Have you ever had a ridgeback shrimp? They're a local species, caught off the coast of Santa Barbara, and they're finicky creatures. They must be kept alive until the very moment they are to be cooked--otherwise the internal organs start to degrade rapidly and they turn an unappetizing black.
They are also armored with a carapace made for medieval forms of war. BB pellets shot at point blank range would ricochet with a pling-pling-pling. I had some ridgebacks at The Shack in Rowland Heights recently, served and steeped in a plastic bag filled with butter and Cajun spices (yes, just like at The Boiling Crab), and I sustained actual injuries handling them.
The shell is somewhere between a regular Gulf shrimp and a crawfish, but with barbed appendages as sharp as pins. I got an honest-to-goodness cut on my thumb, and she punctured her index finger. Seriously, a chain mail glove would probably be advisable to use here.
But oh the rewards. The meat is inordinately sweet, deep in flavor, not at all fishy, and as delicate as crab. The stripes of a cooked ridgeback are deep crimson instead of pink. You also need to tear into the head, peeling the skull back like a brain surgeon and then nibbling on the meat right behind the beady eyes along with all of that delicious pulpy gunk that surrounds it.
Since these are wild-caught, there will be a disparity in the sizes. They aren't sorted, so you'll often get a few runts along with the Hulk-sized ones. And right about now, since its already at the end of its season, ridgebacks are hard to come by, which makes them all the more special.
The Shack is so far the only restaurant outside Santa Barbara where I've seen them. If you intend to go to The Shack to try them, call first. They've got three suppliers and the owner told me that what I had on this trip may be the last until the season starts up again in September. He sold them for $9.99 per pound, just a dollar more than the regular shrimp. When they do return, you can be sure I'll be back at The Shack...with Band-Aids.
18927 Colima Rd.
Rowland Heights, CA 91748