Shrimp Surprise: My first experience with RAS-raised shrimp
If you had asked me a few months ago where to find the best shrimp, the answer ‘in the desert’ would not have sprung to mind! But then I was introduced to ECOshrimp, a new project growing fresh, tasty shrimp… in the middle of the Israeli Negev desert.
I already knew of ECOshrimp’s parent company, AquaMaof, whose innovative land-based aquaculture technology is installed in fish farms around the world. Their unique farming method maintains a controlled environment and enables optimal growth, in a natural environment, without the use of chemicals, hormones or antibiotics. So, fish growing on land? – Ok. But Shrimp growing in the desert? That blew my mind!
A new concept in shrimp
I have to say, the idea of producing such a high-end product and making it accessible to local consumers, is a real breakthrough. On the face of it, though, the Negev desert is an ‘interesting’ choice of location – for a start, summer temperatures reach 40°C during the day and drop drastically at night. Using RAS technology similar to its fish facilities, adapted to simulate the specific conditions required by shrimp, ECOshrimp has everything covered at its shrimp farm, from salinized water to temperature control.
As a chef who has specialized in cooking seafood for over 20 years, I was interested in the appearance, color, texture, smell, and taste of the ECOshrimp product. I also wanted to explore how it responded to different cooking methods and blends with different sauces.
Into the kitchen
Shrimp is really easy to cook, whether in a professional kitchen or at home. Preparation time is minimal, and serving options are endless. One of the first things I noticed about the ECOshrimp product was that the shrimp don’t contain any sand or dirt, as sea-sourced shrimp often do. I also found that they are uniform in size, so they are all cooked through evenly in the same amount of cooking time. The color of the shrimp was glossy gray and very pretty looking, which tells me, as a chef, that the product is fresh. The texture was hard, the shell was thin and the smell of the shrimp was very delicate.
Note: After a few minutes, the shell of the unpeeled shrimp began to change color to a darker gray. I welcomed this natural result of exposure to oxygen as a sign that the shrimp had not been sprayed with preservatives.(Most shrimp are sprayed with metabisulfite to prevent oxidation). This was therefore actually another plus for me – the fewer preservatives we consume, the better.
People often find that the most complicated thing about shrimp is peeling it, but this desert-raised shrimp shell was relatively thin, the heads came off easily and there was very little gastric content. I just lightly rinsed them, and the shrimp was peeled. If you’re used to cleaning shrimp, you’ll probably be looking for the black vein in the back of the shrimp to remove. But in these desert shrimp this vein was very thin and very light, so you don’t need to take it out; in fact, it just disappeared during cooking.
Ready, steady, cook!
With the shrimp prepped and ready, it was time to start cooking. I decided to try out all the common styles: poaching, frying in olive oil or melted butter, oven roasting, and barbecue.
In all these cooking styles, just four minutes was all it took for the desert-shrimp to turn the right color (pink) and texture (firm), ready for eating. This is almost two minutes faster than any other shrimp I have used, and worth bearing in mind to avoid overcooking. Once cooked, the ECOshrimp product has a similar texture and taste to the familiar standard of Crystal Shrimp.
With the cooking under control, I just had to decide what flavors to add to the shrimp, and observe how the sauces combined with them. In short, they all turned out so tasty that I couldn’t decide which recipes to share with you. So, here they all are, for you to try at home.
- Shrimp Cocktail: Boil water in a deep pot. Add salt, lemon juice from a quarter of a lemon, and 500g (about 1 lb) of shrimp, making sure the water stays on the boil. After about 4 minutes, remove the shrimp from the water and cool under running water to prevent overcooking. The most popular sauce for this dish is a mayonnaise dip with a little ketchup, mustard and something spicy. Mix some up in a small dish, and get dipping!
- Shrimp in olive oil: Pour quality olive oil into a wide pan. Add crushed garlic and chopped ginger. Maintain a low flame to avoid burning the garlic. When the oil heats up, add the shrimp and fry for two minutes on each side. A minute before removing the shrimp, squeeze half a fresh lemon over the shrimp, add a handful of chopped parsley and a little salt. If you love your sauces spicy, this is the time to go wild!
- Shrimp in butter: Follow the directions in the olive oil recipe above, substituting butter for the oil. Make sure the butter does not burn – if it begins to, add a little extra butter or lower the heat.
- Oven roasted: Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Arrange the shrimp in a pan, drizzle with a little olive oil, juice of half a lemon, coarse salt, black pepper and sweet paprika. Bake until the shrimp are pink and firm – about 4 minutes.
- Barbecue: Skewer shrimp on a skewer (preferably with the shell) and place on a hot grill. Brush with olive oil, lemon and crushed garlic. Cook for two minutes, turn on to the other side and brush again. Cook for a further two minutes.
These are just some very basic recipes you can definitely try at home – especially if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on the new ECOshrimp desert shrimp – but you really are only limited by your own imagination! If you plan to serve a French meal, for example, add cream and some Roquefort cheese to the shrimp in butter. If you’re going for Indian, try adding yellow or green curry. For Italian, just add a good tomato sauce to the shrimp in olive oil. When you’re cooking ECOshrimp, just keep in mind that the cooking time is shorter and their meat is a bit sweeter, so the seasoning should be more intense. However you cook you shrimp, you’ll enjoy a healthy and tasty meal.