The farm life. Every morning it’s a ritual. Get up early, spend about an hour or so in the barn doing the morning chores. You don’t complain, because this is the life you chose. It just needs to be done.
That’s all part of raising livestock. But in this case, the livestock is a little different. It swims in saltwater.
Mitch Schieber has always been involved with the land: He comes from a farming and cattle background. When he and his wife, Julie, moved to Oak Grove, they had only about 3 acres. But Mitch knew he somehow wanted to get back into livestock.
“But I didn’t figure it would be this,” he said. “Yeah,” Julie chimed in, “we were helping our fifth-grade daughter with a science project on how to raise brine shrimp. That got us thinking about what it would take to actually raise true saltwater shrimp from infancy to maturity here in the Midwest.”
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Yes, you read that. True, farm-raised, saltwater shrimp here in the Midwest. And only just a few minutes east of Blue Springs. All brought to you by newly opened KC Shrimp (35605 E. Truman Road, Oak Grove).
“Once we knew we wanted to pursue this, we worked with some other folks that are already doing it in Indiana,” Mitch said. The Schiebers started construction in August 2015, building a pole barn that would house their eight huge liquid corrals, each filled with up to 3,500 shrimp.
“We get them as babies that have been inspected by veterinarians and then raise them to maturity. The whole process is about five to six months,” Mitch said. Each tank holds shrimp in different stages of maturity.
The saltwater levels are carefully monitored, and the shrimp are fed a high-quality, high-protein diet. I read the label on their food, and I can tell you, it’s better quality than most commercial pet food out there. And no antibiotics or growth hormones are used.
We peered into a few of the tanks to see the different sizes of the shrimp. I was still amazed at what I was seeing. Thousands of shrimp swimming and … oh wait, did you know that shrimp jump? Well, I didn’t. When we went to actually get our two pounds of shrimp, these little guys were jumping out of the water all over the place. It was amazing to watch.
Mitch hand-caught and sorted our shrimp, assuring consistent size. The shrimp were put on ice to slow them down. By the time I got home, they had humanely expired.
According to Julie, they’ll last about two days in the fridge with their heads on. If you want to freeze them, remove the heads. Apparently, the freezing process can impart a bitter taste to the meat if you leave the heads on. Storage was not a problem in our household. We enjoyed those two pounds easily in two days. After all, we had to share with some local chefs and friends.
And now, the important question: How do they taste? Before I answer, let me ask you, what do shrimp taste like? You know, the ones that you normally get at the store or at a restaurant? As we discussed this among friends, everyone seemed to get a bit stuck on how to describe the actual shrimp flavor. We can all describe the snap of the texture, maybe a tiny brine flavor, but for the most part, shrimp is rather flavorless. Or as one of my friends put it, “it just tastes shrimpy.”
Well, I’m here to let you know that these locally raised, saltwater shrimp have a very pleasant, sweet flavor to them. Succulent, tender and sweet. And according to fellow Chow Town blogger and local chef Jasper Mirabile, the shrimp from KC Shrimp “taste just like the Mayport shrimp we get in Florida. I love the fact that we can get something this good locally.” If you know anything about chef Jasper, it’s that he’s all about high-quality, local ingredients.
I was so excited to get these home that the first night I just made a very simple dish of shrimp and rice noodles and posted it online. Someone mentioned that I should make a dish called Vietnamese Caramelized Shrimp. I wasn’t familiar with that dish, but the name alone sounded great to me. After a little research, I thought I’d share my take on this easy but flavorful dish. I don’t know if this is authentic, but I do know that it tastes good.
Vietnamese Caramelized Shrimp
Serves 4 hungry people and takes about 30 minutes from prep to plate
1/4 cup fish sauce (I use Red Boat fish sauce)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped or sliced
5 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
2 pounds of extra-large shrimp, whole if using fresh or you can peel and devein if using frozen
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
Whisk the fish sauce, dark brown sugar, crushed red pepper flakes, water and sesame oil in a medium bowl until brown sugar is completely dissolved.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent. This takes about 5 minutes. Then add the sliced garlic and cook a few minutes more but do not brown or burn the garlic.
Raise the heat up to medium-high and add the shrimp. Cook, stirring frequently, until the shrimp are just barely pink and still are translucent in some spots. This will take a few minutes. Add the fish sauce mixture, turn heat down to medium, and simmer until shrimp are cooked through but not overcooked. This will take a couple more minutes. The sauce will be thin.
Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro and scallions. Serve immediately with jasmine or your favorite rice.
I hope you’ll take the time to venture just east of Kansas City for your chance to experience this wonderful local phenomenon, Kansas City’s own fresh saltwater shrimp. And when you do get the chance to meet the Schiebers (KC Shrimp, 35605 E. Truman Road, Oak Grove, 816-786-8486), be sure to tell them that Chow Town sent you. Bon appétit.
Craig Jones is a live-fire cooking expert, the Grill Mayor for Food Network (2012), and owner of Savory Addictions Gourmet Nuts. He’s also a certified KCBS barbecue judge, a student of pizza crafting and an enthusiastic supporter of the greater Kansas City food scene.