Local seafood lover Andrew Carmines shares why Lowcountry shrimp are the best.
STORY BY B.C. RAUSCH + PHOTOGRAPHY by LISA STAFF
“I have to talk myself out of fried shrimp every day of my life,” says Andrew Carmines. The president of Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks on Hilton Head’s north end, Carmines has dedicated his life to providing the freshest seafood to his guests — and developing special supply chains to do so.
He got hooked on shrimp — and po’ boys in particular — while at college in Mississippi and during frequent visits to New Orleans, where the fried gulf shrimp are dipped in a heavier batter than used here in Lowcountry.
“I tell my cooks at Hudson’s, if you can’t see the color of the shrimp, start over,” Carmines says. “We go super light on the batter because the shrimp are so firm and so sweet here, you don’t want to overpower the flavor. We use a simple cornmeal and light flour, as people aren’t used to the texture of our shrimp here.”
He explains that shrimp typically found in grocery stores have been injected with water, which stretches out the skin and makes the shrimp gummier. Here on Hilton Head locally caught Atlantic Ocean white shrimp have an inherent sweetness so they don’t need any further processing. As a result, they command a higher price, but they’re worth it. He said about 90 percent of the shrimp served at Hudson’s are white shrimp.
Two kinds of shrimp are caught in local waters. White shrimp, more abundant, have light-colored bodies and black tails with bright green or yellow markings. They are harvested in summer and fall. Brown shrimp have notes of red, blue or dark green on their tails and bodies and are more commonly harvested in spring and early summer.
Both varieties of shrimp spawn in spring and early summer in waters a few miles offshore. The tastiest shrimp are typically caught from August through October after they’ve gorged all summer on algae.
“I am a total snob when it comes to seafood,” Carmines admits. “I won’t judge a product unless I know exactly where it came from and how long it has been out of the water. Every day that a fish is off the boat, you lose a bit of what that fish is.”
Hudson’s is the only restaurant on Hilton Head Island with its own fleet of shrimp boats. Third-generation shrimpers Jeff and Skip Toomer dock right at its doors, ensuring the freshest catch.
A good catch will bring in a haul of more than 1,000 pounds of shrimp. Hudson’s only takes a catch from within the previous 36 hours. In 2021 Hudson’s bought 130,000 pounds of shrimp to feed its customers.
Carmines is as particular about preparing shrimp as he is about catching them. Still a devotee of traditional Louisiana po’ boy — particularly on New Orleans crusty bread, known for its crisp crust and fluffy center — he believes his local adaptation holds its own.
“Lightly fried shrimp with pickles, mayo and fresh baked bread. You can’t beat a good po’ boy!” He even found a local baker able to replicate the taste and consistency of the bread found in New Orleans.
But, of course, “the shrimp is the star.”
Despite his personal preference, Carmines admits that blackened shrimp is now more popular than fried. Hudson’s does an amazing job with blackened shrimp too: The key to getting the right flavor, he says, is getting the cast-iron skillet “raging hot” so it burns off the salt and seals in the other flavors.
How you prefer your shrimp isn’t the end of it. We asked Carmines which beverages pair best with these dishes. With blackened shrimp he prefers a crisp, cold Riesling. With a po’ boy, especially in summer, he’s a beer guy — root beer or otherwise.