This is a perfect morning for a drag," says Timmy Cheramie as he quickly unravels vibrant green nets into the water near Golden Meadow, Louisiana. A cool Gulf breeze and overcast skies create the ideal setting for capturing this region's prized commodity. About 45 minutes later, shrimp jump and pop as if in electrified water as Timmy hauls in the huge nets by hand. He brims with excitement the way most folks anticipate the opening kick-off of the Super Bowl. Surveying his impressive take (to be used later in the day for a down-home Cajun feast), he turns to me with a huge smile and says, "It's in my blood, bro."
This third-generation shrimper handcrafts outrigging for his boat, sews his own trawling nets, and navigates this bayou's intricate estuaries from memory. But it is Timmy's knack for cooking that motivates his family to fire up the boats and head for their fish camp in the heart of Bayou Lafourche in anticipation of unbeatable food and fun.
"I learned how to cook as a kid on my stepfather's shrimpboat. It was a rite of passage," says Timmy. There were no recipes or cookbooks and, according to him, everything was done by eye. "My stepfather would be out on deck trawling and yelling down to the galley how things should be chopped and cooked. I took to it pretty fast, and it's something I've always enjoyed." Asked what attracts him most to cooking, Timmy responds without missing a beat, "I love to see people's faces light up. I know my food makes them feel good." We think you'll agree that his recipes are Cajun comfort food at its best.
Timmy is part of the Wild American Shrimp organization created to promote Certified Wild American Shrimp, which they consider to be the best shrimp around. Made up of boat owners, dock owners, buyers, and processors from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas, the group works to educate consumers about this premium shrimp and supply it from the Gulf and South Atlantic waters.
"You can taste the difference," says Eddie Gordon, the group's executive director. "In fact, studies at Texas A&M have shown wild shrimp have more flavor-building compounds from their varied diet than the pond-raised varieties. Not only that, wild shrimp are meatier because they're literally swimming for their lives."
Timmy thinks it's all in the water. "Pond-raised shrimp don't have currents in their waters, so farmers have to add antibiotics to keep the shrimp healthy. We don't have to do that; Mother Nature takes care of the shrimp for us," he says with a big smile.
Eddie and Timmy both agree that the future of Wild American Shrimp is promising, but there's work to be done. "It's getting harder to make a living. Imported pond-raised shrimp are flooding our market, so the price we get at the docks for our shrimp is dropping," Timmy reflects. That could be on the rebound, however, as interest in this premium product grows. "More consumers and chefs are embracing the significance of the ‘local' movement, why it's important to understand the origin of your food and why this is so vital to our region," says Eddie.
To learn more about Wild American Shrimp, where to purchase it, and Southern chefs who feature it on their menus, visit www.wildamericanshrimp.com.