In the last few years, shrimp prices have gone through the roof as demand grows and supplies slowly diminish. Shrimp is still one of the consumer's favorites despite the introduction of dozens of other fish and shellfish varieties during the last 10 years and despite the large quantities of mediocre frozen shrimp sold in markets.
During the last two or three years, ridgeback shrimp harvested from the waters off Santa Barbara have made an appearance in California markets, resulting in the return of fresh, affordable, high-quality shrimp. Ridgebacks are sold whole for $2 to $3 a pound in Asian fish markets and cleaned tails, more widely available, are priced at around $3.50 a pound, less than half the going price for most other shrimp.
Ridgebacks are small shrimp (40 to 50 per pound with the head on) with a firm outer shell, which is about halfway between shrimp and lobster in toughness. They are available throughout the year except for the summer months when the fishery is closed. Occasionally, ridgebacks will be sold whole with the green roe attached. The delicious eggs turn red as they are cooked.
Ridgebacks are Julia Child's favorite shrimp, and their sweet flavor makes them hard to resist. They can be sauteed, deep-fried, steamed or grilled. It is not necessary to completely peel these shrimp; in fact, leaving on the shell adds to their flavor. Removing one or two sections of the shell makes them easy to handle and still succulent.