THE LOWDOWN ON LOWCOUNTRY SHRIMP
Story by Hanna Massen
If shrimp is the most popular seafood nationally, then it might as well be the only food that matters here in the Lowcountry. You don’t need to look further than restaurant menus, markets and seafood stands to know that locals take their shrimp seriously – and for good reason: they’re quick-cooking, versatile and are caught fresh off the coast for most of the year.
The Lowcountry has two shrimp seasons. April and May produce white shrimp, which can be found along the coast. This season opens first because of the ideal water temperatures, and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) begins running tests to determine if enough spawning has taken place over the winter to warrant the opening of the current spring season. This is when local shrimpers will catch the first roe shrimp – a white shrimp that is still holding eggs. These are usually the largest shrimp to be harvested all year since they have been spawning and growing offshore all winter long. The three-mile line (or provisional line) opens first, and as the water temperature rises, the shrimp begin to come closer to shore, and eventually all waters are open.
Brown shrimp appear in late June and August. Slightly smaller than white shrimp, brown shrimp are known as creek shrimp because the juveniles are usually found in the marshes and tidal creeks of the Islands. They spend most of their younger lives living there, feeding and protecting themselves in the marsh grasses until they grow larger and eventually move out into the sounds and larger waters. This season typically runs through mid-October.
But with so many varieties and options, buying shrimp outside of the grocery store can be intimidating. Does size matter? Peeled or unpeeled? And how should you store it? Here’s the lowdown on all things Lowcountry shrimp from Tonya Hudson, third-generation owner of Benny Hudson Seafood Market on Hilton Head Island. And as the owner of one of only two markets on the island to have its own shrimp boat, Hudson knows a thing or two about how to spot and prepare fresh shrimp.
Size matters… or does it?
Although the shrimp industry sets guidelines for determining how shrimp is to be labeled, the sizes often differ from vendor to vendor. What one supplier calls large, another might call medium, so Hudson recommends buying shrimp by the number of pieces per pound to get what you need for your next recipe.
Peeling and deveining
Peeling and de-veining shrimp is surprisingly easy: First, remove the shell by sliding your thumb in where the legs are to loosen it, then peel it away, leaving the tail on. To devein, simply make a shallow slit down the back of the shrimp with a paring knife and remove the dark tube inside with a toothpick. Rinse the shrimp and pat dry before cooking.
If you’re a regular shrimp eater, Hudson suggests buying a specially shaped shrimp deveining tool that will help you quickly and easily prepare your shrimp. But most seafood markets, including Benny Hudson, will peel and devein the shrimp for you.
Storage and thawing
If you buy fresh shrimp, use them ASAP; in the meanwhile store them by opening the bag, placing a paper towel over the shrimp, placing the bag on a bowl of ice and storing the shrimp in the coldest part of your fridge. The shrimp should be fine to use for up to two days. Frozen shrimp should not be allowed to thaw between buying and storing. If they didn’t already come in an air-tight bag, transfer them to one, leaving about 1/4 inch of space at the top, and keep them in the freezer for three to six months. To thaw your frozen shrimp, leave them in the fridge overnight or quick-thaw in a bowl of cold water 15-30 minutes before you’re ready to cook them.
Do you smell that?
“If your shrimp is bad, you’ll usually smell it – and I mean really smell it,” Hudson said. She also recommends checking to make sure your shrimp are still firm. If they feel mushy, that’s a sure sign that your shrimp are well beyond their peak.
Now all that’s left to do is to get cooking! Fresh shrimp complements just about any dish, but Benny Hudson’s Southern Shrimp Salad and Lowcountry Boil recipes are must-adds to seafood recipe rotation. LL
BENNY HUDSON SEAFOOD
5 quarts water
2 pounds small red potatoes
2 pounds andouille sausage, cut into inch pieces
1 tbsp Benny Hudson Seafood Shrimp & Crab Seasoning
4 ears of corn, halved
4 pounds fresh, local shrimp, heads-off, in shell
DIRECTIONS  In a large stock pot, bring water and seasoning to a boil.  Add corn and cook for 15 minutes.  Add sausage and cook for an additional 10 minutes.  Add shrimp and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Drain pot and pour contents onto a table covered with newspaper. Enjoy with fresh lemon wedges and homemade cocktail sauce.
BENNY HUDSON SEAFOOD
Southern Shrimp Salad
2 pounds cleaned, deveined and cooked shrimp (available at Benny Hudson Seafood)
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 small purple onion, diced (optional)
3 tablespoons chopped sweet pickles (at Benny Hudson Seafood we like to chop our own to get bigger pieces, but you could use regular pickle relish)
2 hard-boiled eggs, mashed
1 tablespoon hot sauce Hellmann’s mayonnaise
1 teaspoon mustard
DIRECTIONS  Peel and de-vein shrimp.  Boil 6 cups of water and add 2 teaspoons of Benny Hudson Seafood Shrimp Seasoning to boiling water.  Add shrimp. Cook for 2-3 minutes (no more!) until shrimp turns from opaque to pink.  Drain off water through a colander and toss shrimp in ice until they are cool to the touch. Cut into the desired size and set aside.  In a large bowl, combine all other ingredients, except mayo, and blend together. Add mayo last.  Chill for one hour before serving.