All hail Royal Reds, the huge crimson shrimp that taste like lobster and scallops, the crown jewel of Gulf shrimp.
Fishermen must venture far and deep to find the prize shrimp known as Royal Reds. Their range stretches from Massachusetts all the way to French Guiana, but sweet spots run along the Gulf from the Florida Panhandle to the Mississippi coast, in deep cool waters between 800 and 1,500 feet down.
Royal Red season lasts from late summer to late fall, peaking in September. However, because the shrimp are found up to 60 miles offshore, fisherman (the select few that are licensed to harvest Royal Reds) often flash-freeze their catches immediately, which captures the fresh-off-the-boat flavor and texture in peak form. It also makes them available year round.
You can use Reds in any shrimp recipe, but they deserve to be featured in ways that showcase their naturally briny flavor and rich, buttery meat that’s comparable to lobster and bay scallops. Connoisseurs say that the best way to enjoy these robust shrimp is steamed or grilled in their shells, accompanied by nothing more than melted butter (OK, maybe garlic butter), a big stack of napkins, and icy cold beverages.
When preparing Reds at home, pay close attention because they cook in about half the time of gray, white, or brown shrimp, despite their large size. It’s best to use frozen Reds the day they are thawed. Don’t be shy about asking for Royal Reds in Gulf Coast restaurants that might serve them in season—don’t necessarily say so on the menu.
Few people beyond coastal Alabama knew of Royal Reds just 20 years ago, but today, savvy tourists time their annual Flora-Bama stops and Gulf Shores vacations to coincide with peak harvest. Word of these deepwater delicacies continues to spread among seafood devotees who can’t get enough of the South’s outstanding fresh, local, world-class shellfish—as it should.