Rock shrimp are difficult to clean, needing kitchen shears to break through their tough exoskeleton. Ask your fish monger for peeled and cleaned shrimp to save you the hassle.
In Florida, the special is always seafood. But from July through October, the special takes on a whole new flavor. Rock shrimp, the “little shrimp with a big lobster taste” hits its peak season during the summer, giving coastal communities reason to celebrate. The hard-shelled cousin of the popular pink, white, and brown shrimp everyone knows so well, rock shrimp is a deep-water Florida resident that’s big on flavor. Caught in both the Atlantic and the Gulf, rock shrimp were long considered by-catch; its namesake exoskeleton is very tough, making the shrimp a real chore to peel and devein, thus limiting their viability as a marketable fishery until 1969 when industrious fishermen devised an apparatus that did the deed for them. Now, rock shrimp is an industry, with Florida commercial fishermen bringing in more than one million pounds in 2013 for an estimated $2.79 million in value alone.
A deep-water shrimp species, usually found between 80 to 215 feet deep, commercial fishermen harvest the shrimp using conical-shaped nets called trawls.
Though a prawn, rock shrimp has a similar flavor profile to spiny lobster. In fact, rock shrimp tails are often confused for mini lobster tails to the untrained eye. This makes for a truly versatile seafood ingredient: it’s not too fishy with a mild flavor that is not too rich—it truly is the best of both the shrimp and lobster worlds. To celebrate high rock shrimp season, we’re sharing some of our favorite recipes from Florida’s official chef, Justin Timineri, an expert in rock shrimp cuisine. Enjoy!
Tips for Rock Shrimp:
- Cleaning rock shrimp is not easy—sharp kitchen shears are a must—so its best to purchase already peeled and deveined shrimp. If you don’t, by that tenth shrimp, you will wish you had.
- Rock shrimp are sold by count (number of shrimp per pound), with the largest shrimp ranging at about 20 to 25 per pound.
- Don’t buy a fishy shrimp. Rock shrimp should have a mild aroma—oceany if you need a word—and the flesh should be firm.
- Rock shrimp cooks more quickly than other shrimp species, and overcooked rock shrimp is just as inedible (like chewing rubber), so be mindful. If you are going to adapt a favorite Gulf shrimp recipe and substitute with rock shrimp, keep a watchful eye. When the meat turns opaque, cooking is done.
Where to buy:
Though rock shrimp has been on the market for quite some time, finding a supplier selling fresh-off-the-boat is difficult to find. For Palm Beach County, the go-to spot is Old Dixie Seafood (561-988-0866) in Boca Raton. Around since 1996, this place deals with in seasonal specialties (stone crab, Florida lobster, rock shrimp, and more), as well as those hard-to-find dishes—hog fish anyone? They will even help you plan out that meal with recipe suggestions.