Pretty in pink: Maine shrimp season is NOW

Sandi Lynn Seabrook

We’ve been waiting for you, shrimp boat. In the cold and the snow.

Seabrook Harbor, New Hampshire on Monday, Jan. 28. Before dinner.

Sandi Lynn

The Sandi Lynn as seen from the pier at Yankee Fisherman’s Cooperative.

A small fleet of trawlers brought in hundreds of pounds of Gulf of Maine shrimp late yesterday, on the second day they could fish this season for Pandalus borealis. The shrimp fishery is only open Mondays and Wednesdays, and maybe only for two or three weeks this year, depending how quickly the quota is reached.

Yankee Fisherman's Coop

Looking into the small retail market at Yankee Fisherman’s Cooperative.

We weren’t the only ones waiting for shrimp. The boats were nearly an hour later than expected, and a small crowd had gathered. People were buying for personal consumption and resale, it seemed.

We decided to let the crowds clear out and we took a drive over the bridge to Wally’s Pub in Hampton Beach.

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I couldn’t resist checking in on Facebook and sharing the good news of our beer + snow discovery. We hoisted a few, and shared a plate of hot wings.

Outside the snow was falling, but it was toasty warm in Wally’s. “We have to keep the heat on high to keep the pipes from freezing,” the bartender told us. Works for me.

Yankee Fisherman's Coop

A couple of beers later, we were back at Yankee Fisherman’s Coop. We found the crowds had gone and there was still shrimp left. In the back room, a couple of hardworking guys were steaming lobsters.

Price of Maine shrimp

We paid $11.25 for 5 lbs of whole, unsorted (different sizes) Maine shrimp. Or New Hampshire shrimp, you could say. They had been iced down, but some of them were still moving a little.

lobster

We passed on lobster. Even though this one looked like he wanted to come home with us.

It’s a good time of year for lobster, if you like ’em meaty and hard-shelled. And demand is down compared to the summer tourist season.

shrimp boil

At home, we boiled water and cooked a few handfuls of shrimp for a couple of minutes. This beautiful dark pink color is how they come out of the ocean, before cooking.

The rest of our haul has been frozen, and we have bookmarked a few recipes to try. Here are some links, if you are curious… and lucky enough to find some local cold water shrimp in the next few weeks.

NPR: Maxing out the mini season for Maine shrimp

The season for trawlers began on Jan. 23, and they’re only allowed to shrimp on Mondays and Wednesday mornings. Fisherman using traps — which typically bring in more uniformly sized shrimp because holes in the trap let the little ones escape — can’t begin their shrimping until Feb. 5.

How long the season will last is anyone’s guess as weather and the shrimpers’ ability to locate the shrimp both play a role. Estimates range up to to six weeks, but many think it will be a lot shorter.

If early sales are any indication, the shrimp haul won’t last long in the shops.

The City Cook: What’s in season: Maine shrimp

The only disadvantage of cooking with these small shrimps is the added labor. That’s because they’re so tiny — about 50 shrimp to a pound. But the shells slip off easily making them less work than shelling gulf shrimp, plus there’s no vein to remove.

Maine shrimp can hold onto a bit of sand and so I recommend removing the shells before cooking. To remove the shell, take a shrimp in one hand, pinch its tail with your fingers and with your other hand, give a tug and the little, pink shrimp will usually slip out whole. If you’ve bought ones with heads, just pull that off first before the rest of the shell. Then give a rinse with cool water and with a paring knife, remove any spots or marks.

Remember to always keep shellfish cold and on ice right up to when you cook it. So if it takes you a while to clean your shrimp, keep a bowl of ice in your sink to keep the shrimp very chilled while you’re working with them. As with gulf shrimp, don’t overcook them because shrimp will become tough and rubbery if cooked for too long. They’re done when the flesh goes from translucent to opaque.

Maine shrimp can be cooked in a variety of ways but resist putting them with ingredients that can overwhelm their delicate, sweet taste. For example, the shrimp will work well with garlic or tomatoes but not a pungent cocktail sauce that you might use with meatier gulf shrimp.

Bangor Daily News: Don’t skimp on the shrimp: Maine shrimp season in full swing

Pandalus borealis sounds like something fantastical, like a figure from mythology or a legendary creature. It’s actually the scientific name for a little pink crustacean that fishermen pluck by the ton from the coldest parts of the ocean each winter — the tiny, briny, deliciously sweet wild Maine shrimp.

Maine shrimp before cooking