Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Shrimp In a Bottle

The mantis shrimp is fairly common in Sabah’s seafood restaurants, but instead of swimming live in an aerated tank like other prawns and shellfish, each mantis shrimp - normally about 20 cm in length — occupies its own small plastic bottle filled with seawater. Obviously, the tiny shrimp are popped in the bottle which is partially closed until they’re too big to force their way out, so the unfortunate creatures sit there growing until someone chooses them for dinner. Stir-fried with salt and black pepper is the recommended cooking style here.

Until a couple of days ago, I’d never seen mantis shrimp in the fish markets, so when I spotted fresh (but not live) ones at a remarkably reasonable price yesterday, I bought them. They weren’t very big or fat, but I figured that once they’d been steamed, the flesh would be good with pasta for lunch.

I don’t know if it was a question of their age or freshness (they looked and smelled fresh), but it was impossible to remove the flesh in one piece, as with a prawn. It was a really fiddly business to scrape out every morsel of the soft flesh, which I put into a pan with finely chopped garlic sautéed in olive oil, and a dash of chilli flakes. I boiled the empty shells with water and used this to cook the linguine, extricating as much flavour as possible. The result was very tasty, but I just wish there’d been more shrimp meat.

When we saw a mantis shrimp doing acrobatics off a coral reef during a dive trip a few years back, my dive buddy remarked they were “so sweet” she wouldn’t eat them. Being a foodie almost as much as a conservationist, I replied that I eat them precisely because they are sweet. Would I buy them again and go through the hassle of digging out the flesh? Probably not. I’ll save mantis shrimps for the next time I see them in a bottle at a seafood restaurant.

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