(09/26/18) DULAC, La. — A project by the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Sea Grant is helping seafood buyers and sellers create a market for a superior product.
The Louisiana Limited Wild Plate Frozen shrimp program is informing buyers about the food preservation technology.
“This is the ultimate premium product,” said Thomas Hymel, LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant 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.
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.
AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant fisheries specialist Julie Lively obtained a grant to bring the product into the marketplace.
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,” Lively said. “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.
Wild Plate Frozen shrimp were cooked for sampling at the recent Louisiana Restaurant Association Convention in New Orleans. “People loved it. They loved the concept,” he said.
Currently, three individuals in the Louisiana seafood business are using it.
Lance Nascio of Dulac 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.
The Gulf Coast was the only area where the technology wasn’t being used. “We tried it out and liked the results. It’s allowed me to expand my business,” Nascio said.
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.
Nascio also freezes small shrimp to be sold as bait shrimp in winter.
The AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant program helps identify the plate-frozen shrimp to potential buyers. “I’m constantly marketing and trying to gain new customers,” Nascio said.
He said his business is not as seasonal by using the plate-frozen technology. “It stretches out our season and allows us to ship across the nation,” he said
He said he has a California customer that places large orders six to eight times a month.
Nascio sells shrimp regularly at farmers markets, including the Red Stick Farmers Market in Baton Rouge. “We have a customer base that only eats our plate-frozen shrimp.”
The new program helps spread the word about the product’s advantages, and the Louisiana Restaurant Association convention helped inform buyers about the product. “We were showing the product and feeding the people,” he said.
Nascio has a shrimp boat with a plate freezer unit, and a second boat is being retrofitted to allow it to plate freeze shrimp or fish, depending on market demand.
Kim Chauvin, of Dulac, and her husband, David, have been using the plate-frozen process for about eight years, and it has allowed them to offer a premium product to buyers with longer shelf life. She said the Wild Plate Frozen program has helped establish a set of procedures and standards to maintain the high level of quality.
“This program has put Wild Plate Frozen shrimp in front of chefs to tell our story and to show them our product,” Chauvin said.
Bryan Mobley, of Galliano, is sold on the technology since he started using it three years ago for his Corina Corina brand shrimp.
“It’s increased my profit margin. It gives me an opportunity to freeze shrimp. I’m not strapped for moving them like raw shrimp,” Mobley said.
He has a plate freezer on his dock that allows him to buy shrimp from shrimpers looking to sell their catch after a day on the water. And he takes advantage of the Wild Plate Frozen label to inform buyers of the processing used for his product.
Mobley can freeze 980 pounds at a time, and the product retains its quality for as long as six months.
Mobley said he plans to start using the technology for yellowfin tuna. “We’ve frozen oysters in vacuum-sealed bags,” he said.
Wild Plate Frozen shrimp after boiling. Photo by Thomas Hymel/LSU AgCenter
A Wild Plate Frozen shrimp after thawing. Photo by Thomas Hymel/LSU AgCenter
Lance Nacio, of Montegut, stands in a freezer with boxes of Wild Plate Frozen shrimp. Nascio said the process gives him more flexibility to sell his product when prices are higher. Photo by Thomas Hymel/LSU AgCenter
A deckhand places a box of shrimp into a plate-freezing unit. Photo by Thomas Hymel/LSU AgCenter