All About Royal Red Shrimp

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Anyone who knows me knows I have a thing for crustaceans. It started with Maine lobsters when I was a toddler, and has spread from there. To me, shrimp had always been second fiddle to crabs and lobsters, until I met the spot prawn. Nothing in the world could match it, until, finally, I met the royal red shrimp.

Royal reds are, relatively speaking, the warm water cousin to the spot prawn. Here’s why you should seek them out, and, once you get some royal reds, how to cook them.

Pretty royal red shrimp, uncooked on a piece of marble.
Photo by Hank Shaw

Pleoticus Robustus is native to the Atlantic, and can be found as far north as New England, where they are called Stonington Reds after that town in Connecticut, all the way down to Guiana in South America. But it is the Gulf where the legend of royal red shrimp began.

They are a deep water shrimp, always deeper than 500 feet, and do quite well as deep as 2000 feet down. The constant is that these shrimp like their environment around 50°F. If you know anything about catching anything, you know that a shrimp living 2000 feet beneath the surface is damn hard to catch.

Most American shrimp, the browns, whites and pinks, are shallow water shrimp; think Forrest Gump and you get the idea. Running gear so deep is expensive, and, what’s more, the journey to the surface, where it is almost always warmer than 50°F, can not only kill royal red shrimp, but render them unfit to eat.

So fishermen need to be careful, and, in the case of the Gulf, they need powerful freezers on board. Only the Stonington reds are not flash-frozen on board. All this makes them pricier than other American shrimp, and much more expensive than those crappy Southeast Asian shrimp you buy for pennies. If you aren’t already buying American shrimp, you might want to read this article.

But are royal red shrimp better than other species? Yes. Royal reds are more lobstery, sweeter and more tender than other shrimp. In fact, the only shrimp that beats or matches them are spot prawns, which, to me, are the king of all shrimp. Both are deep water shrimp, incidentally.

You don’t want to mess with royal reds too much. Save them for dishes like aguachile, shrimp risotto, or shrimp and grits, or simply sautéed shrimp with garlic, parsley, lemon and chile.

Whatever you make with them, the key is to be able to really taste the shrimp. Use some other shrimp for things like seafood enchiladas or shrimp mac and cheese, or pickled shrimp.

A bowl of shrimp stock
Photo by Hank Shaw

Very often you will get head-on royal red shrimp. This is a sign of quality, since the heads rot very quickly, and if you get pretty, head-on shrimp that haven’t turned black, you have the best of the best. If you are so lucky, you really have to make shrimp stock. Royal red stock (and spot prawn stock) is the best of the best.

Royal red shrimp cook a little differently from other species of shrimp.

Like spot prawns, they cook fast. Really fast. As in, just wave them over the heat fast. They are already pink, so you can’t use that as your indicator. A normal sauté with royal reds will only take about 2 to 3 minutes. If you boil them, bring your water to a boil, drop the shrimp in, then, when the water returns to a boil, remove them. They’ll be done.

If you grill royal red shrimp, do so over raging hot coals, so you can get nice color on them without overcooking the shrimp. These are not good candidates for smoked shrimp.

A plate of steamed royal red shrimp
Photo by Hank Shaw

Royal reds are good candidates for raw dishes, however, largely because they’ve already been flash-frozen, which kills potential parasites.

So how do you buy royal red shrimp? Look for them in local markets around in Connecticut, where they are called Stonington Reds, but they are more common in the Florida and Gulf regions. They can be fished all year long, but the main season is summer to September. You can also buy royal reds online, through places like E-Fish.

Steamed royal red shrimp with avocado salsa
4.73 from 11 votes

Simple Steamed Royal Red Shrimp

This recipe will work with both royal red shrimp and spot prawns. Both cook more quickly than regular shrimp. Serve this with the sauce of your choice.
Course: Appetizer, lunch, Snack
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 4 minutes
Total Time: 9 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 1 pound royal red shrimp or spot prawns, shells on if possible.
  • Sauce of your choice

Instructions 

  • Set a steamer insert into a lidded pot. If you don't have one, you can put the shrimp in a colander, or you can use a Chinese steamer if you have one. Pour in enough water so you can steam, but not enough to get the shrimp wet. Cover the pot and turn the heat to high.
  • When the water boils, put the shrimp into the steamer, cover the pot again and let this steam at full bore for 4 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the shrimp and serve, peel and eat style.
  • NOTE: If you can't get shell-on shrimp, decrease the steaming time by a minute.

Notes

I love either an avocado-tomatillo salsa or a Spanish saffron aioli with steamed shrimp.

Nutrition

Calories: 113kcal | Protein: 23g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 286mg | Sodium: 881mg | Potassium: 91mg | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 164mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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35 Comments

  1. ABSeafood is amazing. They deliver to different areas around the states. They carry a large variety. I get the special 5 lbs cleaned, headless royal reds for $70. The best for frogmore stew!

  2. Just an FYI, bought some this weekend at Joe Pattis where the prices are still the best – got 10-15 count headless for $8.99 lb. They are whoppers!

    1. my dad just came back from a trip to gulf shores and stopped by there before leaving out to come back home to northwest louisiana over this last weekend. he brought me back 5 lbs of royal reds and that’s dinner tonight! they always have the BEST seafood!!

  3. Always buy my reds heads off. I bring them to Arkansas from Joe Pattis in Pensacola. This year instead of bright orange gonads, it was grey and slimy when I cleaned them. Can you explain why and if they are safe to eat. I called Joes but wasn’t able to get an answer that gave me a warm fuzzy feeling.

  4. Thanks for all the great info! I got some flash frozen Royal Reds, peeled and deveigned. I was wanting to add them to some gumbo – I was imagining thawing them under running water, then adding them to the pot at the last 3 or 4 minutes of cooking. Do you think that’s the best way to do so? Thanks in advance!

    1. Tiffany: I would not because Royal Reds cook faster than regular shrimp. But if you are OK with slightly overcooked reds, you can do that. I do when I have like a dozen reds and 4 dozen whites.

  5. Have flash frozen royal reds from Joe Pattis that are peeled and deveined. What’s your two favorite ways to prepare them?

    Appreciate the help

  6. Hi Hank! We get our Royal Reds at Aquila’s in Bon Secour for $7.99/lb with the heads on. Am going to try the steaming this time. I may put just a little crab boil in the steaming water too. Was originally told to boil for not more than 2-3 min lightly salted water with a bit of lemon juice. They were great that way. Thanks for the article!

  7. Hello Hank..just purchased 3# of Royal Reds at Joe Patti’s in Pensacola Thursday. Great prices too..$7.99 lb headless. My question is do I add 4 minutes for each pound of shrimp ? Recipe is for 1# shrimp and steam 4 minutes…

  8. I just purchased red royals, they were flash forzen so I put then in the freezer. So a couple questions since I’ve never bought these for.
    1. Do I boil/steam them with the heads on?
    2. If cooked with the heads, when do I devein them?

    Thanks I’m a Newbie with Red Royals

    1. Sharon: I cook them with the heads. And you only need to devein shrimp if the “vein,” is very dark. It’s edible.

  9. We get the Royal Reds at Buddy’s Seafood Market in Panama City Beach Florida for $15.95/lb.
    Boil in beer for 2 min. and dip in drawn butter. Add a salad and fries to make it a heavenly feast.

  10. My baby cousin got into the shrimping business a little over a year ago and brought me a frozen gallon size bag of them, I had never heard of them before..we reside in SC. Thanks for the info on them!

  11. We had red shrimp for the first time in Tennessee. The fish place brings them daily from the gulf. They will cook them for you or you can buy them raw. We had them cooked in butter and garlic, amazing! $20 a pound and worth every penny!

  12. Hank, if a New England area supermarket has these in there fish case labeled from Argentina, do you think they’re sketchy at below $10 a pound?

    1. Jay: That is a very different shrimp. I’ve not tried them, but in my research for this article I read a great many people being disappointed with them.

  13. I love Royal Reds, best place to buy them on the gulf is Joe Patty’s in Pensacola.

    Next time you make shrimp stock put the shells in the blender with a cup of stock. And blend them until fine, thenstrain. The intense flavor will blow your mind.

    1. Adriana: That would be a great idea for something like caldo de camaron, where you don’t need a pretty, clear stock. Thanks!

  14. Thanks Hank – very informative article.

    I am a big Florida Rock Shrimp fan – kind of hard to peel – but worth it – taste like mini lobsters.

    Tad