My favorite way to memorialize a trip to the beach has always been taking home a cooler of fresh seafood. For one magic summer while I was in college, I alternated camping on the beaches of Ocracoke Island with camping in the National Forests of western North Carolina.
Now days, fresh shrimp is just down the road from us at one of the local seafood vendors who catch the shrimp right here in our local waters.
In my youth, I would take the long way home from Ocracoke which as any well versed traveler of Route 12 knows is the Cedar Island Ferry. I would stop in Morehead City for a meal at Captain Bill's (which I no longer recommend) and then fill a cooler full of fresh off of the boats shrimp and head home. I heard a rumor that Captain Bill's was up for sale, but there is no shortage of good places to grab some seafood before you fill your cooler.
Five to six hours after loading the cooler in the car, I would be cleaning and boiling shrimp for a straight from the sea treat. I'm pretty convinced that most folks think shrimp come from the grocery store. It has gotten more and more popular to buy your shrimp at the grocery store and have them steamed right there.
I'm no purist but I would rather have my shrimp cooked after they've been cleaned, and grocery stores don't do that. You may not know the difference because you've never tasted shrimp that have been done right. It's not that hard, but it does takes some time.
You do need one tool, a Shrimp Deveiner. They usually cost a dollar or two. The next thing you need is fresh shrimp. Ideally you try to get your shrimp as close to the boat as possible. In most cases that means asking around locally to find out the best way to buy your shrimp. Sometimes you can buy them right off the dock or from people who buy them right off the dock. The shrimp should be firm and not mushy.
Often the shrimp you buy will have the heads still on the body. Do yourself a favor and have the folks where you buy the shrimp take the heads off if at all possible.
It seems almost effortless for them, but for normal mortals it's a little more of a challenge. Take a cooler and ice your shrimp down if possible. Often the sea food shop will give you enough ice for a small cooler.
The biggest challenge with cleaning shrimp is that it is pretty boring. We usually order three to four lbs of shrimp, weighed with the heads still on the shrimp. That's about my limit. After that I lose interest even if someone is feeding me freshly boiled shrimp. By the time you take the heads and shells off, four pounds with the heads on are equal to approximately two pounds shelled and raw.
We've had good luck in the Swansboro, NC area buying our shrimp from one of the local institutions, Clyde Phillips Seafood, located between the bridges on Route 24. Don't expect a lot of conversation, but you can count on fresh seafood and a magic touch for removing shrimp heads. There is also Captain Sam's in Cedar Point and Captain Willis Seafood in Emerald Isle.
Learning to use the shrimp deveiner just takes a few shrimp and they don't seem to mind. Just focus on the big top vein. You can ignore the bottom one. Once you have deveining mastered, you can start thinking about cooking them. We cook them in batches so that we can cool them easily.
My suggestion is to clean about one half your shrimp and then bring to boil about two to two and one half inches of water in an uncovered twelve inch deep (three quart) skillet. If you have cleaned your shrimp the way I suggested, they cook without any smell.
My wife, Glenda, says she adds some salt, an amount or pile about the size of a quarter in her palm. She dumps the shrimp in the boiling water and has a timer running from the minute the shrimp are dumped in the water. The shrimp cook very quickly and are done in three minutes when they've turned a beautiful pink color. As soon as they are done, my wife dumps them in a bowl of water filled with ice.
We then fish the shrimp out and let them drain in a collander. All you have to do then is to put them in bowl or on a platter if they are going to be eaten immediately. Once you have had real fresh shrimp done right, going back to anything less is tough to do.
I can highly recommend Kelchner's Cocktail sauce. It does vary a little between batches so I try to be a little forgiving since it is the best I've ever had.
You aren't able to read the sticker in the lower left corner of the left most window at Clyde Phillips, but it says "Friends don't let friends eat imported shrimp." Just click on the link to the left for a view of the bumper sticker. If anyone ever tries this shrimp appliance, I would be interested in hearing about it.