Capt. Tim Watts owns and operates the Gulf Diamond, a 70-foot steel hull trawler he has been using since 1972 to ply the Gulf for shrimp.
Watts sells his shrimp at Coast farmers markets and is exacting about offering the freshest shrimp at reasonable prices.
“To me, shrimp is no longer fresh after 72 hours out of the water,” he said.
His crew works hard to maintain standards, and the shrimp they catch are rushed from the net to the picking box and then to a slush tank filled with ice and water so freshness is preserved to the greatest extent possible.
The water and ice mixture in the tanks is kept in temperatures in the low to mid-30s. Just to make sure it stays that cold, a digital thermometer is checked frequently.
“Some shrimpers add sodium bicarbonate to the slush tanks as a preservative, but I think it alters the flavor of the shrimp,” Watts said.
If you Google sodium bicarbonate and shrimp, you find scientific papers that discuss the effects, both pro and con. It increases yield. The shrimp absorb more water.
“I think it makes them a little bit tougher,” Watts said.
The net is dragged about 100 feet behind the boat before it is hauled into the Gulf Diamond. The process is called “picking up.”
A test net is used every 15 minutes or so “just to see what we are catching,” Watts said.
The net is picked up, the tails (the end of the nets that open to empty the contents) are pulled in, the catch is released into the picking box and the shrimp are sorted from the by-catch.
If time allows, the shrimp are sorted by size.
Then the shrimp are bagged and taken below to the slush tanks as quickly as possible.
This is just a snapshot of a moment on a shrimp boat. Surely much has been left out, but it is a brief testament to the complexity of the job and the commitment to get it right and deliver the freshest shrimp possible.
Gulf Diamond Shrimp
Where: Gulf Diamond trawler, docked at the Biloxi Fishing Dock on Bayview Avenue.
Farmers markets: Capt. Tim Watts and his Gulf Diamond crew sell fresh shrimp at Ocean Springs Fresh Market on Saturday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.; Beach Boulevard Market at Island View Casino in Gulfport every Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Gulfport Harbor Farmers Market ever Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Jones Park; and Long Beach Farmers Market, 8 a.m.-noon every Saturday.
Simple but delicious fried shrimp
1 pound large peeled shrimp (leave the tail on if you like)
½ cup cornstarch
½ cup flour
2-3 farmers market fresh eggs
Oil for deep frying
Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
Combine the flour, cornstarch and salt in a large bowl. Whisk the eggs in another bowl. Season the egg mixture with Tony Chachere’s if you like, but if you do back off on the salt in the flour. Fill a deep, heavy bottom pot no more than half way with oil and heat to 350 f. Dip the shrimp in the egg, then in the dry mixture, shake off the excess, and fry, just a few at a time, for about one minute or just until they are golden brown. Place on paper towels to drain. Please serve immediately. All fried foods deteriorate in flavor and texture quickly after being cooked.