The ridgeback shrimp is actually a prawn—distinguished by the sharp spine on its back—and is a smaller, more readily available species than the spot prawn. It is the only species of rock shrimp that can be found along the west coast of the United States. This species ranges from Monterey Bay California to Isla Maria Madre in Mexico. Major concentrations occur in the Santa Barbara Channel, which is considered to be the most suitable habitat.
Ridgebacks have a maximum life span of 5 years and the majority of the catch is documented to be composed of 2 and 3 year olds. The females attain larger size than the males. Since these are wild-caught, there will be a disparity in the sizes.
The spawning season takes place from June through October, so the fishing season for them usually opens in November and stays open through the spring. Very tender in texture, their overall fragility prevents them from being shipped fresh, so take advantage of your visit to enjoy this delicacy.
The meat is inordinately sweet, deep in flavor, not at all fishy, and as delicate as crab. Ridgeback shrimp are tiny - not even 2 inches long in most cases - and notoriously tough to peel, but aficionados know they are worth the effort. Cook them with their heads on and to eat and peel them, pull off the head, pull the shell back from the "neck" to loosen it, and squeeze the tail to get the bite of meat out.
Donald Link’s Ridgeback Shrimp
2 lbs Ridgeback shrimp
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chili peppers (your choice on the heat)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 stick of butter, chopped
3 tablespoons chives cut in 2 inch pieces
½ lemon, juiced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
In a hot pan sear shrimp in olive oil. Toss in chili pepper and add beer. Let steam for 4-5 minutes. Remove shrimp to plate or platter. Then, add butter, salt, pepper, lemon juice, garlic and chives to the hot pan. Over medium-high heat reduce by 2/3rds. Pour butter sauce over shrimp and sprinkle with sea salt. Peel and eat!