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Royal Reds are a Royal Catch

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Royal Reds are a Royal Catch
Photo by Beth Kirby

Here in coastal South Carolina, we love our shrimp: brown, white, pink—any way we can get them. Southern waters are teaming with variety. But until recently, I had never been able to get my hands on the elusive deepwater shrimp known as royal reds. Similar to lobster in their taste and texture, royal reds are coveted for being succulent, silky, tender, and sweet. Their deep water digs and cold water temps translate to a higher fat content, which we all know equates to richer flavor.

I was hanging out at the docks along Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, gabbing with fisherman Mark Marhefka of Abundant Seafood, who runs a CSF (think CSA, but for fish). Scores of locals ambled down the gravel road to hit up Marhefka for whatever was fresh. It just so happened that he had managed to source some royal reds from fellow fishermen in northeastern Florida. Royal reds are primarily harvested off St. Augustine, Florida, as well as about one hundred miles off the Alabama shore, deep in the Gulf.

Marhefka sent me home with a bag full of these crimson goodies, and pointers on how to cook them up. Look for royal reds at your coastal markets and Gulf shore eateries. If you can’t find them, there’s a great Florida company that ships: www.wildoceanmarket.com.

Preparing Royal Reds

Royal reds are so tasty, you don’t need to get very fancy in order to savor their flavor.

  1. Thaw them for a few minutes in lightly salted water, which brines and seasons them.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Peel and devein the shrimp.
  3. Lay shrimp in a swirling rose pattern in a baking dish, each one nuzzled into the next. Top with pats of butter, slivered fresh garlic, and a few fresh herbs (chervil or fennel fronds are great). Add a splash of wine or a couple squeezes of lemon.
  4. Bake 6-8 minutes, until they turn pink and the butter is bubbling.
  5. Serve warm over risotto or grits, or chilled with cocktail dipping sauce. Enjoy the little lobsters of the South.