ROCKLAND, Maine — The combination of sunshine, springtime and shrimp was a splendid one for attendees of Rockland’s first-ever Celebrate the Shrimp festival Saturday.
The event, which took place at various sites along Main Street, featured a shrimp cook-off, a shrimp picking and handling demonstration from Port Clyde Fresh Catch, and a showing of the movie “Forrest Gump,” which features both the tiny pink crustacean and the Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde.
Favorable shrimp conditions this year allowed the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to approve a longer season, which opened on Dec. 1, 2009, and will last through May 29.
“We’ve had a lot of fun,” said Lorain Francis, the executive director of Rockland Main Street Inc., the nonprofit organization that put on the event. “There’s a little something for everyone.”
Some organizers wondered whether the unseasonably warm, sunny weather might have been a reason some who signed up for the cook-off didn’t show.
Sole participant David Cooke, owner of Rockland’s Amalfi On The Water, handily won with his preparation of Maine shrimp risotto with spring onions.
Although his was the only entry, his mouth-watering recipe — which combined shrimp, garlic, fresh basil, shallots and spring onions — was a judge- and crowd-pleaser.
“Today’s spring, so I figured we’d have some spring,” Cooke said while adding a generous splash of white wine to the pan.
One judge was Lynn Archer, owner of the Brass Compass Cafe on Main Street in Rockland. She said that she knows her shrimp, after selling it out of the back of a truck in Connecticut for 15 years.
“Maine shrimp are totally different than any other shrimp,” she said. “They’re smaller than the others, and sweeter.”
Because the shrimp are so delicate, the key is cooking them quickly, Archer emphasized, adding that her favorite way to cook them was on the boat just after they were caught.
“Catching them live, cooking them live and cooling them quick was the key,” she said. “The more you do to Maine seafood, the more you mess it up.”
Gislaine and Matthew Sheahan of Rockland stopped in to the cook-off and were happy to sample the risotto.
“We’ve been looking forward to this for a while,” Gislaine Sheahan said. “Maine shrimp is the best shrimp we’ve ever had.”
They stayed to watch Justin Libby of Port Clyde Fresh Catch share tips on how to shell and handle shrimp. He catches shrimp out of Port Clyde on his boat the Capt ’N’ Lee, along with other boats from the Midcoast Fisherman’s Cooperative.
“I know how to pick shrimp pretty well,” Libby said. “The worst part of doing this is the mess.”
He suggested soaking Maine shrimp overnight in salty water, then twisting off the head and the tail. Soaking the shrimp loosens their shells and reduces the time and labor needed to pick them.
“There’s a good catch this season,” Libby said. “There was plenty of shrimp, and the price went up.”