Royal Red Shrimp

Food and Travel, Ingredient, Regional Food
on September 18, 2012

When dinnertime rolls around and you’re thinking about fish, you’re not thinking about some generic finny thing. You’re thinking about salmon, or grouper, or Arctic char. Fish come in all colors, shapes, cuts, seasons, and sustainability ratings, but shrimp? Small, medium, and large. 

At least that’s what I thought.  But then I heard about Royal Red shrimp, a species from the Gulf of Mexico. They’re different from other shrimp, I was told. They’re more like lobster, in both flavor and texture. “Sure,” I thought, “That’s what they said about monkfish.”

There was only one thing for it, so I convened a super-scientific tasting for me and five food-oriented friends, and we tasted Royal Reds, blind, alongside several other kinds of shrimp. Sure enough, Royal Reds were the top choice of five out of six of us. “Succulent.” “Sweet.” “Delicate.” Those were some of the descriptions. And, yes, “Lobster-like.”

I’m a believer.   

Royal Reds have a flavor that’s salty and sweet, and a texture without the characteristic hard crunch of other shrimp. While it’s certainly plausible that they got the “Royal” in their name from their cut-above taste, I’m thinking it’s because they’re a royal pain to harvest. They live on the seabed at least 600 feet down, and sometime almost half a mile.  Shrimpers licensed to harvest them have to go far offshore, and send nets very deep. 

And there aren’t many of those shrimpers – licenses are limited to ensure the health of the fishery. Like all Gulf shrimp, Royal Reds are harvested sustainably. 

Traditionally, you boil your Royal Reds, head on, and serve them peel-and-eat style, but tradition’s just another word for what other people do. They’ll go anywhere shrimp goes—in pasta or a scampi, or a kebab, but they also stand in for lobster or crab. 

The only downside?  There’s only one size.


—By Tamar Haspel, a food writer in Marstons Mills, Mass.