Gulf of Mexico

GOM - Wild Gulf Shrimp Are the World's Best, But the Future May Be in Aquaculture

Award-winning food and travel writer Alexander Lobrano pens a love letter to Gulf shrimp—and ponders its future.

Yes, the beaches are beautiful, and so is the weather most of the time, but Spanish moss and wild Gulf shrimp were my two main motivations when I decided to buy an apartment in Sarasota four years ago. Eccentric? Maybe, but also discerning, because if the pale green tassels of lichen fluttering from certain trees always tantalizingly tease some deep ancestral memories just beyond my reach of recall, the succulent sweet saline taste of the shrimp works like some sort of maritime communion wafer linking me to the Gulf of Mexico, that vast body of water that is America’s Mediterranean Sea.

In other words, fresh wild Gulf of Mexico shrimp are a gastronomic luxury food I’d place right up there with truffles and caviar, the difference being that they’re much more affordable. And if you live in or visit Sarasota, you can eat your fill of these crustaceans all year round, since they’re sold by quality fish mongers like Maggie’s Seafood, which sets up at numerous farmers markets around the region, and are featured in many local restaurants, such as Sandbar on Anna Maria Island, Michael’s on East, Star Fish Co. in Cortez and Château 13 in Bradenton, all of which give a precise callout to the Gulf shrimp they serve on their menus.

This pleasure is, of course, due to the seeming munificence of the Gulf of Mexico, which is America’s defining body of water, because the 600,000 square miles of water are so rich in historic, gastronomic, commercial and cultural associations that are profoundly American. This is why it constantly surprises me how much we take the Gulf for granted.
For my part, I now see that I was guided back to the shores of the Gulf by hereditary cravings I didn’t completely understand until they were finally satisfied again.

I grew up in New England, the chilly right thumb of the United States, but my father’s family originally settled in New Orleans in the 1780s. This was when a certain Jacinto, aka Hyacinthe Lobrano, arrived in the Gulf of Mexico from Italy and became a respected “lieutenant,” according to his obituary in the New Orleans Picayune, to Frenchman Jean Lafitte, the most famous pirate plying and plundering the waters of the vast, flat, shallow sea.

After America won the Battle of 1812 thanks to help from Lafitte and his band, the fearsome corsair married a French woman from a notable family and had a passel of sons, whose descendants fanned out along the Gulf Coast and up into the Mississippi River Valley. One of the pirate’s grandsons, Gustave Stubbs Lobrano, my New Orleans-born paternal grandfather, eventually went north to attend Cornell University and later worked as the fiction editor of The New Yorker. I never knew him, because he died young, but my father always talked about how the first thing they did on any trip back to Louisiana to see family was gorge themselves on just-landed shrimp.

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