The shrimp, its head still very much attached, swam through the Gulf of Mexico — a nice place for a crustacean, it seemed. But then it met a fisherman's net.

Somewhere between the Gulf and a Tulsa parking lot, our shrimp — a fat one worth celebrating in a hot pan — found its way onto Dan Fabian's refrigerated truck, as did a load of red snapper, frozen oysters and cooked crab meat.

Soon after, Dan stood in the parking lot of Auto Tops of Tulsa, 8532 E. 41st St., taking cash and check in exchange for seafood not long departed from the deep. Dan's family business, Fabian Seafood, has done this for decades.

As the story goes, the Galveston, Texas-based company got its start in 1975 by selling fresh shrimp off the back of pickup trucks in Texas and Oklahoma.

"Back then," as its company history declares, "we would buy the shrimp from the boats, ice them down, and drive overnight several hundred miles or more inland to sell them the very next day.

"Of course, lots of customers were skeptical, especially about buying from a truck in a parking lot. But after they tried our fresh shrimp and told their friends, our business grew."

(Fabian's truck is licensed and regularly inspected, according to Kendra Wise, of the Tulsa Health Department.)

Every few weeks, Fabian's truck arrives in Tulsa, then a steady stream of patrons line up — most all of them hungry.

Raving about it

Some customers spy Fabian's "Shrimp" sign from the road, while others hear about the truck via word-of-mouth, or from an ad in the newspaper. Others still are on Fabian's postcard or e-mail list. To be placed on those lists, visit tulsaworld.com/fabianseafood.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, a few Fabian customers explained why they buy shrimp from, of all places, a truck. In the past 20 some-odd years, Tulsan Don Moore, 77, must have visited the Fabian truck more than 140 times. He said he fancies its shrimp, crab meat and oysters for one simple reason: "It's fresh."

Over all, Moore said he likes his shrimp boiled or barbecued, but never store-bought.

It was Susan Lang's first time in the Fabian line, but it probably wasn't her last. After all, Lang knows how inviting it smells.

"Our neighbor raves about it," she said, then recalled, "We were in our backyard, and this wonderful smell was coming from his house. We went over there and said, 'What smells so good?' He said 'red snapper.' "

Lang had tried to catch the Fabian truck twice before, but she finally found it. "We got 'em now," she happily said.

Bacon tastes good

Jim Bushnell, 64, drove in from Muskogee to buy his 20 pounds of shrimp.

"When you get Gulf shrimp," he said, "there's just a flavor difference — there's a freshness that the rest of it just doesn't compare."

There was a time when Bushnell would visit his parents in Biloxi, Miss., then come home with 100 pounds of fresh shrimp. Then he discovered Fabian.

"(Fabian's) seafood is excellent — just excellent," he said. "I hope they never stop coming to Tulsa."

If you're lucky, Bushnell might invite you to his place in Muskogee, where he's been known to offer shrimp wrapped in bacon, soaked in Head Country barbecue sauce and grilled on his Hasty-Bake.

"People go nuts for bacon-wrapped Hasty-Baked barbecued shrimp," he said. "It's a lot of work to do that, but, man, they can kill themselves on that stuff."

Death by bacon-wrapped shrimp: not a bad way to go.

The cooking times below are for extra-large shrimp (about 21 to 25 shrimp per pound). If using smaller or larger shrimp, be sure to adjust the cooking time as needed.

Pan-seared shrimp

Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined

Salt and pepper

1/8 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

Lemon wedges (for serving)

1. Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels, then season with ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and the sugar. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until smoking. Add half of the shrimp to the pan in a single layer. Cook until the shrimp are curled and pink on both sides, about 2 minutes.

2. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl and cover with foil. Repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and shrimp.

3. Off the heat, return all of the shrimp to the warm skillet. Add the butter, lemon juice, and parsley and toss to coat until the butter melts. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Source: The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook


Matt Gleason 581-8473