Crustacean Nation Transcript

Train Station

    I had my first cocktail in the middle of the Mojave desert. It was in a dining car bound from Los Angeles to Kansas City and it went by on this tray and I turned to my mom and I said, "I've got to get one of those."  And she said, "Well, go ahead."  So, I ordered it, and it came. And it was cold and clean and crisp and redolent of horseradish yet unmistakably of the sea. It was intoxication by crustacean; no two ways about it.
    Now, fast forward some 30 years and look what we've done to the shrimp cocktail, relegated it to cut-rate motel buffets and low class cafeterias. The proud, flavorful shrimp of my youth have been reduced to rubbery sauce shovels sadly sharing sherbet cups with week old lemon wedges. It's just not right.
    So, it's time we put the king of appetizers back on its throne. Where do we start? Well, me, I'm going to sea.

The Nautilus

    That's right. I've signed on to crew this shrimp boat just like in Forrest Gump. Only, I didn't actually get to buy the boat. Why go to all this trouble for shrimp? I don't know. Call me crazy. Call me Ishmael. Call this Good Eats.


The Nautilus: Fort Myers, FL - 9:05 am

    As the Nautilus and her crew hit the seas in search of America's favorite anthropoid, I busied my self with other crucial duties. There's nothing, if not work, on a shrimp boat.

    Now, the shallow waters of the gulf yield a whopping 200,000,000 pounds of pink, brown and white shrimp a year. But that only scratches the surface of America's 850,000,000 million pound a year shrimp habit which must look to Thailand, Ecuador and Mexico for imported satisfaction.

200,000,000 pounds


    Shrimp, by the way, is our second favorite sea food. Canned tuna is number 1.

1. Canned Tuna
2. Shrimp

AB: [to someone off camera] Engine's fixed.

    I've got to tell you. Now I know that your average shrimp trip is not a 3 hour tour. In fact, most shrimp boats stay out and fish until, well, the hold is full. But that's okay because as long as shrimp are properly headed, cleaned and packed in ice they can last down there for up to two weeks without catching the funk. Of course I can't say the same thing about shrimpers. Now I understand why in those old commercials as soon as the sailor came home from the sea his woman doused him down with Old Spice.


    Now, we've got both brown shrimp from Texas and white pink shrimp from Florida on board and we're sucking them out of the hold with this big vacuum hose. From there they're going to go inside be washed, weighed and sorted.

Trico Shrimp Co.: Fort Myers, FL - 10:45 am

    White, brown and pink shrimp are characterized by the color of their shells, not their flesh. As a matter of fact, the only reason their flavors vary is because they have different diets which is an issue in farmed raised shrimp, too, but we'll get to that later.
    Now, as soon as these little bugs see the light, heat and air of day, the quality clock is ticking. Next up, the bridge of size.

In Europe, any large shrimp is called a prawn.
In the U.S. the word "prawn" denotes a fresh water crustacean.


    As soon as they are off the boat, shrimp tails—called 'green shrimp' in the biz.—are sized or sorted into various weight counts. The higher the number, the smaller the shrimp. Sixties-seventies, for instance, have 60 to 70 tails per pound, which is pretty small. A pound of 26-30s contain at least 26 but not more than 30 tails. Twenty one-twenty fives are larger and 16-20s larger still. The biggest have a U in front of the number signifying that there are less than that number per pound. There are, for instance, 12 or less shrimp in a pound of U-12s.

tails per lb.

    Now, there are still a lot of shops out there selling on adjectives like jumbo, medium, colossal. Not only are these terms not standardized or controlled, it's tough to even find 2 fishmongers who will agree on them. So, if your market doesn't sell by the weight count feel free to quote Mr. Big who told James Bond in Live and Let Die, "Names is for tombstones, baby."   Of course, I guess those are tombstones, aren't they?

really gigantic

    Food fascists fond of preaching that food is either fresh or junk are dead wrong when it comes to shrimp. In fact, unless you live close enough to the ocean to own your very own Sunday, go-to-meeting flip-flops, you're better off buying your shrimp shell on and hard as a rock.

Frozen shrimp come in two forms: block frozen
and Individual Quick Frozen or "IQF." 
Although block are usually of higher quality,
IQF are more convenient.

In The Car / Road Side

GUEST: Cousin Ray, Entrepreneur

    Now, most of the shrimp sold in this country is frozen either right off the boat or the aqua farm. And that's okay with me. I double-dog dare Julia Child to spot the difference between properly thawed frozen shrimp and fresh. Besides, when you shop for fresh shrimp, well, they decompose quicker than Beethoven with an electric eraser.

BEETHOVEN: ['decomposing' with an electric eraser]

    See, you've got to kind of approach them as you would a used car with a certain amount of skepticism. [AB stops the car and backs up] You know what? I think I saw my cousin Ray. Yeah. I did see my cousin Ray. You remember Ray. Yeah, you remember cousin Ray.

COUSIN RAY: Well, hey there cousin AB. You want some fresh shrimp?
AB: Well, I don't know, Ray. Where is it you get your shrimp?
CR: Heh. I got me some connections.
AB: Connections, huh?

    Looks more like infections.

Cousin Ray's Signs


Catch of the Day!

Shrimp Varieties
Leopard, Tygr, Golf, Peeled, Unpeeled, popcorn, little shrimp, big shrimp.

AB: Hey, Ray. You know why these are turning pink like that?
CR: Heh, heh. They're happy to see you.
AB: Heh, heh, heh. No. Actually they're cooking in the shells. It's too hot out here for shrimp.
CR: Well, they're on ice.
AB: Yeah, but it takes a lot more ice than this, Ray. I mean, basically shrimp contain some proteins that basically cook at room temperature. And look at this. You know what these black spots are?

Keep thawed/fresh shrimp packed in ice.

CR: Yeah. Them there is leopard shrimp.
AB: No. Them there's got melanosis and basically it means they've been grotesquely mishandled. Where'd you get this stuff? A bait shop?

Beware shrimp with
dark spots!

CR: Who told you that?
AB: Well, I think you just did. Oh, look at this. Smell that. That's ammonia, Ray. It's a sure sign of decomposition. Shrimp shouldn't smell like ammonia.  They shouldn't smell like chlorine or gasoline or rotten eggs or anything. Besides, feel that shell. Do you fell those pits on there?

Aromas to avoid:
rotten eggs

CR: Well, you mean they ain't supposed to feel like that?
AB: No. That's a sure sign that it's been over treated with sodium bisulfate. It's one of those FDA approved chemicals that shrimp people put on top of fresh shrimp to keep it from getting melanosis which is perfectly fine, but if they use it over and over again it can cover up heat exposure. That sandpaper skin is a sure sign of mishandling.
CR: I tell you what. I'll give you this batch for half off.

Avoid heavily pitted shells

AB: Oh, that's a comfort. Hey, you've got some peeled shrimp.
CR: Peeled for your convenience.
AB: Oh, I don't know. They kind of look a little slimy. Ray, I think these have been double dipped in STP.
CR: Oil treatment?
AB: No. Sodium Tripolyphosphate. It's another completely okay chemical that shrimp folks dip peeled shrimp and even shucked scallops in to keep them from losing their natural moisture. But, if they are dipped over and over and over again the chemical can actually coax the shrimp to suck up more than its natural share of moisture and that fraudulently raises the sale weight.

Slimy shrimp are suspicious

CR: Well, I guess that will teach me to buy shrimp off a bass boat.
AB: Well, you know, live and learn, Ray. Look at it this way: you've got a real good start on some fertilizer here.
CR: Right. Hey. How do you spell fertilizer?
AB: It starts with an 'F' big guy.


"Shrimp" is from Middle English "Shrimpe" meaning: Pygmy.

You're So Vein
Back aboard the Nautilus - 2:17 pm

    To de-vein or not to de-vein. That is the question often argued by many a shrimp lover. Of course, it's not really a vein that runs down the body of a shrimp; it's actually the digestive tract. But don't go, "Aaaah."  To tell you the truth, as long as you're going to cook the shrimp there's no real health reason to remove it. And in smaller shrimp for sauces and pastas, I usually don't. Because as you try to get out the vein, you mutilate the shrimp. But in larger shrimp like these 21-25s that we'll be using in our shrimp cocktail, that vein can get pretty gritty on the inside, so you definitely want to take it out.
    The question, then, is how do you get it out of there while leaving the armor on. The shell really does a lot to keep moisture inside the shrimp. So, the answer, for me at least, is scissors. Little bitty scissors. I like the barber kind. What I do is I basically look at the end of the vein which you can kind of sticking out there. Just insert one blade and go right down the body of the shrimp. The fewer snips the better. It usually takes me about 3. There you've go. You've got the perfect avenue into the vein which is right there. But I'm not going to clean this out right now. I'm just going to dump it in the water and get all the cutting done at one time. Flatten the guy out, find the end, barely push in, snip, snip, snip and there's that vein there for all to see. So, I just set those on one side.
    When you've got all the shrimp snipped, time to clean. Now, anybody that's ever done this out on the land that's tried pulling these things out they stick to everything. You can't ... you can't get them off your fingers. So, what I do is I do this underwater. Just grab the shrimp, open him up. Now, that's a big one right there. That's a real sand trap. And reach in underwater and just pull it out, take it over to the side and it will float to the bottom and you'll be left with a clean shrimp. There you go. When you've got all those done the next step is, well, what does a one and a half ounce shrimp have in common with a 15 pound turkey? The answer of course, brine.

Nautilus Kitchen

GUEST: Shrimper

    Brine, as you may recall from our Thanksgiving show, Romancing the Bird, is just about the best bet that the cook's got to improve both the flavor and the texture of a meat. And the same process works for poultry as it does with crustaceans.

    Now to basically review, a brine is nothing more, really, than a salt-sugar solution. Now, I like Kosher salt, of course. When I make it for shrimp I do it in a coffee pot. I put about a 1/4 cup of salt and a 1/4 cup of sugar in the bottom of the pot, put about a cup, cup and a half of water into the brewer and just let it make a cycle. It's the perfect temperature; it will melt everything. And then I throw in two cups of ice and then just let it chill until I'm ready.

1/4 Cup Kosher Salt
1/4 Cup Sugar
1 Cup H2O
2 Cups Ice

    Now, let's see. We're going to make 4 shrimp cocktails and with about 8 shrimp a piece. So, that's 32 shrimp. And since we're dealing with 21-25s, two pounds is going to more than cover us. As a matter of fact, I'll leave a few for the cook to enjoy. Just be careful to not get any of the veins as you go through this. It won't really hurt anything if you do.

2 lbs
21-25 Shrimp

    Now, obviously a shrimp is a whole lot smaller than a turkey. So instead of sitting in the brine for 6 or 8 hours, this only needs about, well, 20, 25 minutes which is just enough time to make cocktail sauce.

Brine in refrigerator
20-25 minutes

    So, it's only shrimp until there's cocktail sauce, right? No shrimp cocktail without cocktail sauce. Now, there are three different ways you can go: you can use just stuff right out of the jar which I think tastes pretty wretched, you can make your own completely from scratch which will take hours of work and still taste pretty wretched, or you can creatively blend existing products, kind of come up with the flavor that you're happy with.
    Now, what I like is to start with canned, either whole or diced tomatoes, prepared chili sauce—there's no shame or crime in this—and prepared horseradish.

SHRIMPER: Hey, Al. What's for dinner?
AB: We're having shrimp cocktails.
  S: [sarcastically] Oh, goody.

    Okay, the best way to bring this together into a sauce, you could use a mixer or stick blender, but I like a food processor like this little mini one.

    So, we're going to go with one 14 and a half ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained very thoroughly, right into there. Along with about a half a cup of chili sauce. No crime in using chili sauce. Now I'm not going to measure. I'm just going to kind of guess. That looks like half a cup to me. You can go more or less depending on what you like. It will be a little sweeter if you add more.

One 14.5 Oz Can
Diced Tomatoes

1/2 Cup  Chili Sauce

    Now, for the horseradish, I like a wallop of horseradish. So I'm going with 4 tablespoons for this amount. You don't like quite that much heat feel free to cut back. If you like a little more, seek professional help. Three. Four. There.

4 Tbls Prepared Horseradish

    Now, we go with about a teaspoon of sugar. One teaspoon. A few grinds of black pepper. Le's see. I think I've always got some here with me. There you go. Just in case the boat goes down. And, half a teaspoon kosher salt. There we go. Now, this is either going to blend perfectly or explode into a huge mess. [it blends nicely] Aah.

1 tsp Sugar

Fresh ground black pepper

1/2 tsp Kosher Salt

Horseradish is one of the 5 bitter herbs of the Passover feast.

    Instant cocktail sauce. I'm going to put this in the fridge until we're ready to serve, and it's time to bring out the shrimp. They've been in the brine for about 25 minutes, TV time at least. But I don't want that brine to sit there on them forever 'cause it's just going to start making them salty. At this point they'll taste perfectly seasoned and just kind of crisp and plump. But we want to kind of stop the action for that. So I'm going to give a quick rinse, just slosh them around in a little water and drain them again. Now we're going to be tossing these in a little bit of oil before they go under the broiler. So I'm going to lay them off onto some paper towel to dry. Now, you don't have to have the Panda Paper Towels but it is a nice touch. So, straight onto the paper towels and just kind of roll them up.
    Since it's not going to be very long until we cook these, I'm not going to put them back into the refrigerator. But if it's going to be more than about half an hour before you're ready to go, get them back into the fridge. Shrimp do not like heat unless, of course, you're cooking them which is a different thing.

    Now, when it comes to cooking I know that the water is the tradition. Everybody wants to boil shrimp or steam shrimp. Now, we've tried it about 600 ways from Wednesday, just ask the crew. They're actually threatening to kick me off of this boat if I feed them any more shrimp cocktail. We've come to the conclusion that the best way to cook the shrimp is down here. It's in the broiler. There's something about the intense, dry heat of the broiler that really kind of locks in the juice and flavor of a shrimp. So, go ahead and preheat your broiler to as hot as it'll go.

Dry heat intensifies flavor

Set broiler to high

    Now, if you don't have an under slung broiler like this one, definitely use the one in the oven. Set your tray to next to the very top position. Now, what you want to do is you want to go ahead and put in a pan, either a baking sheet or like we have here a broiling pan that just stays in the broiler all the time. It's just as important to have the pan lightning hot as it is to have the oven hot.

In 1983, a machine was developed that can mold
"shrimp" from ground shrimp meat.
The machine can produce over 10,000 faux shrimp an hour.

Cocktails Anyone?
Nautilus Kitchen

    So, final prep for the shrimp. Large stainless steel bowl and a little bit of oil. We just want enough to coat the shrimp. And if you've dried the shrimp thoroughly, it shouldn't take more than a tablespoon. You don't have to use olive oil, you can use canola oil whatever you want to use. Now, the shrimp goes straight into the bowl. Give them a quick toss just to get them coated with that oil.

1 Tbls Oil ... olive is good

    Now, we don't want to add any more salt because the brining has already done that. Pepper would burn under the broiler. What I like, probably because I grew up with it, is a little Old Bay seasoning. It's got like 6 gazillion spices in it. And I like to just scatter some across. The paprika in it for some reason doesn't burn when you broil it, so it comes out looking nice and red which is kind of an added bonus. There we go.

A sprinkle of Old Bay

    Now, everything should be thoroughly tossed. And remember, the oil isn't just about sticking. Oil on the shrimp will help it to cook hotter on the outside and it will brown the shells which will be a lot better looking dish. Now, into the oven.
    Broiler is very, very hot. Shrimp goes straight down. You'll hear some sizzling, that's fine. Just spread them around and try to not have anything layered up on the other. There, nice and even. In it goes. And two minutes.

Besides being low in fat, shrimp contains
high amounts of protein, niacin and B-12.

    Okay, two minutes is [sic] up and these shrimp are ready to roll. Now, you may look at these and say, "Well, gee. Those don't look very red; they don't really look done."  Well, the truth is is that different shrimp have different levels of pigment and they cook to different colors. Now, you may have had some Chinese tiger shrimp or Taiwanese tiger shrimp which are very...often sold frozen in our markets. And when you cook those they become very, very, very bright red. Some shrimp like these pink shrimp don't get that bright. But you can look at the tails and see the fins are really, really starting to turn.

Tail fins darken as cooked

    The other way you can tell they are ready to go is that the meat is starting to spread out from where you took that vein out. That spreading is a sure sign that the meat is cooked.

Meat spreads at cut.

    So, I'm going to give these all a roll as quickly as possible and get them back under the broiler. You see in some cases the shell is starting to burn. If we were doing this without the shells on then guess what would be burning. That's right, the meat. So, they're acting as a protectorant and also as a flavor enhancer. The shells have a whole lot of flavor in the them. And as they cook, they're giving a lot of that flavor to the meat. So, in again and I'm going to check this in 1 minute.

Shells = Flavor

    One minute is up and our shrimp are definitely done. Now, the trick is to get them to stop cooking as quickly as possible. So, I have a very, very cold stainless steel bowl and the shrimp are going to go right in. Toss a few times to work out some of the extra heat and then into the freezer for 5 minutes. But don't forget about them in there or they will turn into shrimp-cicles within half an hour. After this move them down to the refrigerator.
    Personally, I like to leave the peels on. I think it gives people something to do with their hands. Now, one of the other great things about cooking shrimp in the shell is that they don't curl up into tight little knots the way that boiled shrimp sometimes do. Now, you can do this on a wine glass or a bowl, sherbet goblet, anything you want but I always say that, except for maybe tax attorneys, nothing sits on the edge of a martini glass better than a shrimp.

Shrimp often change gender from male to
female after a year of sexual activity.

Nautilus Deck

    Regardless what you are looking for in a shrimp relationship you will find happiness as long as you stick to the Good Eats Twelve Step Happy Shrimp Plan:

One: When buying, deal in count weight, no descriptive monikers like super colossal tremendously big. And avoid any vendor who won't play along with this. Buy by count
Two: Also avoid precooked shrimp. Always. Say "no" to pre-cooked
Three: Ponder the best size shrimp for your dish. U-10s may be sweet on the grill but they're not so great in, say, pasta sauce. Choose right size for the job
Four: Don't hate a shrimp because it's ugly. Hate it because is smells bad. Avoid stinky shrimp
Five: If Hawaii 5-0 reruns are as close as you can get to the ocean in, say, an hours drive, you live outside the realm of fresh shrimp. So, do what the best restaurants do and buy block frozen shrimp and then thaw it yourself as needed. Buy frozen & thaw yourself
Six: Cook them in the shell whenever possible.

Cook in shell
Seven: Brine. It's always in fashion. Brine
Eight: Stick to hot, dry cooking methods. And unless you're serving hot, ice immediately. Use dry, hot cooking method
Nine: De-veining. It's your choice. Devein at will

    And number ten: Well, I can't think of anymore right now but give me a week and I'll come up with some more. In the mean time, here's to good eats.


[AB holds out a piece of shrimp and a seagull swoops down and takes it.
The camera pans to a grinning AB]

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010