The Complete Guide to Royal Red Shrimp

Here's what's special about the shrimp variety that's famous on the Gulf Coast.

<p><a href="">Knuckleheads</a></p>

My husband and I split our time between New York City and New Orleans, which I’ve since learned makes us what’s affectionately known as New-News. When I’m in NYC, there’s not a week that goes by that I don’t eat a slice of pizza or a bagel with scallion cream cheese. But when I’m in NOLA, there’s nothing better than royal red shrimp. Sure, crawfish are delicious and beignets have their place, but if I can get my hands on a pile of “reds” there’s really nothing better.

What are royal red shrimp?

Interestingly enough, royal red shrimp, or rather Pleoticus Robustus, are one of a few deepwater shrimp species that are caught commercially in North America; and you can find them all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to New England waters. Hank Shaw, author of Hook, Line and Supper, explains that royal reds are softer and more lobster-like than typical Gulf shrimp, and similar to Pacific spot prawns, another deepwater shrimp. You can think of it more like scallops, blue crab, or lobster flavor profiles.

“The first time I ever ate them was at a restaurant in Florida, back in the 1990s,” Shaw says. “They were expensive, twice the cost of the other shrimp entrees, but I was intrigued. They arrived cleaned with the tails on, lined up on a rectangular plate, lightly broiled and coated in lime butter. They were heavenly.”

Related: Ana Castro's New Orleans City Guide

When is royal red shrimp season?

The royal red shrimp season lasts from late summer to late fall, with peak season being September. Not very many fishermen are licensed to harvest royal reds, so most flash freeze their catches on the boat after hauling them in. As a result, most people in Gulf states (and beyond if they’re lucky) can enjoy them pretty much year-round.

How do you cook royal red shrimp?

Cooking royal reds requires restraint. Interestingly, their larger size doesn't mean they take longer to prepare. In fact, they cook in half the time of smaller shrimp species. Shaw says that the key to cooking these crustaceans is, “Carefully. Gently. Don’t hammer them on the grill or barbecue like other shrimp. Don’t smother them in heavy sauces. Royal reds can be grilled, but don’t walk away from the coals. You want them very hot, and to just barely cook the shrimp through. Butter poaching is a great option, as is simply steaming them.” Raw royal reds are also a downright delicious option. “They make a fantastic shrimp for Mexican aguachile, which is like a ceviche without the long marinating time,” says Shaw. Just follow his mantra: With royal reds, less is more.

Related: 38 Succulent Shrimp Recipes to Bookmark

Where do you buy royal red shrimp?

Royal reds are most often found in the Gulf states, from Coastal Mississippi to the Florida Panhandle. But according to Shaw, “I’ve seen them for sale throughout the South, and in better markets all over the country; those will be frozen shrimp.” Northerners, take note. Shaw says, “Because this species will live as far north as New England, there is a royal red not called a royal red in Connecticut: It’s called a Stonington red, after the town of Stonington. These often hit markets fresh. Buy them if you see them.”

Come weekends, my husband and I often escape the noise and heat of New Orleans and make the quick one-hour drive to Coastal Mississippi – specifically to eat royal reds. If you find yourself in the Crescent City, I suggest you do the same. A few favorites include: The Blind Tiger, where you can peel and eat reds in open air with views of the Gulf. There’s Knuckleheads in Ocean Springs with surprisingly great all-you-can-eat royal reds on Wednesday; and any of the Shaggy’s locations, where you can have the boil (reds served with corn and potatoes) or a royal red roll, which I prefer any day over the lobster variety. A quick drive into Gulf Shores, Alabama, and you’ll find DeSoto's Seafood Kitchen, an old-school seafood house with some of the very best reds, which you can pretty much always find on the menu. Or you can swing by Aquila Seafood in Bon Secour, Alabama. They’ve been at it for more than 50 years and it’s where all the locals go to buy beloved reds.

For more Food & Wine news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on Food & Wine.