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Scampi al Ajillo
Scampi al Ajillo - PHOTO by Jon Russo

Delectable Decapods

Mar 28, 2018
by Ron Skaar


By Ron Skaar

Humans have been eating crustaceans since prehistoric times. People who lived near water naturally took advantage of the foods provided by that resource. The ancient Greeks and Romans were especially found of shrimp, preferring them over lobster and crab.

Clay vessels with shrimp decorations were uncovered in the volcanic ashes of Pompeii. The Romans preferred to fry or roast their shrimp, sometimes covered in a honey glaze. Ancient Greeks savored large shrimp wrapped and charred in grape leaves. In the 3rd century A.D., a Greek author writes that of all fish, the daintiest are young shrimp.

By the 7th century A.D., shrimp and other seafoods composed the majority of the coastal Chinese diet. Around this same time there is evidence of shrimping off the southeastern coast of North America. Ancient raised platforms used for drying shrimp in the sun were also found along the coast in Chiapas, Mexico.

Marco Polo observes the abundance of seafood available at Chinese marketplaces, in 1280. One hundred years later Edward II receives the first request to ban shrimp trawling in England. By 1583 the Dutch government has banned shrimp trawling in all of its estuaries.

Harvesting shrimp dates back to the 17th century when Louisiana bayou residents used traps made from branches covered in Spanish moss to scoop up the delicacy. In 1735 beach seines were imported from France. These large nets, with floats along the top and weights along the bottom, could reach up to 2,000 feet in circumference!

During the mid-nineteenth century, Chinese immigrants begin to arrive for the California gold rush. Many hailed from the Pearl River delta, where netting small shrimp had been a tradition for centuries. They started catching the small shrimp in the San Francisco Bay, drying them in the sun for sale to the local community or export to China.

The shrimping industry was born in the South, at Fernandina Beach, Florida. From there it spread up along the Georgia coast into the Carolinas and then west, thru the Gulf of Mexico. Shrimp love living in the Gulf. White and pink shrimp are caught during the daytime and the wild Gulf brown shrimp during the night. (The colors vary to the diet of the crustacean; all shrimp turn pink once cooked.)

Tiger shrimp also grow quickly in warm, tropical waters, making them the most widely distributed shrimp in the world. Some 300 species of shrimp are sold worldwide, designated as warm or cold-water varieties. The colder the water, the smaller and sweeter the shrimp. These are caught in the chilly North Atlantic and northern Pacific areas.

Shrimp and prawns are the most readily available shellfish in the world. In the United States “prawn” usually means a larger variety of shrimp. Americans love their shrimp. Over 650 million pounds are harvested here and we import an additional 200 million pounds to meet our cravings. Shrimp are sold by size as well has the number needed to make a pound.

A nutritious alternative to meat, shrimp are low in calories and saturated fat. They also supply protein, niacin, vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, selenium and zinc. Although shrimp contain about twice as much cholesterol as meat, they contain much less fat than meat and that includes the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Most edible crustaceans are “decapods”, meaning they have five pair of legs. This includes the “scampi”, a large greenish prawn used in Italian cuisine. Shrimp scampi is our adaptation of the classic recipe and April 29th is the national day to celebrate this dish. Serve this scampi with plenty of sour dough bread to soak up the buttery sauce.

Scampi al Ajillo

20 large shrimp (about one pound 21-25’s), shelled and deveined

6 medium cloves of garlic, small dice

3 large shallot, small dice

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

Salt and freshly ground pepper

4 plum tomatoes

4 ounces fresh or frozen peas

Mix butter with diced garlic and shallots, salt and pepper to taste. Place tomatoes in boiling water for 45 seconds, cool and remove skins. Cut tomatoes in half, remove seeds and dice.

Rub part of butter mix on bottom of oven ready dish, arrange shrimp on top and dot the rest of butter mix between and on top of shrimp. Put in a preheated 400 degree oven and bake until shrimp begin to turn pink, 15-20 minutes. Arrange tomatoes and peas on top of shrimp and continue to bake until bubbling, about 10 more minutes.Serves 4.


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