Thursday, March 27, 2008

Live Shrimp Updated and Close at Hand

The proverbial "Acres of Diamonds" tale could be a metaphor for this post. All the while that I was running around to bait stores in eastern Florida or darting about San Francisco's Chinatown in search of the freshest shrimp on the market, namely shrimp that were still alive, a better story awaited me much closer to home in Hurlock, Maryland. Notwithstanding, I'll still take credit for any awareness that Unique Culinary Adventures raised regarding the delectability of shrimp thirty seconds after being tossed live into boiling water.

Although Marvesta Shrimp Farms has gleaned plenty of positive press, I first learned of the operation at Baltimore's trendy Woodberry Kitchen whose menu listed Shrimp & Spoonbread: Locally raised shrimp, herbed pan sauce as a $10 small plate. Woodberry Kitchen had run out the night Mrs. Yi and I dined there. That did not restrain me from asking our waiter: How fresh are these shrimp when they arrive? "Sometimes a few are still moving when they get here," the waiter replied. I determined to get to the source.

Scott Fritze, who owns Marvesta Shrimp Farms with partners, Guy Furman and Andy Hanzlik, returned my call. Though obviously partial to very fresh shrimp, Scott hadn't reached the point of throwing live ones on the fire. He implied, however, that my own enthusiasm for doing so could have merit. When shrimp die, he said, a kind of rigor mortis or stiffening happens that could be of culinary significance. I told him about my San Francisco experience and asked his opinion on whether the quality of shrimp netted live from the tank of a Chinatown fishmonger was likely compromised. If so, Scott suggested it could have something to do with the means by which they were transported there.

One thing seemed certain: No way those Chinatown shrimp could have been the product of as nearly organic or totally controlled and environmentally friendly a system as Marvesta has developed. All of Marvesta's shrimp are raised indoors while the vast majority of shrimp consumed in the United States arrive frozen from massive outdoor farms along the coastlines of numerous foreign countries that export them to us. Believe me, they don't taste anything like shrimp that are truly fresh.

When we buy shrimp labeled as fresh, who knows how long they've been dead? Most likely they were harvested by shrimpboats in American waters. In some cases, they could be the product of one of the few other shrimp farms in the U. S. , most or all of which are outdoor farms producing shrimp seasonally rather than year round. Typically, these shrimp are raised in ponds where antibiotics and other extraneous components are more likely an issue than at Marvesta's unique indoor facility. Marvesta has its own system and its own technology. Fritze concedes that indoor systems designed to produce similar results exist, but are all a bit different from one another. To his knowledge, Marvesta is the only indoor shrimp farm in the U.S. that's a going commercial concern. Reaching that point marked the fruition of a big challenge.

Now the big challenge is to deal with a level of demand that far surpasses the quantity Marvesta can produce. An expansion is underway that should increase production fivefold. Marvesta shrimp are harvested, immediately packed with fresh ice---never frozen---and enroute within a couple hours to a few select restaurants, most within a 150 mile radius. Consumers can order shrimp from Marvesta via the Internet. They will be shipped the same day provided the order is placed by 1 p.m. Lucky recipients just might find a few of them still kicking upon arrival.