Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

North Sea Shrimps: a real delicacy

Last week I wrote about going to our weekly village market to buy some grey North Sea shrimps to make another Belgian classic: ‘Tomates crevettes’, which are fresh tomatoes stuffed with a special mixture of grey North Sea shrimps and some easy-to-get ingredients. When peeled, these little shrimps are less than an inch long and they have a greyish-pink colour. Their taste is more outspoken than that of the traditional larger pink prawns. You’ll only find them in the North Sea.

Meet the Cragnon-cragnon, commonly known as the grey North Sea shrimp.

The natural colour of the North Sea shrimps (Cragnon-cragnon) varies from dark grey to almost black. They are cooked directly after they have been caught. The fishermen on the boat heat up large kettles of sea water in which the shrimps are boiled for a few minutes until they turn greyish-pink.

This is what happens today … except in the the villages around Koksijde, near the French border, on the Western side of Belgium’s 60 km long coastline. These are the only places in the world where shrimp are still caught the traditional way: by men on horse back! When the tide is out, these fearless men put on their bright yellow oilskins and high boots and mount their robust Flemish horses. They lead them into the shallow waves, dragging two nets behind the horse, thus scraping up the shrimp that live in and on the sandy seabed. The catch is stocked in two wicker baskets that hang on each side of the horse. The fishing goes on for 2 to 3 hours, until the tide turns.

Men on horseback fishing for North Sea shrimp.
(Photo: courtesy of Seniorennet)

The best way to buy your shrimps is unpeeled, because the industrially peeled shrimps are treated with ascorbic acid to preserve them. Although peeling them yourself is a very tedious and time consuming job, it’s definitely recommended as your shrimps will taste so much better for it.

As far as I know, Belgium and Holland are the only two countries where you can get fresh grey North Sea shrimps. There may be some just across the border in Northern France, but I have never seen any there. Maybe you have a similar crustacean in your country. In that case, I’ll be happy to share the ‘Tomates crevettes’ recipe with you. You can, of course always use the omnipresent pink prawns, but your dish won’t have that same delicate salty flavour that is typical for North Sea shrimps.

Anyone interested in the recipe?



Anonymous said...

Oh that sounds really good! We have the "bouquet" shrimp (red) and the little tiny gray shrimp that one eats shell and all. But these shrimp I've never seen.
How very interesting.

Nadege said...

It would be great to get the recipe. My parents during their summers in Normandie used to catch small grey shrimp. In the US, most of the shrimp come from "shrimp farm" (generally in Thailand). I only buy wild shrimp which is not easy to find; One bag of 24 medium shrimp at Whole Foods came from Argentina, flown to Canada to be peeled, deveined and packaged, then shipped to the US markets. I found wild shrimp caught off the coast of Texas at Trader Joe's. (Because they are bottom feeders, some people don't think shrimp are very healthy). I love mine roasted in oil olive with some salt and lemon juice. Easy and tasty!

chm said...

I'm always interested in a new recipe whether I end up trying it or not.

ladybird said...

Dedene, Those little grey shrimps you've mentioned might well be of the same family as our North Sea shrimps, as I once saw some Japanese tourists in a Brussels restaurant eat our North Sea shrimps shell and all!

Nadege, We get prawns (or 'scampi' like we like to call them by their Italian name) from Thailand too. But they really are not suitable to put in a 'Tomates crevettes'.

chm, The recipe will be online presently!!


Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

Good Lord it's the four horsemen of the Apocalypse! If I saw them coming out of the sea I'd pass out in shock.

Jean said...

Martine - the wording of your text suggests that the shrimps are boiled alive (as lobsters are). I could never be a vegetarian but a small part of me wishes we didn't have to do things like this. I just have to deliberately not think about it.

ladybird said...

Daphne, LOL! Don't worry, they are harmless, although the shrimps may think differently!

Jean, Yes they are boiled alive. But just don't think about it when you're eating them. Just close your eys and enjoy their delicate flavour.

Ken Broadhurst said...

I bet your tomates crevettes would be good with nice North Carolina shrimp and I would love to have the recipe. Not that I can get N.C. shrimp here in Saint-Aignan...

ladybird said...

Hi Ken, The recipe will be on line at 9 a.m. tomorrow. I hope you can get the right shrimps to appreciate the authentic flavour of this oldtime Belgian classic! Martine