There’s plenty of fuss over this decapod crustacean …
The small coastal island community of Isle Madame is part of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Fishing is a centuries old way of life for this predominantly French Acadian community of 3,400 residents. It’s also home to three French Acadian entrepreneurs – Edgar, Brian, and John F. Samson.
It all began with a truck and John Samson, a guy who discovered that transporting fresh fish from local boats to area processing plants could be a profitable venture. By 1984, Premium Seafoods Ltd. had become a small lobster and fish brokering company. Today, although John Samson has passed away, his two partners have expanded the original outfit to a group of companies under the Premium Seafoods banner. These local Acadian entrepreneurs now employ over 200 workers and buy or process in excess of 15 million pounds of seafood annually.
We took a tour of the Premium Seafoods shrimp plant in Arichat on the “Isle of Madame”. This state-of-the-art facility processes 70,000-80,000 pounds of shrimp daily with 90% going to its largest market – M&S. That’s the abbreviated version for Marks and Spencer (a big multinational British retailer headquartered in London) which demands the highest standards in the world for luxury food production. Apparently shrimp sandwiches are incredibly popular in the UK. I also found a ton of UK recipes featuring Atlantic shrimp including this five minute M&S recipe using Atlantic ‘prawns’. Don’t even get me going on the difference between shrimp and prawns! All I know is that they ARE different, the names are often used interchangeably, and that they are both decapod crustaceans (meaning they have 10 legs and exoskeletons).
Our first impression of the Arichat plant was its automation. The Icelandic technology used is beyond anything I would have imagined – a system of checks to ensure the highest quality of production. The plant is divided into high-risk and low-risk areas to ensure zero contamination. Local employees are supplemented by Thai, Philipino and Mexican workers. Everything from their uniforms to their shovels is carefully colour-coded for each area of the plant to ensure no cross-contamination. Employees are constantly ensuring the floors are spotless. Machines called ‘Geniuses’, with multiple cameras, monitor every single shrimp that goes through the depeeling machine. If there is a hint of shell on any of them they’re immediately sent back for repeeling.
Through plated glass we watched a group of inspectors monitor shrimp moving through the automated system, constantly testing the size and grade. A four-chamber automated cooker steams the shrimp and even flips it over. Approximate cooking time is one and half minutes. Another system ensures that the grading is correct and there’s even a quality assurance team inspecting one last time before the shrimp enter what is known as the high-risk area. This is where the shrimp is bagged and weighed. A metal detector scans one last time before the bags are sealed, labeled and boxed. Total time from cooker to freezer is 45 minutes.
If you want to try freshly-caught Atlantic “prawns”, visit the Arichat Seafood Market & Café, not far from the plant. It has a nice restaurant where you can enjoy a fresh chowder or even purchase a bag of frozen shrimp for your next sandwich.
On the opposite side of L’Isle Madame (go ahead, explore, it’s not a big island) you’ll want to stop in at the Groundswell for feeding, watering and resting. It’s the local hipster hangout for bawdy cocktails, live music and cozy accommodation.