Since my husband and I are essentially landlocked at our Kentucky home, we rarely have the opportunity to indulge in fresh-caught seafood. But when we do have the chance, we don’t pass it up! We took advantage of an opportunity to enjoy fresh-caught shrimp during a recent vacation on Hilton Head Island. The shrimp trawling expedition and the meal that came afterward were definitely a highlight of our trip. There’s nothing like the taste of fresh-caught shrimp that’s been simply prepared.
I have to give credit where it’s due. The expedition was my husband’s idea. We set the alarm early one morning to climb aboard the vessel, Tammy Jane, which was docked at Hudson’s Seafood Restaurant, one of our favorite restaurants on the island.
The three-hour trip was a wonderful experience from start to finish. Our guide explained the salt marsh environment in the area and introduced us to some of the sea creatures that she said may show up later in the nets. Dozens of sea gulls followed the boat throughout the entire journey; they apparently knew the drill better than we did.
We were amazed when the nets were pulled up and the contents dumped onto a table on the back of the boat. Hundreds of jellyfish, several sting rays, a baby shark and dozens of varieties of small fish came out of the nets along with close to 80 pounds of fresh shrimp!
I’m a big believer in home-grown and locally-sourced foods. And you can’t get any fresher than shrimp straight out of the ocean and onto a plate within a few hours’ time. But I did learn a little bit about the life of a shrimp boat crew that made me appreciate the meal even more than I would have previously.
Like farming the land, shrimping is hard work. We watched the crew struggle with the nets and then meticulously separate the shrimp from the other sea creatures that made their way onto the boat. It’s a long, hot process.
After warning the newbies on board about the danger of touching the jellyfish and removing the sting rays from the boat, all of us began to separate the shrimp from the rest of the catch, throwing them into a large red basket. The smaller fish were either kept for bait or returned to the ocean, along with the sting rays and the jellyfish.
Once the table was cleared, the shrimp were again poured out for the part of the trip that made me feel a bit squeamish. Everyone was recruited to de-head the shrimp. The pros on board did it with one shrimp in each hand, but I never quite made it to that level of proficiency. The crew showed us how to squeeze off their heads, deveining them at the same time. Everyone participated, throwing the bodies back into the basket.
At the end of the trip, we were rewarded for our efforts with a large bag of fresh shrimp, just in time for lunch. Staff at Hudson’s met us on the dock, took our catch and prepared it using their signature seasoning mix. Suffice it to say, I’ve never enjoyed a shrimp dinner more than I did that day.