Wild Plate Frozen adds value to Louisiana shrimp

Bruce Schultz

A project by the LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant, called the Louisiana Limited Wild Plate Frozen shrimp program, is helping seafood buyers and sellers create a market for a superior product.

“This is the ultimate premium product,” said Thomas Hymel, fisheries agent. “It’s like it fell out of a cast net and it’s frozen.”

Shrimp are packaged in 5-pound containers, then held on a plate freezer that is kept at minus 35 degrees. The products treated with this process look fresh from the ocean when they are thawed, Hymel said, with heads and even antenna intact.

“This is as close to the ocean as you can get,” he said, adding that a few shrimp can be removed from the package if a small amount is needed.

The process also can be used for fish, Hymel said.

The Port of Delcambre has entered into a partnership with the AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant for the “Wild Plate Frozen” label that tells buyers the shrimp has been plate frozen.

“We engaged industry, refined the method, developed a concept of handling and created a brand,” said fisheries specialist Julie Lively, who obtained a grant to bring the product into the marketplace. “Chefs had no idea they could get shrimp that looked like that.”

The freezing method gives shrimpers flexibility for selling their catch. “They can hold the shrimp until off-season when they will get a much better price,” she said.

Lively worked to develop a protocol for handling the shrimp from the net to the freezer, so suppliers would have a consistent high-end product. She obtained a design for the “Wild Plate Frozen” logo to identify the shrimp, and seafood buyers were surveyed to learn the demand and potential pricing for a high-quality shrimp.

Lively has been testing products that use an organic compound extracted from kiwi fruit to reduce black spot in shrimp. The condition is the result of enzymes in the shrimp reacting with air to cause discoloration — a cosmetic condition that does not indicate the shrimp has spoiled.

After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill catastrophe in 2010, a campaign was undertaken to promote the Gulf Coast seafood industry, Lively said, but it fell flat because an inadequate supply could not meet demand.

But with this freezing technology, sellers can store their supply and collaborate to fill large orders with shrimp that has been processed and packaged under a uniform system of standards.

The cost of a plate freezer is roughly $30,000, and it can be installed on a boat or used dockside, Hymel said.

Shrimp have to be graded and packed into plastic bags, then boxed, before the freezing process.

The heads are left intact for chefs who prepare dishes with heads on. “They look fresh when thawed out,” Hymel said.

Bruce Schultz is a writer and photographer with LSU AgCenter Communications.

(This article appears in the fall 2018 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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Wild Plate Frozen shrimp after boiling. Photo by Thomas Hymel

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Lance Nacio, of Montegut, Louisiana, standing in one of his freezers, has been using the plate freezer for about 13 years. He learned of the technology from a Washington-based company that builds custom refrigeration units for worldwide use. He saw the advantage of being able to have quality shrimp available roughly twice as long as brine-frozen shrimp. They are easier to peel than brine-frozen shrimp, he said, and they don’t develop the discoloration either. Nacio also freezes small shrimp to be sold as bait shrimp in winter. Photo by Bruce Schultz

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A Wild Plate Frozen shrimp after thawing. Photo by Thomas Hymel

12/3/2018 5:03:01 PM
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