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Product Spotlight: Rock Shrimp

This crustacean's hard shell presents a challenge, but the result is worth the effort

Linda Skinner
August 01, 2005

Andriola’a current menu features rock shrimp in a bisque-like broth served with Sardinian couscous and yellowtail snapper for $23. 

The rock shrimp (Sicyonia brevirostris), a deepwater cousin of the pink, brown and white Gulf shrimp species (Penaeus spp.), was was considered throwaway bycatch until the 1980s, when a machine was developed to split the tough exoskeleton and devein the shrimp.

Once processors had conquered the rock-hard shell for which the crustacean is named, they found a ready market for “the little shrimp with the big lobster taste,” especially in its native Florida.

Rock shrimp are found from Norfolk, Va., south through the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula, but most of the domestic catch is landed on Florida’s east coast. The state’s 2004 landings totaled 7.5 million pounds, valued at $5.6 million. The shrimp  are harvested by trawling with reinforced nets that can withstand abrasion from coral and rocky bottoms, where the shrimp are caught. The season typically runs from July to November.

Because rock shrimp are so hard for end users to peel, almost all the harvest is sold as peeled and deveined meats, both fresh and frozen. These shrimp are generally small; the largest size is 21/25.

Rodney Thompson, considered by many to be the father of Florida’s rock shrimp industry, built a vertically integrated family business in Titusville, Fla., on the crustacean.

Cape Canaveral Shrimp Co., run by daughter Sherri McCoy, processes the catch from local boats and supplies all the shrimp sold at the family-owned Dixie Crossroads restaurant — up to 400 pounds, processed, a day.

The eatery is operated by daughter Laurilee Thompson, who offers the rock shrimp fried, broiled or steamed, at prices ranging from $8.99 per dozen to $34.99 for “all you can eat.” It’s also menued as a basket at $7.99 for a dozen shrimp and one side dish, and in combo entrées.

Wild Ocean Seafood Market, a retail outlet tied to the Cape Canaveral Shrimp Co. and also run by McCoy, sells split and cleaned rock shrimp tails for $10 a pound, shell-on tails for $8 and whole shrimp for $4 a pound. The market sells around 100 pounds of shrimp a day. McCoy says Florida’s east coast rock shrimp are superior in flavor and texture to those from the Gulf.

The Florida specialty shows up on upscale menus as well. Chef Tim Andriola at Timó restaurant in Sunny Isles, Fla., likes rock shrimp’s versatility and uses it frequently in lasagnes, risottos and pasta dishes and in combination with other seafoods.

“It tastes like langostines but is more approachable,” he notes.

Find other SeaFood Business articles with rock shrimp here.

August 2005 - SeaFood Business 

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