Quality of Shrimp these days [moved from Manhattan board]
I'm posting here because this is an active board of foodies, and I want to know if I am alone in my experiences of shrimp lately. And when I say "lately", I'm talking within the last 5 years or so. This is not a question specific to NYC. I live about an hour's drive outside of Manhattan, so I'm not sure if the shrimp I get up here in Orange County is the same as what is in the city. Let me try to describe what I'm tasting.
Shrimp used to be an item that I would gravitate towards on any menu. However, that has changed over the past five years. Now I almost never order shrimp. There is a distinct taste that I get sometimes that is hard to describe, I just know I don't like it. It's not the taste of "bad" or spoiled shrimp. I'm not sure if it is a chemical taste either. What is really strange is often it is not all the shrimp on the plate tasting like this. Sometimes I'm lucky and one has the taste, other times half or all of them do. It's almost like a bad aftertaste. Gosh, this is so hard to describe! I don't know, maybe it's like a Chlorine taste? I don't know. I do find that the bigger the shrimp the more likely they are to have this taste that I don't like. Are we getting our shrimp from a totally different part of the world now a days or something?
And I don't think it's just me because my wife knows the taste I'm talking about and she doesn't like it either. In fact, we have a name for it. We call it "taint". They just taste off. Once in a while one of us will be brave and order shrimp. And with that first bite the other one is looking on waiting to see if we get the "taint" face or not.
I do not have this problem with any other seafood: lobster, crab, scallops, clams, oysters, in the same restaurants. It's just the shrimp that are not dependable.
I have also noticed this "off" taste for years. I had been attributing it to freezer burn. I guessed that suppliers were storing them frozen longer for some cost saving purpose. And I've tasted it on some rather pricey shrimp I bought at Whole Foods. And it's not just taste that led me to this idea. The quality of the meat is very poor, it's like it's begun to break down and is soft and mushy when it shoudl be firm. The best shrimp I've had lately came from Bangladesh. I'll have to do some more reading about the chemicals and the bad farming methods.
When the tissue starts to break down and get soft and mushy, it usually means the heads of the shrimp have been on the body for too long before processing or freezing. I don't know if this applies to all shrimps and prawns, but I know at least a few do carry an enzyme in their heads that breaks down protein. If the head is left on the shrimp for varying lengths of time after the specimen expires, the enzyme is released into the body and the protein starts to break down in the body.
I absolutely agree with you - I cannot buy shrimp any more where at least some of the shrimp don't have what I think of as a chlorine/bleach/iodine taste to them. My husband can taste it too, even though it doesn't bother him nearly as much. I simply won't buy them anymore and we used to eat shrimp weekly! We live in South Carolina, by the way, where we have always in the past been able to get great shrimp. Someone would go down to the coast and come back with huge quantities that we would all divvy up. Now, most of the old shrimp places have given and sold off their multimillion dollar land for development.
I even taste it at good quality restaurants, and so opt now always for fish. Plus I have discovered ways to eat - and really like! - scallops! Maybe that's why scallops are so popular on shows like Top Chef!
Glad I'm not crazy. If anyone knows a source of good shrimp in SC, please let me know!
Living in Boston, we have a good variety of good shellfish; but shrimp isn't 1 of them (exception..short Maine season..very small)
Much of the shrimp available now is from Asia and is a generally terrible. I rarely order shrimp here..few exceptions Santa Barbara Spot or Key West. I spend some time each year in the Southern Baja and the shrimp is fantastic.
For SC, my parents live in Hilton Head and the local shrimp are also great. They flash freeze when out of season.
Here's where I usually shop when visiting..
I agree with what the others have posted with the issue of what's probably causing the off-taste of shrimp. Shrimp used to be a near-delicacy when I was growing up, and I've lived on coastal Southern California almost all my life. They were not the easiest seafood to harvest, but they were even harder to transport from source to destination in a relatively fresh state. The industry has benefited from better technology in terms of finding, harvesting and holding (live) or storing the wild shrimp, and the transportation network has made transporting wild shrimp much easier as well. And as everyone has mentioned, the proliferation of farmed shrimp is increasing the world supply of shrimp multi-fold. Again, technology and transportation has allowed this source of shrimp to exist, but the quality is quite dubious. A current thread is running right now about strawbs - the issues are very similar, but the potential for the shrimp industry causing ecological devastation is greater and it's far more global.
The price of shrimp in general has fallen through the floor over the decades in terms of real dollars, but this applies mostly to farmed shrimp. Depending on where one lives and what the supply of wild shrimp is, the prices can be reasonable but of course the cost of physical damage to the ecosystems is never calculated in.
The one shrimp that I've come to enjoy and treat like a delicacy are the Santa Barbara Spot Prawns. The prices are probably a little higher than what quality shrimp cost back in the "good ol' days," but not by much. They're about $20/pound live, and the prices are justified by the harvesting, holding and transportation costs involved.
I know the prices seem out of line with most other shrimp prices, but if one considers the quality and treats shrimp as a delicacy (as it should IMHO), then reverence for quality and conscience will hopefully outweigh one's desire for something less. I'd be lying if I told you that I exclusively eat Spot Prawns - I do eat other shrimp as well - but it's rare if I prepare anything else related to other shrimp at home, and about the only shrimp I eat at restaurants is usually at reputable Chinese seafood places and the occasional Japanese dish where the quality is normally very high. But even there, I've noticed the off-taste that you refer to, so shrimp for me is becoming more and more an ingredient that is for special occasions.
wild-caught gulf shrimp are what you want! the farmed shrimp (which you are likely eating) are horrible. the frozen cases of grocery stores are full of thai-farrmed shrimp, but if you research the chemicals and antibiotics and water (!) that theyre raised in, you wouldn't go near them.
I know that taste, and I associate it with dirty pond water. I don't find it in wild shrimp from Newfoundland, Maine, or the Gulf. Fortunately B.C. spot prawns are shipped live to Ontario; I don't know if the Seattle prawns get as far as N.J., but these are really good.
I think I know what you're talking about, could it be an iodine taste?
Most shrimp you get in restaurants these days (especially if the price seems too good to be true) are farmed freshwater shrimp that have a reputation for trashing the environment where they're raised. They flood the ponds with antibiotics that are often banned in the USA, they ruin the ecology of where they're being farmed due to the antibiotic flood and several other reasons, one of which is that they used to be brackish water wetlands.
I did see that Costco had an article about chemicals that fluff the raw shrimp up (don't remember the name of it) , that they don't allow their suppliers to use. I've gotten shrimp that were obviously treated with that, they shrivel up so they roll around in the shells like a little rotten walnut.
Now the US is about to ban Mexico's shrimp crop because they've repeatedly refused to make concessions for the sea turtles in the shrimp nets. I've seen what washes up to shore when the shrimpers are out, and it gags me- they're dragging the bottom in Rocky Point like they never used to do before they fished the place out, which means they're doing it in the whole Sea of Cortez. Third world countries tend not to see any further than their noses, so they've been not complying- and it's going to bite them in the ass, and we'll be that much poorer for not beng able to get big, fat, full-tasting Guaymas shrimp here. That's the difference between the wimpy iodiney/cloroxy freshwater shrimp and wild Sea of Cortez, or Gulf of Mexico, or any norteamericana wild shrimp. I hope they work something out that's ecologically responsible.