish harder to maximize their catch share. Product quality subsequently declines further as it sits in cold storage. As a fisheries biologist who is also a cook, it pains me to see wild product looking bedraggled at the super market.
In contrast, high quality product is produced by Southeast Alaskan longline fisheries for which fishermen have their catch share pre-determined by their IFQs (Individual Fisheries Quota) so can fish in a more leisurely fashion, improving profits by attention to product quality rather than by increasing production.
Relaxing intensification to allow for leisurely production of high quality wild product would also benefit the resource as intense fishing results in more bycatch and habitat damage. But it would require extensive re-imagining of the current Southeast Alaskan shellfish fisheries management regime. IFQs are currently deemed unconstitutional for State fisheries. One of the main reasons for this is that they give ‘de facto’ ownership of the fishery to commercial fishermen. In the Alaska State Constitution, resources are owned equally by all State residents. This sounds like a really good idea, however, without explicit allocations to user groups, it puts Alaska square in the middle of the classic ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ described in 18th Century England, where resources owned by all are competed for and valued by none.
I had the good fortune to study for and obtain my Master of Science in Fisheries in Japan where there are thousands rather than hundreds of years of history in managing fisheries (not all of them successful). I studied a commercial shrimp fishery which is owned by the local fisheries cooperative who manage it based upon research advice from the regional government fisheries laboratory. Product is cooperatively produced by a small subset of vessels and the profits are shared by all.
Another interesting model is the Nova Scotia lobster fishery where harvest areas are opened consecutively throughout the summer, providing for a long season of fresh lobster availability and good quality and price to fishermen.
These ideas cannot be directly transferred to Southeast Alaska’s State fisheries, nor would we want to. While the implementation of IFQs for Federal fisheries in Alaska has improved product quality, it has also resulted in harvest share migrating out of small Alaskan communities and made entry difficult for young people. Expanding the IFQ approach to State-managed Alaskan fisheries would require harvestable surplus estimates and allocation plans between commercial, sport, and subsistence fisheries. It should also include mechanisms to keep permits in small communities. Other ideas that could be explored include permit buy-backs, permit stacking, and fishing days.
My intent here is not to imply a simple answer to the problem of intensification of fisheries but to suggest that a dialogue begin. As the importance of tourism in Southeast Alaska continues to increase, the success of the emerging local foods scene will be determined by modifying fisheries to provide fresh, high quality product throughout more of the year.

Spot Prawns

I had first encountered Alaskan spot prawns in the 1980s as a graduate student in Japan: raw, whole, and sliced exquisitely on platters of sashimi that I squeamishly tasted but was too much a neophyte to truly appreciate. Now, in 1997, I found myself sorting and boxing glistening spot prawns at 1:00 a.m. on a chartered commercial fishing vessel. It had seemed so reasonable on my spreadsheet in the office, we would pay for the stock assessment survey by selling prawns, which would be unlikely to survive the trip to the surface and measuring and other biological examinations anyway. Brad, the captain and I had figured that our measuring would slow the pot pulling down a bit and adjusted accordingly but he had never worked with biologists on a charter and I had never pulled shrimp pots before. Oh, and then there was the tug and log barge towing a string of our pot gear that we had had to chase down. So there we were, laughing slap happily at Matt’s jokes as we helped Brad and Debbie box the day’s catch. Six days and not much sleep later, we rounded Cape Chacon, and arrived in Ketchikan richer in: data, a freezer hold full of prawns, and the wisdom shared by a master fisherman—and several pounds heavier with hastily consumed spot prawns.

As a biologist, cook, and hunter-gatherer, shrimp are one of my favorite foods. However, I find myself being annoyed recently by the lack of distinction made between cold water northern (Pandalids) and warm water southern (mostly Penaeids) shrimp species. Cooks especially need to understand this distinction as it has recipe choice considerations. Among those differences, Pandalids are protandric hermaphrodites (starting as male and later transitioning to female); after mating, females extrude and carry eggs on their abdomen during the fall and winter months, when most fisheries occur. In contrast, Penaeids are either male or female and broadcast their eggs and sperm into the water column so you never encounter one carrying eggs. It is unnecessary to devein cold water shrimp, but some people like to remove the dorsal abdominal tract (also known as deveining) of warm water shrimp as it often contains grit or can contribute an off flavor or contamination.

Commonly harvested northern, cold water shrimp species include spot prawn (scientific name Pandalus platyceros), coonstripe (P. hypsinotus), sidestripe (Pandalopsis dispar), northern (P. borealis), Alaskan (P. eous), and pink (P. jordani). The wild capture fisheries in Alaska and British Columbia employ shrimp pots to target spots and coons, while Alaskan bottom beam trawl fisheries target Alaskan and sidestripe shrimp. In Maine and throughout the North Atlantic, trawl fisheries target northern shrimp. In Oregon, a midwater trawl fishery targets pink shrimp.

The larger spot prawns, coonstripe, and sidestripe shrimp are sold fresh-frozen, shell-on, raw, whole, or tailed and sometimes live. The smaller Alaskan, pink, and northern shrimp, along with small sidestripe shrimp are generally sold as shelled tails, which are sometimes pre-cooked as salad shrimp.

So how do we use northern cold water shrimps to best advantage? They can be used in any dish currently starring their warm-water cousin (curry, gumbo, tempura), but in my opinion, they are better used in subtle dishes that highlight their firm texture and delicately sweet flavor. Smaller northern salad shrimp excel in nori-maki sushi, macaroni salad, as salad toppings, in shrimp cocktail, quiche, risotto or Fettucine Alfredo.

More leisurely culinary exploration has yielded these recipes:

Mom’s Shrimp Macaroni Salad

Ingredients

2 lbs cooked northern wild salad shrimp

2 large shallots

1 clove garlic

4 hard-boiled eggs

3 medium dill pickles

1 lemon

6 T any good mayonnaise, not lowfat

2 T apple cider vinegar

2 t Worcestershire sauce

1 t fresh ground black pepper

1 t powdered mustard

1 t sea salt

2 T chopped fresh parsley

½ t red pepper flakes

paprika

1 16-oz bag macaroni noodles

Instructions

  • finely mince shallots and garlic
  • chop hard-boiled eggs and dill pickles
  • juice lemon, mix with mayonnaise, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce
  • add shallots, garlic, and dry ingredients
  • boil macaroni to ‘al dente’ stage per package instructions and drain
  • toss shrimp, eggs, pickles, and macaroni with lemon juice/spice/herb mixture
  • sprinkle salad with paprika and garnish with additional fresh parsley to beautify

This salad is best made a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator to allow flavors to meld.

Northern wild prawns are delicious any way they are cooked and can be eaten raw as sashimi, or in ceviche, or nigiri-sushi; or cooked in paella, risotto, Asian noodle dishes like Pad Thai, and grilled, pan-fried, steamed or boiled. The shell may be used to extract additional shrimp flavor to a broth. Egged shrimp are available seasonally and the eggs are delicious. Lest you be concerned about eating egged shrimp, be aware that all large cold water shrimp are carrying eggs at some stage of development, either externally, on the tail, or inside the head region before they are extruded. Finally, before you read on, gentle reader, I admonish you DO NOT OVERCOOK THESE SHRIMP; steam, boil, grill, or pan fry for no longer than it takes to turn their flesh opaque, in general about 3 to 5 minutes, but this varies with prawn size so pay attention.

Here is one of my favorite recipes:

Pan-fried Northern Wild Prawns

 Ingredients

1 lb shell-on wild spot prawns, coonstripe shrimp, or sidestripe shrimp, preferably with eggs

2 T extra virgin olive oil

6 large shallots or a medium-sized yellow onion

1 t grated fresh ginger

1 clove garlic

½ tsp fresh ground black pepper

Pinch of red pepper flakes

1 T sugar

2 T soy sauce (preferably Kikkoman)

½ cup of any decent white wine

Instructions

This recipe serves four people.

  • finely slice shallots, grate ginger, peel and mince garlic
  • heat olive oil and sauté shallots and garlic to translucent
  • add spot prawns, grated ginger, sugar, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, sauté about 2 minutes
  • add soy sauce, and white wine and sauté until prawns go from translucent to opaque, 2-3 more minutes
  • remove prawns
  • top white rice with prawns, then spoon onions and deglazing sauce over to taste

Blueberry-Ginger Kombucha

Its wild blueberry picking season here in Juneau and I’ve snagged a friend for a sociable evening pick. It’s been an amazingly sunny summer and blueberries are plentiful and huge this year. Even shady areas that usually have wormy, small, pithy berries are yielding large, plump, tasty berries! We meander along the roadside between berry patches, chatting amiably as we go. Elsewhere I’ve seen bear poop full of blueberry seeds but this patch is unmolested, probably too much human activity. After a pleasant couple of hours, the gathering dusk encourages no-see-ums and mosquitoes to unbearable levels and we pack Ziploc© bags of blueberries into buckets and head for home at about 9:00 p.m.

There are five species of Vaccinium, commonly known as ‘blueberries’ in Southeast Alaska, each with distinctive flavor, fruit size, color, bush size, and habitat: early blueberry Vaccinium ovalifolium; Alaska blueberry, Vaccinium alaskaensae; alpine blueberry, Vaccinium uliginosum L.; dwarf blueberry Vaccinium caespitosum and red huckleberry, Vaccinium parvifolium. The most commonly picked species in Southeast Alaska are the early blueberry, Alaska blueberry, and red huckleberry. Tonight, I’m targeting the early blueberry! Since retiring I’ve switched from picking by hand to picking with a plastic berry rake. Although I miss the sensual experience of hand selecting each berry, I love the fact that its increased my production by about 50 percent! This is a slightly misleading estimate because using a berry rake adds an additional step of removing leaves with a filter tray back at home, but I find de-leafing frozen blueberries an enjoyable winter task.

I used to use all my berries for cobblers, jams, and pies, but I’m finding that I don’t need to eat that much sugar. This kombucha recipe is a great use for my frozen blueberry surplus, domestic blueberries can be substituted but wild berries have a higher antioxidant and vitamin content.

Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage. It originated 2000 years ago, in China where it was called ‘The Tea of Immortality’. From China, it migrated to Eastern Europe and Russia, and more recently to Western Europe, and the U.S.  Anecdotally, it is thought to have a broad spectrum of health effects, but western medicine has not yet verified or disproved them. Being well-versed in the health values of other fermented foods, I am inclined to believe the anecdotes, and am anxiously anticipating reading the results of future studies of kombucha health effects.

I discovered kombucha a few years ago, when a friend gave me a bottle; I was surprised how much I loved this trendy drink with its slightly vinegary flavor. After getting tired of shelling out $4/bottle at the grocery store, I got a mother or SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) from a friend and started making my own. After an initial false start (involving a moldy slimy putrid mother) I am now producing several gallons a week and have shared my own mother with several friends. Here is my favorite recipe for blueberry-ginger kombucha!

Tools:

2 gallon jars

cheese cloth

large rubber band

large funnel

small funnel

hot water bath

Large sauce pan

6 18-oz swing-top bottles

canning jar grabbers

 

Ingredients:

Primary ferment

6 black tea bags

1 c granulated cane sugar

Mother (SCOBY)

¼ c vinegar

1 c unflavored kombucha

 

Secondary ferment

6 c blueberries

1 c water

½ c sugar

4 T grated ginger

 

Instructions:

Primary ferment

Add sugar to gallon jar. Brew tea, and pour into gallon jar while warm to dilute sugar. Add room temperature water to almost fill jar, leaving room for kombucha mother, vinegar, and kombucha. Do not overfill jar, there should be considerable air space between kombucha mother and cheesecloth cover. Cover jar with cheesecloth and secure with rubber band. Set kombucha in warm area (65 to 70 °F) out of direct sunlight and cover with towel. Brew for 7 to 10 days until desired sweet-sour balance and light carbonation is achieved.

Secondary ferment

Sterilize swing-top bottles, funnels, and gallon jar in hot water bath, remove and cool. Add blueberries, sugar and grated ginger to sauce pan, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature and then strain mixture through cheesecloth-lined large funnel into second gallon jar. Fill each swing-top bottle with ½ cup sweetened blueberry-ginger juice. Top off with kombucha and cap. Secondary ferment at room temperature for 3 days or until lightly carbonated, then refrigerate and enjoy at your leisure! A secondary ‘mother’ will form in each bottle, it is edible but slimy and flavorless, and can be strained out when the bottle is poured.