Here on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, we know our shrimp by their color.
In most cases, the fresh Alabama Gulf Shrimp you see on the menu and in the marketplace is Pink Shrimp, White Shrimp, or Brown Shrimp. They vary a bit, and all are excellent eating.
But the Royal Red Shrimp? Well, those are a special case. And if you’ve ever eaten them, you’ll know why.
Royal Red Shrimp are absolutely packed with a rich, natural flavor. They’ve been compared to lobster, bay scallops, or Blue Crab, and because they’re larger in size than other Alabama shrimp, they’re a true Alabama Gulf Seafood feast.
They’re excellent boiled or steamed, but you can cook ‘em any way you’d normally cook Alabama shrimp, including frying. Just make sure you cut the preparation time in half compared to that of other shrimp. Royal Reds meat is very delicate, and they’ll shrink and become tough if overcooked.
Royal Reds weren’t always popular here on the Gulf Coast, though.
While there were some shrimpers producing Royal Reds on Florida’s East Coast in the 1950s, they weren’t well known on the Gulf Coast until the 1970s. In fact, seafood markets and processors handed out Royal Red samples and priced them lower than Pink/White/Brown Shrimp, simply because customers weren’t willing to pay more for a product they weren’t familiar with.
Over the past few decades, however, they’ve certainly increased in popularity—both here on the Gulf Coast and elsewhere. Especially during “beach season.”
“Royal Reds are a popular summertime favorite along the beach restaurants of the Gulf Coast, and they’re steadily increasing in popularity,” said Jeremy Zirlott of Zirlott Trawlers, Inc. in Coden, one of the few shrimpers in Alabama that fish for Royal Reds. Other Royal Red shrimpers include Aquila Seafood of Bon Secour and Graham Shrimp Co. Inc. of Bayou La Batre.
Yes, the demand for Royal Reds on the Gulf Coast outweighs the supply. But that’s because, as Zirlott points out, it’s a much more involved process than harvesting other Alabama shrimp.
For one, Royal Reds, who prefer colder water, are typically produced at depths of 1200 feet and up to 2100 feet. Because these shrimp are harvested more than 1000 feet deeper than other Alabama Shrimp, they require a different approach.
“There are only a few boats capable of fishing them,” Zirlott said. “Reds are a deep-water shrimp which requires special hydraulic winches designed to hold over a mile of trawl cable.”
Due to their thin shells and delicate meat, Royal Reds don’t preserve well on ice, so they must be flash-frozen and boxed immediately to ensure freshness.
Additionally, federal permits through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are required to fish for Royal Reds.
So when you see Royal Red Shrimp on the menu at Gulf Coast restaurants and markets, know that there’s a lot of hard work involved in bringing these tasty creatures to the shore. And once you taste them, you’ll understand why they’re worth it.
And be sure to stay away from Argentina Pink Shrimp! They look very similar in color, but they’re an imported, lower-quality product that doesn’t carry the flavor of a Royal Red.
Which is all the more reason to seek out our fresh, local product.
“Royal Reds are such a delicacy,” said Chris Blankenship, director of Alabama Marine Resources and program administrator of the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission (ASMC). “The taste is second to none, which makes them a must-have when you find them on the menu or at a retailer. A plate of steamed Royal Reds do not last long when I find them on a menu!”
For more information on Royal Red Shrimp, visit our Field Guide. To find seafood markets and restaurants that feature Royal Reds in your neighborhood, check out our Find It page.
Header photo provided by Zirlott Trawlers, Inc.