Soft shell crabs – check. Soft shell lobsters- check. Soft shell shrimp – what? I had never even heard of soft-shell shrimp before this past Wednesday evening, my last in New Orleans for this trip. I mean, I am not surprised that there is such an entity as like other crustaceans they grow by shedding their shells and growing into new ones that they secrete around themselves. For a period of time, these shells are quite soft. The phenomenon is most prominently known (at least in the US and in culinary circles) with soft shell blue crabs, a major spring and summer delicacy. I had never before seen soft shell shrimp even discussed as a culinary item, let alone found them on a menu. When I saw them as an appetizer on the menu of the newish Garden District restaurant, Coquette, I had to order them. I was quite glad I did as they were simply sensational.
Eating a shrimp shells not new to me. I have eaten many and in parts of Europe it is even custom to do so. I have also learned to enjoy shrimp heads, the well of great shrimp flavor obtained in most cases by sucking out the juices of said heads. With regular shell on shrimp the heads are difficult to eat as they contain sharp and difficult to eat parts along with said tasty juices. With the soft-shells, however, there are no drawbacks to eating the whole, beautifully delicious shrimp – head and all.
This was a new product for the restaurant, having received them for the first time that day. To their credit, they did not try to do too much with them. They pan-fried them to achieve a little crispness and served them with a not-too sweet bbq sauce and braised pork belly. The combination worked beautifully with the soft and sultry belly providing depth, earthiness and textural contrast to go with the divine shrimp.
I suspect the reason these are not seen more often on menus is that they most likely don't keep or transport too well and deteriorate quickly making absolute freshness a priority. It might also be quite difficult separating them from regular shrimp. I'm not sure how the chef at Coquette came by these, but I'm glad he did. For $10 an order, these were quite a happy discovery and my taste of the week.