What's in Season: Maine Course

Small package, big gift

If your crustacean predilection runs to three-pound lobsters, swollen tiger prawns, and king crab sabers, be forewarned: we’re about to focus on the diminutive, sweet, and delicate jewel, Maine shrimp. The rosy beauties have traveled from deeper, more frigid waters to spawn off the coast of Maine, and, in recent years, the harvest season has run until the end of April.

Netted by local day boats, Maine shrimp are sustainably fished and, unlike ubiquitous farm-raised Asian shrimp, chemical free. That means quality conditions for them, and just plain quality for us. They’re healthy, yes, and tender and sweet from their icy depths, offering the sensualist gift of a caviar-like roe sack and the practical gift of minimal preparation. Peel, then boil or sauté them for under a minute and they’re done.

“You can’t beat such a fresh product,” declares Day Boat Cafe (1 Bridge St, Irvington 914-231-7854) Chef Alex Mellon, citing his commitment to seasonal and local ingredients. “When you’re eating them, you know they were swimming two days ago. And you know they were caught, not grown.” His Maine shrimp are showcased in a hearty smoked saffron and forest mushroom risotto, and soon, in a paean to forthcoming spring, risotto with peas, mint, and fiddlehead ferns.

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Delectable—and delectably priced: as low as $2.60 per pound ordered online from Maine’s Port Clyde Fresh Catch. At local purveyor Mt. Kisco Seafood (477 Lexington Ave, Mount Kisco 914-241-3113), they’re expected to be between $6.50 and $14.99 per pound this year. At Grand Central Market’s Wild Edibles (at the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 43rd Street in Manhattan 212-687-4255), they’re anticipated at between $8.99 and $10.99 per pound.

Consider scheduling a trip over to either market in the next couple of days. How nice to know that, while you’re planning, your shrimp are swimming.

Maine Shrimp with Saffron Risotto
(Courtesy of Alex Mellon, Day Boat Cafe)
(Serves 6)

4 Tbsp olive oil
½ lb bacon
1 Spanish onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
¼ cup dark rum
3 six- to eight-oz packages saffron risotto
1 ½ qts chicken stock, divided
1 pt cherry tomatoes, halved
1 pt shiitakes, or other mushrooms, sliced
2 lbs Maine shrimp, peeled
1 Tbsp minced tarragon or chives, for garnish (optional)

Over medium-high flame, heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a medium stockpot. When oil shimmers, add bacon and cook until golden brown. Add onions and garlic and cook until softened and translucent.

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Carefully add rum to mixture; it will flame until alcohol is cooked off. When flame subsides, add packages of risotto, stir in remaining tablespoon of oil, and mix well.

Add a third of the chicken stock and stir continuously until all liquid is absorbed. Repeat this twice with the rest of the stock. Stir in tomatoes, mushrooms, and shrimp. Stir occasionally for about 5 minutes until shrimp are cooked through (the heat from the pot will cook the shrimp).
Plate and garnish with minced tarragon or chives.

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