Louisiana shrimp has a sweetness that holds up to the most aggressive seasonings, from Old Bay to nam pla, and a firm texture that withstands the rigors of the grill without losing its tenderness. This sweetness and resilience also describes the culture of Louisiana, which is still struggling to recover from the recent blows to its habitat.
Starting today, 19 New York restaurants are stepping up to help, by participating in the first Louisiana Shrimp Week. "We're trying to keep our culture and heritage alive and well," says Ewell Smith, Executive Director of the Louisiana Seafood Marketing Board. Crucial to that effort, he says, is rebuilding the seafood industry. "Over 90 percent of the shrimp that's consumed in the U.S. is imported. We're trying to make our claim to a very important niche."
The shrimp's safety is not, and has never been, an issue -- contaminated seafood has never entered the marketplace. Says Smith, "The seafood coming from the Gulf is probably still the most tested food source in the world ... and will be for a long time to come."
Beyond its cultural importance, Louisiana shrimp is sustainable and wild-caught, which is why chef Michael Cressotti of The Mermaid Inn prefers it. As part of Shrimp Week, he's serving a trio of fire-roasted Louisiana prawns with Old Bay aioli and smoked sea salt.
"We need to give something back," he says. "It's our way of running a seafood restaurant and supporting a region, and doing what we can do to help."
The 'holy trinity'
At Oceana, Chef Ben Pollinger is serving a blackened Louisiana shrimp with a crisp mirliton salad that draws on the "holy trinity" of Cajun cuisine: bell pepper, green onion and celery.
"When they had the oil spill two years ago, I was one of the only people left in the city who was still supporting Gulf fishing. ... These people are not looking for a handout; they're looking for work and business. That's their perspective, and that's how you effect change."
A new Old Bay
Fatty Crab is serving a different shrimp dish at each of its restaurants, all with Southeast Asian flavors and a casual, festive vibe matching that of the Big Easy.
"Yeah, I might not remember a lot of it, but it's fun down there," chef Corwin Kave says of his last trip to New Orleans. "Anytime I go down there, for me, it's just all about the seafood. It's cooked fresh. It's what everybody is passionate about."
Fatty Crab's Upper West Side location is serving a peel-and-eat shrimp dish cooked with a spice blend that Kave calls "Malay Old Bay": A Malaysian spin on the Southern staple heavy on paprika, peppercorn, ginger, clove and bay leaf.
Ultimately, these chefs' passion for Gulf shrimp lies in its flavor, and chef Michael Ferraro of Delicatessen created a dish to let that flavor shine. "Louisiana shrimp," he says, "just like local oysters, all have a distinctive flavor to them."
He's serving slowly-poached shrimp with ripe avocado, olive oil confit cherry tomatoes and a horseradish and tomato-water broth, echoing a classic cocktail sauce.
"I wanted to keep the flavors very pure," he says. "We cook them with the shell on, heads on, so you get all that flavor."
"For us to be able to spread this around the nation is critical for us," says Smith. "It's important for us to be able to share this with the rest of the nation, especially New York. The world comes to New York."
For more on Shrimp Week, visit www.freshfromthedock.com.
If you go
54 Prince St.
643 Hudson St.
120 W. 49th St.
The Mermaid Inn
96 Second Ave.
568 Amsterdam Ave.
Other participating restaurants:
Blue Water Grill
Burger & Barrel
David Burke Kitchen
The Mermaid Oyster Bar