An overhead view of a serving of shrimp on ice with two sauces alongside

The Royal Red shrimp cocktail at Eunice is dressed simply and served over ice.

Deep in the Gulf of Mexico, there’s treasure. Not sunken galleons from centuries past, not vast fields of oil, but shrimp—shrimp so delicious, so prized, they’re called Royal Reds. And while these esteemed shellfish have long been enjoyed along the eastern side of the Gulf Coast, they’re finally making it onto Texas menus.

Named after the crimson hue that comes from the crustacean’s nutrient-rich diet, Royal Reds are cherished for their sweet flavor and delicate texture. A far cry from the more ubiquitous Gulf brown shrimp, their meat is more comparable to pricier delicacies like lobster and scallops. Often in short supply, Royal Reds tend to live on the specials side of restaurant menus, but there are exceptions such as Eunice in Houston. “I love a brown shrimp and a white shrimp as much as the next person,” says executive chef Drake Leonards, who has made them a fixture since opening the restaurant in 2018. “But these Royal Reds, they’re a delicate little treat.”

Despite assumptions to the contrary, the rarity of these shrimp isn’t because they’re endangered, but the extreme lengths shrimpers must go to haul them in. Located between 800 and 1,500 feet below the surface, Royal Reds’ deep subaqueous habitat demands that shrimpers travel far from shore—as much as 60 miles—in their pursuit. That arduous distance also means the shrimp are almost always individually quick-frozen on the boat in order to preserve freshness. And the kind of costly equipment required for harvesting means qualified shrimpers outfitted with the necessary tools are few and far between.

That prohibitive overhead is only one of the reasons local shrimpers largely abstain from the practice. Along the Texas coast, the gradually sloping ocean floor means boats would have to travel much farther to reach Royal Red territory than their Florida, Alabama, or Mississippi counterparts. So, while the shellfish are considered Gulf-caught—and not associated with any particular state—their availability is scarcer in Texas.

An illustration of a red gulf shrimp

ToBeeLife/iStock

The Reel Deal

On the hunt for Royal Reds? You don’t have to dive the greatest depths to find them

Dining In

Shrimp Boxx
shrimpboxx.com

Wild Ocean Direct
wildoceandirect.com

Dining Out

Eunice
3737 Buffalo Speedway, Houston.
eunicerestaurant.com

Dido’s Restaurant
2922 County Road 519, Brazoria.
didosseafood.com/didos

Topwater Grill
815 Avenue O, San Leon.
topwatergrill.com

The lengths needed to acquire them has consequences in the kitchen, too, as chefs tend to be careful in their culinary approach. For instance, Leonards’ riff on chilled shrimp cocktail at Eunice, plated with cocktail sauce and remoulade. The key, he insists, is not to overcook them, lest the texture turn mealy. “We barely poach them,” he says. While he occasionally grills or sautés them with garlic and white wine, he prefers this less-is-more mentality. Just a little spice and some lemon juice is more than enough to let them shine on their own—a fitting tribute for the king of shrimp.

A person squeezes lemon onto a bright pink shrimp

Get the Recipe

Peel and Eat Royal Red Shrimp

Eunice, Houston

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