Mayport Shrimp Chowder

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The curious Mayport shrimp

A friend called yesterday and said he had a delivery of "head-on Mayport shrimp" for me -- was I gonna be home? I'll tell you I hardly knew how to comport myself all day until he finally arrived about 7 p.m. lugging a cooler full of shellfish. I had Aunt Jemima Old Fashioned grits in the fridge, and 5 ears of fresh corn that had just come that day from Green Cay Farms in Boynton Beach along with a green pepper, and I had some good butter and heavy cream and creme fraiche, and I even found a single old lemon buried under a pile of fruit, so I figured I could come up with something WITHOUT DOING ANY SHOPPING (such is the mantra I lately recite into the mirror each morning).

Steve brought me over about two pounds of shrimp straight from Mayport, a fishing village on the mouth of the St. John's River near Jacksonville famous for their shrimp boats and their naval station. He says he got them across the street from this place:

It turns out that Mayport shrimp aren't a species or anything -- they're just one of four varieties of shrimp found all over Florida and beyond -- white, pink, brown, and rock shrimp. What makes a Mayport shrimp special is how fresh is it, because it's brought in on a boat to the processing plants in Mayport, and you can get them all over the place unfrozen and with heads and tails intact. These looked to me like Gulf white shrimp.

Some of the yummy, flavorful heads with their creepy feelers had already fallen off, so I put them in a pot with some chicken stock and celery and carrot and made a stock:

Meanwhile, I chopped up shallots, garlic, and green pepper and sauteed them in butter and a touch of bacon fat, then I threw the shrimp in and tossed them around until they turned pink:

Here's where things started to get complicated and very, very messy.

1) When the shrimp had cooked I took them out and peeled them.

2) Strained the stock.

3) Cut the corn off the 5 cobs and threw the corn into the stock for about 5 minutes.

4) Poured soup into a blender and hit the button. Here's where one of those hand blenders would have come in REALLY handy (mentally added to forbidden shopping list).

5) Soup back into soup pot. Added 3/4 cup grits to thicken things up and cooked gently. Added half cup heavy cream and half cup creme fraiche because we never want to eat anything without plenty of animal fat. Added a couple of pinches of dry mustard, salt, pepper, cayenne, and ground coriander. Added the cut up shrimp. Squeezed in half a lemon. After I'd snipped in some fresh chives, what I ended up with, along with a kitchen that looked like a chowder balloon had blown up in it, was this:

.

Then after I'd eaten about a gallon of it, I looked up "Mayport shrimp" and found this recipe for Barbecue Mayport Shrimp with Cheese Grits, which sounds at least as good and a lot less likely to produce a sink full of dirty pots and a stovetop that needs to be blasted with a high pressure hose. But making the mess is half the fun, innit?

-- Gail Shepherd

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