Sailing to the Land of Shrimp

This piquant dish provides a perfect meal after an overnight trek offshore.
Michele Boulay relaxes on the deck of Simple Life. Courtesy Michele Boulay

The overnight passage offshore began, as usual, with­ ­exuberance. We were off! As the day wore on, time slowed. We relaxed. The dark of night descended. I was on watch in the cockpit of Simple Life, our Island Packet 37, while my husband, Joe, rested below. As we surged forward into blackness, my mind wandered. Besides imagining plowing into a snoozing whale or striking a submerged container, I was ­contemplating something pleasant: fresh shrimp.

We’d departed Port Royal Island, South Carolina, that morning, bound for St. Marys Inlet at the Georgia-Florida border and, ultimately, Fernandina Beach. Now we were fast approaching what I call the “land of shrimp.” It’s a hub where, thanks to the commercial boats plying the waters day and night, you can find an abundance of the freshest, finest shrimp you’ve ever tasted. 

During seasonal migrations south from our home port of Pawtuxet Cove, Rhode Island, we’ve logged numerous overnight passages. The Intracoastal Waterway is one of the most popular routes south from New England, but we’ve learned over the years that sailing offshore, while sometimes tiring, is generally less stressful. Especially in the Georgia marshes along the ICW, shoals abound, requiring constant vigilance with charts and at the helm to avoid groundings. Offshore, we have plenty of water.

The sun was rising as we approached the border. From my perch at the helm, sunrise was a welcome sight. Joe got up and prepared to take his watch, and I steered Simple Life west toward the inlet. Conditions overnight had been manageable, but now we had a stronger breeze. Seas began building just as Joe appeared, to take the helm. Soon, a large following sea ushered Simple Life down each wave toward the inlet. 

I spotted three local shrimp boats ­already plying the waters at daybreak, and thought about that night’s dinner: shrimp Mozambique. I’d first sampled this delicious dish in Portuguese restaurants in Fall River and New Bedford, Massachusetts, not far from our home port. I loved it so much that it inspired me to make my own version.

The last couple of miles into the inlet seemed to take hours. After a well-earned nap, I spent the early afternoon zipping ashore in the dingy, headed for Atlantic Seafood Fish Market. 

Located directly on the shrimp-boat docks, it has some of the freshest shrimp on the Eastern Seaboard. The crustaceans I bought probably were swimming beside us as we aimed for the inlet that morning.

This recipe, rooted in the former Portuguese colony of Mozambique in East Africa, is rich with spices and flavor. I’ve shared it with many cruising friends who now regard it as their go-to recipe for entertaining guests aboard, or whenever they’re lucky enough to find fresh shrimp.

Shrimp Mozambique (serves 2)

shrimp Mozambique on a serving dish
Shrimp Mozambique Lynda Morris Childress
  • 1 packet Sazón Goya con Azafran or 1½ tsp. homemade shrimp spice mix (see below) 
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced 
  • ¼-½ tsp. crushed red pepper, or to taste
  • ½ tsp. salt, kosher if possible
  • ¼ tsp. pepper, or to taste
  • 1 2-14 medium or large fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined*
  • 3-4 threads saffron 
  • ½ cup beer 
  • 1½ Tbsp. butter 
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil 
  • 1 medium or large sweet onion, chopped finely 
  • 1½ Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley, or 1 Tbsp. dried 
  • 1½ tsp. additional butter
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in ½ cup cold water 
  • 3 green onions, sliced for garnish 
  • * Frozen shrimp, thawed, can be substituted. 

In a small mixing bowl, combine either Sazón Goya or 1½ tsp. homemade spice mix with garlic, red pepper, salt and pepper. Mix with a fork and set aside. 

If using fresh shrimp, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and set aside. If using frozen shrimp, skip the salt. 

Immerse saffron threads in beer, and set aside.

In a large saute pan, heat 1½ Tbsp. butter and the olive oil until melted. Add onion, and cook over medium heat until translucent. Add spice-garlic-red pepper mixture. Cook while stirring, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the beer with infused saffron, bring to a boil, and ­reduce for 2 minutes. 

Add the shrimp, parsley and remaining butter. When shrimp have begun to curl and turn pink, remove them to a bowl, then cover. 

Add cornstarch-water mixture to the pan, stirring constantly until the sauce is ­thickened. Return the shrimp to the sauce. Stir until warmed. 

Serve immediately over rice. Garnish with green onions and additional chopped parsley.

Homemade Shrimp Spice Mix

If not using Sazón Goya, mix together in advance: 1 Tbsp. each of ground coriander, ground cumin, turmeric, garlic powder, and kosher salt with 2 tsp. ground oregano and 1 tsp. ground black pepper. Save extra for future use.

Cook’s Note: If you’re doubling this recipe, do not add more Sazón Goya or spice mix. 

Prep time: 45 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Can be made: At anchor