At the end of every year, Daryle Ryo Nagata looks forward to popping heads—shrimp heads. The executive chef and co-owner of Seventeen89 Restaurant + Lounge (1789 Comox Street) has fond memories of enjoying B.C. shrimp with his family around Christmastime while growing up in the prairies.
“Back in the ’60s and early ’70s, food wasn’t flown to Alberta. It made the slow truck route along with everything else they shipped from the coast. We had one Japanese store in Lethbridge and they would bring in a supply of shrimp,” Nagata tells the Georgia Straight during an interview at his recently opened restaurant. “It was part of our holiday celebration and for me, part of that season.”
Nagata recalls being interested in cooking from a young age. His mother was a restaurant chef and his family grew and preserved their own produce. Following an apprenticeship in Edmonton, he landed a job at England’s Savoy Hotel and stayed in Europe to work in Switzerland, France, and Guernsey. Arriving in Vancouver in 1989, he went on to be the executive chef at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel for 12 years and the executive chef at the Pan Pacific Hotel for another four. When Nagata met third-generation fisherman Paul Puratich—who now co-owns Seventeen89—they were both looking for a career change and decided to purchase the old Delilah’s restaurant space.
“The satisfaction is great because we don’t have a lot of outside influences trying to make us who we’re not,” Nagata explains, describing Seventeen89’s menu as approachable and seafood-focused. “We have everything from $10 fish and chips to $45 surf and turf.”
When Nagata cooks at home, he bases his dishes on seasonal ingredients and enjoys the spontaneity of visiting local farmers markets and fishing wharves. In the winter, he enjoys recreating the shrimp boil his family made during the holidays.
“This time of year is a very abundant time for shrimp with eggs in them,” Nagata says, explaining that many diners enjoy the sweet flavour and popping texture of the roe. In the Lower Mainland, home cooks have the option of using side-stripe shrimp, humpback shrimp, or, when in season, spot prawns in the boil. “You can get them at T & T [Supermarket], Asian live-tank markets, Granville Island, or Steveston off the docks.”
When buying fresh shrimp, Nagata recommends placing the shellfish on ice packs in a cooler for the trip home. He warns against covering the shrimp with ice or soaking them in ice water, however, as that leads to a loss of flavour.
To pair with the dish, Nagata suggests sake or a Japanese beer such as Sapporo or Asahi.
Daryle Ryo Nagata's B.C. side-stripe shrimp boil
8 cups (2 L) cold water
1 cup (250 mL) mirin
1 cup (250 mL) Japanese soy sauce
½ cup (125 mL) brown sugar
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 1-inch chunks of ginger
5 lb (2.3 kg) live side-stripe shrimp(or humpback shrimp or spot prawns, when in season)
- In a large pot over medium-high heat, bring water to a rolling boil.
- Add all other ingredients except shrimp to the water, and stir together.
- Once liquid comes to a simmer, add about 1 lb (454 g) of shrimp at a time to not overcrowd the pot. Cook shrimp for 45 seconds to 1 minute, and remove from liquid using a slotted spoon. Repeat until all shrimp is cooked.
- Place all shrimp in a large bowl and serve family style. To eat, pop off the heads and suck out their juices, and peel back the shell to eat the meat.
Yield: 4 to 5 side servings.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.