If you ever wondered what pirates, shrimp, art, flags, islands and parades have in common, keep reading. On May 3, the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival kicks off its 55th edition with the annual parade, and all manner of festivities continuing through Sunday afternoon. The parade's my personal favorite; it most definitely fits the definition of small-town quirkiness.
Grandparents, small children, adults and dogs line the parade route, enjoying shrimp-themed floats featuring local businesses and politicians interspersed with Shriners, dance schools and high school bands. Miss Shrimp Festival contestants waving to the throng from their float, usually a large boat fully decked out for the occasion. It's a very enjoyable way to spend an early May evening, but what makes this parade quirky are the folks, dressed as 17th-century pirates, handing out candy and beads. ARHHHHH, how 'bout some beads, matey?
You may ask, why pirates? Because real pirates once ran Amelia Island. Though the seagoing criminals weren't in charge for long, it's often suggested they ran a tighter ship than our current city government. I personally would never argue that point; it's just what I heard—probably from a drunken pirate.
The point of the festival isn't pirates, but shrimp. Fernandina Beach is home to the modern American shrimping industry. We can all thank two Sicilian immigrants who saw the potential gains technology could bring to the industry. In a nutshell, they put a motor on a large boat and began to haul in hundreds more pounds than others did using the traditional rowboat method, thus revolutionizing the industry.
I know it's unnecessary to tell y'all how amazing our local shrimp are. The other day, I even heard a couple from Mobile admit that our Atlantic white shrimp are superior in texture and flavor to their Gulf shrimp. So take advantage of the dear little gifts from nature and treat them with respect, cook them over gentle heat, and be conservative with the seasoning. Remember, it's still the year of the crêpe, so stuff a few with this outstanding Cheffed-Up shrimp farce recipe.
Chef Bill's Shrimp Crêpe Farce
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined, medium dice
4 cups packed baby spinach
12 oz. domestic mushrooms, quartered
5 tbsp. butter
2 tsp. garlic, minced
3 tbsp. shallots, minced
1 tbsp. ginger, minced
1 tbsp. Chinese five-spice powder
3 tbsp. tomato paste
4 oz. sherry
6 oz. shrimp stock
1/2 cup scallions, sliced
1/3 cup tarragon, thyme, parsley, chopped
Pinch cayenne; salt & pepper to taste
1. Heat 2 tbsp. of butter and wilt the spinach. Lightly squeeze out excess water.
2. Heat remaining butter and sauté mushrooms briefly. Add garlic, ginger and shallots. Sauté.
3. When the mushrooms begin to release water, increase heat and reduce the liquid. Add shrimp and spinach. When dry, add tomato paste and five-spice. Caramelize, deglaze with sherry and reduce.
4. Add shrimp stock; adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and cayenne. Stir in chopped herbs and scallions.
Email Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Fernandina’s Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at email@example.com, for inspiration and to get Cheffed-Up!