Royal Reds at the Half Shell Oyster House in Gulfport, MS
article & photos by Maridane Hewes
It was almost three years ago to the day, I was back home in Gulfport, MS going on my second date with a guy named Steven I had met through a friend at Ole Miss (University of Mississippi). The first date went surprisingly well, especially since it was a blind date and we knew next to nothing about each other.
It turned out not only were Steven and I from the same hometown, we had both attended many of the same events around town each year and knew pretty much all of the same people. That's just Mississippi for 'ya'.
We were about to go on our second date and we started talking about restaurants around town. He mentioned a spot called Half Shell Oyster House, a well-known restaurant in downtown Gulfport. I had never been before much to his surprise. So he decided I had to try the place and all he could talk about from when he picked me up until we ordered, was something called Royal Reds. "Hmmmm?", I wondered, "What are these 'Royal Reds' he can't shut up about?" I was now very curious from all the excitement he caused about these things.
We ordered them for our appetizer and out came a bowl of these incredibly large, ruddy red shrimp accompanied by a cup of butter. They looked delicious, unlike any shrimp I had ever seen before.
They were served with their shells still on, so the process, as Steven quickly showed me, is to peel, dip in melted butter, and enjoy. With one bite I fell in love with their delightfully sweet taste, a flavor I had never come across in a typical shrimp. The Royal Red's higher fat content makes them sweeter and more tender than Gulf Coast shrimp. They are found in about 300-500 feet of water starting off the coast of New Jersey running all the way down to Florida and then curving around the Gulf of Mexico all the way to Venezuela.
Half Shell Oyster House gets their reds as local as they can, but shrimpers rarely have them in Mississippi. Since Royal Reds are found farther out than most shrimp and are sold for the same price as other shrimp, the Shrimpers in the area don't commonly spend the time or money or have the proper equipment to go out and catch Royal Reds in the Mississippi Gulf Coast. For this reason, only a handful of restaurants in Gulfport serve these plump red delicacies. Kevin Fish, Director of Operations for the Gulf Coast Restaurant Group which owns Half Shell Oyster House said, "Royal Reds are one of our best selling items.", so it's no wonder why their demand is so high on the Shrimpers. This seems to be the case at restaurants that serve Royal Reds across the board.
Half Shell Oyster House prepares them in a delightfully simple way. They are cooked with the shells still on and thrown into a skillet with boiling water and crab boil seasonings. Another skillet is then placed on top to steam them for just a few minutes. They then serve them in a bowl with a cup of real melted butter. When Half Shell first began carrying reds they left the heads on, but after a few instances of tourists running out the door in fright (not literally), they decided it was best to leave the heads in the kitchen.
Half Shell Oyster House loves introducing people to Royal Red shrimp, whether it's locals who have never tried it like me, or tourists visiting the Coast. Ever since first tasting the Royal Reds, I have been sure to make it a point to eat them as often as I can, and will always cherish that first bite of the sweet, deep water shrimp I had with my date Steven.
WHERE TO EAT
Good for both lunch or dinner. Of course order the Royal Reds here!
2500 13th St., Gulfport, MS 39501 * tel 228-867-7001
Triplett Day Pharmacy
Best known for their amazing breakfasts!
2429 14th St., Gulfport, MS 39501 * tel 228-863-2363
Amazing baked goods for a great afternoon pick me up.
1623 35th Ave., Gulfport, MS 39501 * tel 228-863-7814
WHAT TO DO
Take the Ship Island Excursions ferry 11 miles offshore to spend a day on the beautiful beaches of Ship Island. You can also visit Fort Massachusetts while you are there.
Island View Casino Resort
Got a hankerin' for some night time entertainment, dining, and gambling? Head to the Island View Casino Resort. This resort also features luxury accommodations for the night.
WHERE TO STAY
Creole / Carribean food with live music, paired with beautiful suites & cottages.
1514 18th Ave., Gulfport, MS 39501 * tel 228-865-9901
The Courtyard by Marriot Gulfport Beachfront
A beautiful stay on the Gulfport beachfront.
1600 E. Beach Blvd., Gulfport, MS 39501 * tel 228-864-4310
HOW TO GET THERE
You can fly Delta Airlines to the Biloxi / Gulfport airport. Gulfport is only about 6 miles away so you can rent a car or easily take a taxi. The Coast Transit Authority is public transportation around town with routes to the beaches, casinos, and downtown.
MAKE IT AT HOME - RECIPE
Royal Red's Half Shell Oyster House style
1 lbs Royal Red Shrimp unpeeled
1/4 cup crab boil seasoning of choice (Swamp Boil or Zatarain's are both great)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 gallon of water
Bring 1/2 gallon of water to a boil in a medium skillet style pan.
Add in crab boil seasoning, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder.
Place 1 lbs frozen Royal Red shrimp (most Royal Reds will come IQF: individually quick frozen, since they are caught so far out in the Gulf) in to boiling water for approximately 3 minutes.
Server hot with drawn butter for dipping.
*note: you can use the water one more time for a second pound of shrimp.