Rock shrimp

A recent addition to the menu at Three Seasons in Palo Alto: a rock shrimp appetizer. Yummy. But I wondered about the name rock shrimp: was the compound subsective (so that rock shrimp are a type of shrimp) or non-subsective (so that rock shrimp are distinct from (true) shrimp, the way that rock lobsters, aka spiny lobsters, are distinct from (true) lobsters, daylilies are distinct from (true) lilies, dwarf planets distinct from (true) planets, etc.)?

I asked the owner, John Le Hung, about rock shrimp. He told me that they were not shrimp, that they tasted more like lobster than shrimp (I verified this), and that they had very hard shells, hence the name (shells hard as rock). So: non-subsective.

Then I descended into a confusing landscape of culinary and biological terminology, as with my lobster adventures of a little while ago.


Photos of rock shrimp and (true) shrimp:

Yes, they’re very similar in appearance. So rock shrimp is not just a non-subsective compound, it belongs to the resembloid subtype of non-subsectives.

Now, discussions of rock shrimp from two culinary (cooking and dining) sites, first “What is rock shrimp” by Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, on a cooking site:

Rock shrimp has a texture and flavor like lobster

Rock shrimp (Sicyonia brevirostris) have a hard, spiny shell more like a lobster rather than its shrimp cousins. The shell is “hard as a rock,” hence the term rock shrimp. They live and spawn in warm deep waters, 120 to 240 feet.

Until machines were invented to process them, rock shrimp were popular only with avid fishermen and divers because getting to the meat through the hard shell was such a chore. Today rock shrimp is readily available, both fresh and frozen, head on or off, split and/or deveined.

Rock shrimp do not grow as large as their shrimp cousins. Like shrimp, they are sorted and sold by count, meaning the number of shrimp it takes to weigh in at 1 pound. The largest commercially-available rock shrimp are 21 to 25 to the pound and are about 2 inches in length (although some have been found measuring up to 6 inches).

And from the site for Capt. Anderson’s Restaurant & Waterfront Market in Panama City FL:

The rock shrimp (Sicyonia brevirostris) is a deep-water cousin of pink, brown, and white shrimps. The similarity among these shrimp stops there, because rock shrimp have a tough, hard exoskeleton or shell that prevented widespread marketing until a machine was invented to split and devein the headed shrimp. Now, rock shrimp are widely available as fresh or frozen,whole, headless, shell-on, peeled, round, split, or deveined products.

Rock shrimp have a life cycle different from regular shrimp and are harvested differently. Similar to deep-sea lobster, rock shrimp live, spawn, and are harvested in 120 feet to 240 feet of water. Harvesting is accomplished with reinforced trawl nets throughout the year.

I quote these in full to show two writers trying to cope with the distinction between rock shrimp and true shrimp. In the first quote, true shrimp are referred to rock shrimp’s “shrimp cousins”. In the second, rock shrimp and true shrimp are referred to jointly as “shrimp”, with modifiers added to specify true shrimp: “pink, brown and white shrimps”, “regular shrimp”.

At least, rock shrimp refers unambiguously to one species, a crustacean in the class Malacostrata, order Decapoda, family Sicyoniidae. From Wikipedia:

Sicyonia brevirostris, the brown rock shrimp, is a species of prawn. It is found along the coasts of the western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico from Norfolk, Virginia to Yucatán, including Cuba and the Bahamas.

Oh dear, prawn. We’ve fallen into the shrimp/prawn morass. From the Capt. Anderson’s site:

Shrimp is the most popular and valuable seafood in the United States. This delicate and delicious crustacean is desired the world over, with hundreds of species harvested from fresh water and saltwater. There are four species of shrimp of commercial value in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic waters. It takes an expert to distinguish one from another. To make a distinction, they are roughly categorized according to color. The four major kinds are: brown shrimp (Penaeus aztecus), pink shrimp (Penaeus duorarum), white shrimp (Penaeus setiferus) and royal red shrimp (Pleoticus robustus or Hymenopenaeus robustus).

Wikipedia on the place of prawns in biological taxonomy:

Prawns are decapod crustaceans of the sub-order Dendrobranchiata. There are 540 extant species, in seven families, and a fossil record extending back to the Devonian. They differ from other, similar crustaceans, such as Caridea (shrimp) and Stenopodidea (boxer shrimp) by the branching form of the gills and by the fact that they do not brood their eggs, but release them directly into the water. They may reach a length of over 330 millimetres (13 in) and a mass of 450 grams (1.0 lb), and are widely fished and farmed for human consumption.

A prawn:

Wikipedia on shrimp pursues the taxonomic difference:

The prawns have sequentially overlapping body segments (segment one covers the segment two, segment two covers segment three, etc.), chelate (claw like) first three leg pairs, and have a very basic larval body type.

The shrimps also have overlapping segments, however, in a different pattern (segment two overlaps segments one and three), only the first two leg pairs are chelate, and they have a more complex larval form.

The entry notes that there is some confusion in common names for crustaceans, having to do with resemblances between different creatures:

A number of more or less unrelated crustaceans share the word “shrimp” in their common name. Examples are the mantis shrimp and the opossum or mysid shrimp, both of which belong to the same class (Malacostraca) as decapods including shrimp, but constitute two different orders within it, the Stomatopoda and the Mysidacea. Triops longicaudatus and Triops cancriformis are also popular animals in freshwater aquaria, and are often called shrimp, although they belong instead to the Notostraca, a quite unrelated group.

… Alpheidae is a family in the superfamilia Alpheoidea. It is a snapping shrimp characterized by having asymmetrical claws, the larger of which is typically capable of producing a loud snapping sound.

… Being neither shrimp nor mantids, the Mantis shrimp are marine crustaceans, the members of the order Stomatopoda, receiving their name purely from the physical resemblance to both.

[Rock shrimp would have been an excellent addition to this list of “shrimp” that aren’t shrimp.]

And then it tackles the culinary terminology:

While in biological terms shrimps and prawns belong to different suborders of Decapoda, they are very similar in appearance. In commercial farming and fisheries, the terms “shrimp” and “prawn” are often used interchangeably. However, recent aquaculture literature increasingly uses the term “prawn” only for the freshwater forms of palaemonids and “shrimp” for the marine penaeids.

… In the United Kingdom, the word “prawn” is more common on menus than “shrimp”; while the opposite is the case in North America. The term “prawn” is also loosely used to describe any large shrimp, especially those that come 15 (or fewer) to the pound (such as “king prawns”, yet sometimes known as “jumbo shrimp”). Australia and some other Commonwealth nations follow this British usage to an even greater extent, using the word “prawn” almost exclusively. When Australian comedian Paul Hogan used the phrase, “I’ll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you” in an American television advertisement, it was intended to make what he was saying easier for his American audience to understand, and was thus a deliberate distortion of what an Australian would typically say.

In Britain very small crustaceans with a brownish shell are called shrimp, and are used to make potted shrimp. They are also used in dishes where they are not the primary ingredient.

… Recipes using shrimp form part of the cuisine of many cultures. Strictly speaking, dishes containing scampi should be made from the Norway lobster, a shrimp-like crustacean more closely related to the lobster than shrimp, but in some places it is quite common for large shrimp to be used instead.

The plot has now thickened further with scampi and an intrusion into lobster territory. For scampi, a picture:

And the Wikipedia treatment:

Scampi is the term for a particular type of lobster, deriving originally from the Greek word κάμπη kampē meaning a ‘bending’ or ‘winding’. The name is sometimes used loosely to describe a style of preparation typically for seafood [this is the usage that gives us shrimp scampi], and as a culinary name for some species of crustacean. The “true scampi” usually refers to the species, Nephrops norvegicus.

Langoustines or Norway lobsters – Nephrops norvegicus – are roughly the size of a large crayfish and fished from silty bottom regions of the open Atlantic Ocean, and parts of the Mediterranean.

They are often informally known as Dublin Bay prawns, though the term “prawn” can be confusing since it is sometimes used to describe several varieties of shellfish: the first group includes members of the lobster family such as scampi (langoustine in French and cigala in Spanish), while the second takes in large shrimp, particularly those that live in fresh water. However, in terms of scientific classification, lobsters like scampi are of a different family and genus from prawns/shrimp.

The French term is langoustine. The English word scampi is the plural of Italian scampo, but that form is rarely used in English. The name is used loosely both in Italy and elsewhere to refer to other similar species, though some food labelling laws (in Britain, for example) define “scampi” as Nephrops norvegicus.

The fleshy tail of the Norway lobster is closer in both taste and texture to lobster and crayfish rather than prawn or shrimp.

So rock shrimp is a piece of terminological cake, compared to the larger terminological world of shrimp, prawn, scampi, lobster, and crayfish, where there are differences between biological and culinary classifications, plus various divergent practices in ordinary language.

One Response to “Rock shrimp”

  1. Food and drink postings « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

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