Ernie Anderson takes the flavor of your shrimp very seriously. As the fourth generation to lead the Graham Shrimp Company in Bayou la Batre, Alabama, he’s made shrimp processing his canvas and flavor his art.
When I first met Ernie Anderson, his tall frame and persistent smile loomed as he explained at an excited clip why Graham Shrimp were different than other shrimp available at the grocery store or foodservice distributor.
He’s passionate about shrimp flavor and quality. To be frank, he cares about it so much that he takes what most would consider to be unrealistic measures to deliver shrimp to your kitchen that is simply brilliant in both flavor and beauty. His dedication to care and quality is unmatched in the cut-throat world of highly mechanized shrimp processing.
Under the radar, Anderson and his Graham Shrimp brand are becoming the shrimp of choice in seafood markets and restaurant kitchens – not because they’re from a different ocean – but because they’re treated differently every step of the way from the ocean to your table such that they just TASTE BETTER when you put them in your mouth.
Sea to Boat
Shrimping is not an easy job. There are the physical challenges of working long hours and handing massive loads, and then there’s the stress of being away from families for weeks, and sometimes months, at a time.
Anderson understands this. When our team visited Graham Shrimp, there were two boats in dock, and Anderson proudly showed our team around, respectfully educating us about this tedious and often overlooked trade.
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Because Graham Shrimp prides themselves in excellence throughout the entire process – he starts with the catch. They partner with a fleet of independent family-owned shrimp boats that meet Anderson’s high quality standards. Anderson humbly bragged that some of his shrimp boat partners have never unloaded anywhere but at Anderson’s dock during their years in service. They know he’ll treat their catch well.
Anderson treats them well, too, by investing in their ongoing safety and stewardship education, knowing the quality of the shrimp starts with them.
Once shrimp are caught on these boats, the time from water to refrigeration is literally minutes. This ensures that the product will be as fresh as possible.
To the Dock
The dock in front of Graham Shrimp’s facility is massive by any industry standard, but especially considering the care given to the shrimp with flavor in mind – the space means unloading is faster and that the shrimp can be treated more delicately.
Boats are able to be unloaded a few mere feet from the refrigerated processing facility, where the shrimp will be washed, sorted and graded. So even in the hottest weather, the shrimp are unloaded quickly minimizing any temperature fluctuation – a major factor in the final flavor quality of shrimp on the table.
To the Package
It’s fascinating to watch the processing of shrimp. Many processing methods exist, including a number of different sorting, cleaning, preserving and packaging techniques. I’ve seen several over the years – all of them highly mechanized. My first glance at the Graham Shrimp process took me aback because it was just so different than any process I had seen before.
The Graham Shrimp process is a finely honed craft – the result of many years of practice and huge investment of time, equipment and manpower to ultimately bring you the freshest, fully in tact, healthiest, best tasting shrimp possible.
Shrimp enter the facility and are first sorted by hand to remove any poor quality shrimp, broken pieces or extra bycatch. Then the shrimp moves into a highly sophisticated, proprietary sorting station that was designed to handle the shrimp as delicately as possible instead of tossing the shrimp into the air, a common method that bruises and breaks the shrimp. Again, quality and flavor first. For chefs who must be concerned with both size and visual consistency for their presentation of larger shrimp, Anderson’s methods are a game changer.
Once sorted, the shrimp are ready to be packaged for delivery to retail or restaurant customers.
IQF means “individually quick frozen,” and it’s the fresh to table method of choice for most seafood products because the ultra low flash freezing method preserves the fresh caught flavor, texture and quality of seafood from dock to table. Even with this method – which also allows for almost immediate thawing of the exact number of pieces needed to cook on demand – Anderson knows that the shelf life of shrimp can be rather short.
There are many chemical products commonly used in the industry to extend the shelf life of shrimp. Anderson, however, is committed to an all-natural preservative. This choice, like many other methods in his day to day operations, is much more costly, but it delivers a healthier product and is safer for his people to use. Anderson sees it as an investment in the health of his shrimpers and his customers.
Furthermore, Anderson’s IQF process handles the shrimp on a long, level line – again, delicate care of the shrimp – just another difference that adds to the superior flavor and quality of Graham Shrimp.
Lastly, Graham Shrimp doesn’t do bags.
Bags are the package of choice for shrimp, but they’re not the most gentle way to handle the product and will result in unnecessary bruising and breakage. Graham Shrimp are weighed by hand and vacuum sealed into retail packages or hand placed into food service boxes using a careful method they developed that keep the shrimp whole and intact.
To Your Table
Graham Shrimp specializes in premium, size-graded IQF shrimp. Their trademark product retains its peel, which also means the meat retains its moisture and will be tender and sweet in taste while remaining easy to peel. They offer head-on or headless to fit customer preferences, but regardless, you’ll enjoy a quick thawing, tender shrimp on your plate that is also very easy to peel.
You’ll know the minute you open the box that something is different. Chefs and consumers alike will appreciate the consistent sizing of the head-on shrimp. It will be apparent from the condition of the shrimp that they’ve been well-cared for along their journey, and that care will reflect in the flavor you’ll soon enjoy on your plate.
Three cheers for Ernie Anderson, who cares enough about flavor to do something about it.
How to Order
Graham Shrimp is self distributed via a small fleet of freezer trucks around the Southern U.S. that make weekly or bi-weekly deliveries to markets and restaurants from Louisiana to Georgia. Call 251-824-3536 to place an order and arrange delivery for your local grocery, market or restaurant.