When I graduated from college I went on a trip to Europe with my sisters. We had a home base in The Netherlands, where my sister Karen had been an exchange student. We would go to the little town of Staadskanaal, eat home cooked meals, wash our clothes and relax with her Mami, Poppi and the boys.
Then we would hop on a train to another country. We went to Italy, France, Ireland, Finland, Sweden and Denmark. And it was in Copenhagen, Denmark that we saw shrimp boats coming in with their catch, which they would boil in sea water and sell by the bag. These shrimp literally were plucked from the sea, plopped back into the sea (albeit boiling hot sea water) and then sold as soon as the ship docked. I had never had shrimp that fresh!
And now, the confession: I could not eat them without assistance. You see, the whole shrimp freaked me out a bit, because I hated those little legs, and lets not mention the heads. I made my sisters peel them for me, so I could eat them!
Obviously this was way before I attended culinary school, where I was taught to break down cows and lambs into primal cuts, filet whole fish (where I often found other fish and sea life in their stomachs) and cut up a whole chicken in less than a minute. Yes, this was way before.
Now, I am not squeamish about seeing or handling animals who have met their demise to feed myself and others. Which is a really good thing, since I received some beautiful whole Ridgeback shrimp from my fish CSF Community Seafood.
I wrote about Community Seafood in my post for Wild California Halibut Ceviche, and I encourage you to learn more about local and sustainable fishing in your communities. One of the things I most enjoy about this community supported fishery is the amount of information I get about each weeks catch. I had never heard of Ridgeback shrimp before, but the weekly email had a load of information about them.
To chefs around the world Santa Barbara is well-known as a premier source of the highly acclaimed ridgeback shrimp. The ridgeback fishery, while centered in the Santa Barbara Channel and the Santa Monica Bay, ranges from Monterey to Baja.
However, many local residents do not know that this variety even exists and is unique to our area since ridgebacks rarely show up in our supermarkets or even in Santa Barbara restaurants.
If you head down to the harbor on a Saturday morning during ridgeback season, you can buy them live from the fishermen. The ridgeback population is highest during our warmer El Nino years.
One reason these sweet delicately flavored shrimp are more difficult to find commercially is their short shelf life. They are best eaten the day of pickup. So for best results, keep them on ice prior to cooking.
Ridgebacks or “rigies” are actually a prawn, not a shrimp (…and Spot Prawns are a shrimp, not a prawn?). Prawns generally have a longer legs and the second set of pincers is larger than the front ones, while the opposite is true for shrimp.
Not only do I get fresh fish and shellfish, I get educated too. That’s a good deal if you ask me.