A Taste of the Coast

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Landon Wilder, founder and owner of The Shrimp Connection, refers to the Triad as “inland North Carolina.” And, as the daughter of a Florida fisherman, I find that reference a bit comical.

Yet, when you travel weekly from the North Carolina coast to the Triad with a boatload of seafood, your geography is shifted. Suddenly the waterless city of Greensboro is just inland from a plethora of fresh shrimp, flounder, grouper, red snapper and a variety of other North Carolina seafood. Perhaps it’s the linger of saltwater that makes The Shrimp Connection such a Triad treasure.

Wilder has earned his keep for the last ten plus years traveling weekly to the shore to bring back the most radically fresh fish to our thirsty neck of the woods.

Originally in the restaurant industry in Raleigh, Wilder started The Shrimp Connection in 2001, when he was strictly selling head-on shrimp on an asphalt lot, under a tent at the Sandy Ridge Farmers Market with the Cheerwine Bottling Co. across the street. Today, he  runs The Shrimp Connection in four Triad locations,  selling more than 20 different offerings from North Carolina, plus a dozen or so from the Boston Harbor and  Gulf of Mexico. With dreams of business expansion, Wilder’s ambitions are more jumbo than shrimpy.

In his no-frills candor, he’ll explain how fresh his seafood is. It’s the benefit of eliminating the middle man which equates to days – or weeks – fresher product.

After making his order  Monday, Wilder drives a big truck with a trailer hitch to Surf City Crab in Topsail Island every Thursday. He hauls his order back with around 2500 pounds of ice. That’s a lot of ice and it’s “the big thing” to Wilder.

Ice is a key to his business – keeping the stock colder and more consistent than a refrigerator. His fish is never frozen or de-thawed and he never sells left over seafood. Everything they don’t sell on Saturday, they sell on Sunday, and if that isn’t sold it’s all donated to local homeless shelters and soup kitchens.

If ice is the 19 century secret to the seafood trade than social media is the 21st century addition. The Shrimp Connection’s next “big thing” is their communication strategy. It is as fresh as their fish, using a weekly electronic newsletter and social media to keep their customers up to date. Wilder writes the content himself in a conversational, witty and even mocking way!

This month, the Shrimp Connection is also sourcing Black Drum, Cobia, Flounder, Grouper, Mahi Mahi, Rainbow Mountain Trout (farm raised), Wahoo and Swordfish from the North Carolina coast. Summertime is Landon’s peak season, so drown your staycation blues with a taste of the NC coast. Perhaps you won’t feel inland at all.

Find their tents at the Swedebread Organic Farm Market on Sandy Ridge Road, the Piedmont Triad Farmer’s Market, at Summerfield Farms or Josh’s Farm Market at Lake Norman. Times, locations and details are on their website,theshrimpconnection.com

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North Carolina Shrimp and Guilford Mills Grits with a Local Fried Egg

Ingredients:

Grits

  • 1 cup yellow Guilford Mills grits
  • 3 cups, milk or water
  • 1 cup, grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded, diced
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

Shrimp

  • 1/2 cup, bacon lardons
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons  butter, divided
  • 1 pound large North Carolina shrimp, peeled, deveined
  • 1/2 cup, chicken stock
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives

Bring 3 cups milk or water to a simmer in a large saucepan. Gradually whisk in grits. Turn heat to low; gently simmer until grits begin to thicken. Continue cooking, stirring often, until tender. Stir in cheese, butter, and jalapeño. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and sauté until fat begins to render. Add garlic and 1 tablespoon butter. Stir until butter melts. Add shrimp. When garlic begins to brown, add chicken stock. Simmer until shrimp is cooked through, about 2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and set aside.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon butter to skillet; swirl to melt and cover bottom of pan. Crack eggs into pan and cook until whites are just set but yolks are still runny, about 3 minutes.

Divide grits among bowls, forming a well in center. Spoon shrimp mixture into center of grits. Top with egg. Sprinkle chives over.

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