Coastal foraging on Anglesey is one of my favourite pastimes, whether its spearfishing, netting or potting a bountiful catch can always be had, if you know where to go. I’m not the only one who has this passion, a long time friend Simon is obsessed with it too, we often compare notes on our foraging missions alike. He’s a bit of an aquatic sort just like myself, and is perfectly at home on the foreshore. A bit of a pro catching and cooking shrimp, so ill hand it over to Simon and let him run you through one his shrimp foray sessions on Anglesey.
2020 has been something of a ‘missing’ year for the vast majority of us. I was hoping for a long, lazy summer of campervan expeditions, wild camping, and fishing trips.
As I type, it’s late July, and the summer has passed the peak of endless hot days, returning to the predictable ‘hot-then-not’ approach that now passes for late British summer.
The fact that my van has been in the garage for nearly 5 months hasn’t helped, but the main reason I’m stuck is due to the COVID pandemic which, rightly or wrongly, has forced most of us to stay put for the larger part of this year.
Usually, I snorkel around the crystal-cool waters of Anglesey during July and August searching for lobster, spider, and brown crabs. I cook them on the beach, which is my favourite thing to do on earth. I’m impossibly passionate about it, actually, and spend many hours simply thinking about it, planning my next trip.
But circumstances have forced me to re-think my plans this summer, for the time being at least. I live by the Welsh coast, a few minutes’ walk from the sea, and decided this summer to break tradition and go rock pooling instead. And I’m very glad I did because it’s been an utter joy to the senses, both gastronomically and intellectually.
The great thing about rockpool foraging is you don’t need much kit. I take a rucksack with a small net, a pair of open sandals with strong buckle straps, and a pot to put my catch in. Needless to say, I smother myself in Factor 50 suncream and wear a hat. And that’s it.
Rockpooling is a very quick and fun way to get a few quality hours on the beach. My partner enjoys the seaside too but doesn’t quite share my passion for foraging, so it’s a nice way for me to unwind with my thoughts for company. I only started hunting amongst the pools in earnest since the lockdown measures, but I’ve taught myself a new skill which has proved extremely rewarding.
Yesterday, the sun was high in the sky, with a fresh south-westerly breeze blowing off the sea. I headed out about 3 pm, to catch low tide. I made my way past the groups of people on the hot sandy part of the beach, careful to observe social distancing. My target was towards the distant sea, along the rocky shoreline.
It only takes a few minutes to get to the rocks, but they’re a world away from the heaving masses on the beach. I have the entire stretch of coastline to myself. I step carefully on to the slippery bladderwrack, picking my way over the uneven, sharp rocks, aware that a slip could prove painful.
Within minutes I come to the first pool. Experience has taught me that this will be brimming with life, even if I can’t see it. I open my bag, remove the net and pot, and scoop the wide mouth of the net down, and then up through the hanging tendrils of seaweed fronds. My heart quickens, because I know what’s coming.
As I carefully lift the net, the first thing I’m alerted to is an angry, furtive thrashing sound. Immediately I recognise that of my intended quarry: the brown shrimp. Lifting the net clear, I can see ten or twelve of them, snapping and flicking their powerful bodies about the net, like glass darts. I place the net on the ground and pick through, looking for the fattest shrimp. I found about five good sized one on this first haul and put the rest back at the opposite end of the rockpool.
Another scoop yields a huge netful, with plenty of the ‘jumbos’ I’m looking for. I put them in the tub, fill it with seawater, placing a frond of sea lettuce seaweed over the top for cover. The shrimp seem to like this and calm down a little as a result. I fish my hand into the pot and select the largest specimen I can find, and look at it, glistening in the sun.
The common shrimp is a truly beautiful creature. It’s entirely transparent, save for the tiger-like stripes that run across the length and width of its body. The needle-sharp rostrum at the front, which they use as a means of self-defence, gives way to a pair of feelers as delicate as candy floss, and at least twice the length of the shrimp itself. These little crustaceans are common, breed quickly (especially in the summer), and can grow to about three or four inches.
And they taste delicious fried in garlic butter, or boiled in salt water. Which is the reason why I’m keen to catch more. I place the shrimp back into the pot, and make my way forward, heading around a jut of rock where I happen to know of three bigger pools to forage.
I strike crustaceous gold with every scoop of the net, choosing the plumpest, largest shrimp and returning the smaller ones, or the shrimp carrying eggs. In half an hour I’ve managed to fill the pot, so I put away my net, and carry on with my walk west, towards a spot that will catch the remainder of the day’s sun.
There’s something about the entire process of lighting a fire on a beach or the rocks, as the sun warms your face, and the sound of the sea fills your ears. It’s an auditory and visual overload of the senses, in a good way, and I always feel the most at ‘one’ with nature that I’m able to at times like this. In no time I have a small blaze going, so I build a small circle of stones around the flames and fetch out my frying pan.
Here’s a thing: if you want to impress a new partner, friends, or even passers-by, catch and cook your shrimp on the beach. They’re not only abundantly easy to catch, they’re even easier to cook, taking a few minutes in a hot pan. I add a little oil and crushed garlic to the hot pan, then simply add the shrimp and allow the heat to do its thing. I don’t worry about dispatching the shrimp beforehand as they’re small and will be in shrimpy-heaven before they know what hit them. Once they’ve turned from translucent, to opaque, to bright pink, they’re done and can be removed from the heat and left to cool on the rocks.
And that, my friend, is when you can congratulate yourself for a job well done, as you sit back and absorb the sun’s dying rays, bellying rumbling in anticipation for the sweet meal that awaits. Because if there’s a tastier critter to eat from a rock pool, I’ve yet to find it (lobsters notwithstanding). The common shrimp are simply delicious, sweet and tender, and balance so well against garlic butter. I squeeze off the heads and eat the shrimp with the shell on. I like the satisfying crunch that provides, but they’re very easy to peel too if you’d prefer to squeeze the white flesh from the shell, like toothpaste from a tube.
I caught about fifty large shrimp yesterday, and cooked them up in precisely that fashion, soaking up the sun, enjoying the refreshing sea breeze blowing up the beach. Two ravens watched me nearby, intuitively understanding where there is a human, there will be scraps to search for. I ate each shrimp one by one, enjoying every sweet, crunchy bite, until only a collection of startled-looking, pink heads remained on the rocks, the only evidence of the shrimp-feast I’ll leave on the beach.
As I pack and make my way back towards home, I see the ravens fly down to my spot and finish off the remains of my meal. In just a few moments they devour the evidence of my meal and fly away, croaking their satisfaction. I know how they feel.
About the author
Simon Price is a wild man at heart, with an irrational passion for all things that swim, slither, and crawl in the sea. He likes eating them as much as he likes watching them. He’s an avid wildcamper, and is obsessed with his VW campervan, and can be found on the remote beaches of north, west, and south Wales all year round. If you see him cooking food on the beach, stop and say hello. He won’t give you any, but he will talk for hours about how he caught it.
Coastal book recommendations
I’ve complied a list of a load of coastal related books as a reference for you all for your trips to Anglesey and north Wales, some of these go with me everywhere !
Tan Y Tro Nesaf / Until the next time,
Nick & Simon
If you you like our content, it really helps if you would support our work with “Buy me a coffee”, the donations go straight to our account here and It helps keep us caffeinated and blogging through the long summer nights!
Also join our whatson community newsletter here for up to date insights of what we get up to in north Wales as locals. You’ll be the first to receive blogs, news and insights that we share with the community.