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Fish or Eat Bait

Spread the shrimp around.

From well to wok: Fresh bait shrimp are smuggled away in a colorful Asian stir fry.

Can a case be made for bringing home your leftover live shrimp and stashing them in the freezer?

Sure, several cases, the most obvious being that they can be cut up and used as jig-sweeteners on future trips. (Removing the heads before freezing helps them to store better.) Besides that, shrimp add considerable appeal to the drawing power of home-ground chum, and dabs of them make fine bait for pinfish and other baitfish.

But did you ever consider adding leftover bait shrimp to your own food supply? I never did until a couple of years ago, when the remarks of a casual acquaintance suddenly had me banging my forehead and telling myself, “I shoulda thought of that!”

Actually, I had thought of it, years before, only to reject the thought as soon as it formed. It had seemed to me that salvaging my shrimp wouldn’t be worth the trouble. Compared to food shrimp, those in the bait shop are usually pretty small to begin with, and any that remain after you pick through them during a day’s fishing are apt to be the real runts of the litter.

There are exceptions, of course. In certain areas at certain seasons, some of your live shrimp might be meaty enough to earn themselves a coating of crumbs and a place alongside your French fries. But there’s still a catch: if you get home with enough of them to make a good meal for one, it probably means the fishing has been terrible.

Anyway, what I shoulda thought of was that leftover shrimp don’t have to be salvaged in hopes of eventually becoming an entree unto themselves. A stash of erstwhile bait in your freezer—any number, any size—will stand ready to add a touch of culinary genius to a great many everyday dishes, particularly stir-frys and pasta sauces. A couple of shrimp will also add much sparkle, and only a few calories, to a luncheon salad.

Obviously, the convenience of having a few bait shrimp on hand for such impromptu embellishments must be earned by a bit of advance preparation, meaning they should be boiled for a minute or two until pink and then divested of their shells before coming to rest in your freezer. If you return home too tired to handle this little extra chore (and can’t pass it off to someone else), then keep the critters well iced or refrigerated and do it next day.

It goes without saying that any shrimp you take home after a fishing trip must either be alive or else freshly deceased and thoroughly chilled. The reason this goes without saying is because it’s no trick at all to tell a fresh shrimp from one you wouldn’t dare eat. If the sickly red-black color of a too-long-dead shrimp isn’t enough to tip you off, then your nose will surely deliver the bad news.

In addition to adding sparkle to your pasta or salad, it takes only a few shrimp to turn a merely tasty dip or spread into a truly scrumptious concoction to serve at your next cookout. Here are a couple of examples, one mixed by hand; the other in a blender or food processor. If you wish, either of these recipes can be thinned with a few drops of milk to make for easier dipping with fragile chips.

Shrimp and Herb Spread

1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1 cup (more or less) finely chopped cooked shrimp
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. hot sauce
3 tbsp. chopped fresh basil or
3 tsp. dried basil
2 tbsp. fresh oregano or
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 sprig fresh basil or parsley for garnish, if desired

Using a heavy spoon, combine all ingredients in a medium bowl until well mixed. Spoon into a serving dish. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Serve with crackers or dipping vegetables, such as celery, broccoli, carrots, or sliced bell peppers.

Shrimp Dip

1/2 cup chopped cooked shrimp
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 egg, hard-boiled, then separated
1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. Italian salad dressing
paprika

Separately chop white and yellow of egg. Mix all ingredients except yellow of egg. Place in dip dish and surround with raw vegetables. Sprinkle egg yolks and paprika on top for color. Double or triple the recipe as needed for number of servings.

Originally Published Florida Sportsman March 2010
By Vic Dunaway