By Steve Vassallo
Palmer Miller, aka “The Shrimp Man of Oxford”, every Friday boils up about 50 lbs. of USDA inspected, jumbo or colossal Gulf shrimp at Chicory Market here in Oxford on North Lamar. The shrimp are both very large and delicious as this writer can attest. HottyToddy.com’s Steve Vassallo sat down with Miller to discuss his story.
Vassallo: Palmer, when did the idea first surface to have a weekly shrimp boil here in Oxford?
Miller: I moved here to Oxford a little over three years ago after spending most of my adult life on the Florida Gulf Coast in Destin. I missed the shrimp boils we had there. I realized no one here in Oxford was doing this. I also saw that boiled shrimp were not available in Oxford restaurants. I saw an opportunity to do something I loved.
Vassallo: What is your connection to Oxford?
Miller: I came to school here at the university 45 years ago. I am from Memphis and growing up, my family spent many Saturdays in the Grove and in the stadium. I love Ole Miss. I wanted to come back “home”.
Vassallo: Where do you set up?
Miller: I work out of the new Chickory Market here in Oxford, on North Lamar.
Vassallo: With tailgating only days away, will you be able to accommodate those in the Grove?
Miller: I will have one pound bags of shrimp available for pickup at Chickory Market on Fridays, like I normally do, and for game weekends, I will also have 4-8 lb. bags, and 10 lb. table ready presentation boxes available for order ahead of time. Please see my website for the details.
Vassallo: The shrimp you sell are typically larger than what we see in restaurants. Where do you find these?
Miller: I sell only extra jumbo or colossal Gulf shrimp, as they are available. I get them from a 60-year-old family run processor in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. They still own and run a fleet of shrimp boats. I have found them to be the best supplier on the Gulf Coast.
Vassallo: Your background as a chef is quite impressive. Share with us a few details.
Miller: Ha! I don’t consider myself a chef, just a hands on cook with a set of expensive German knives! I am not classically trained. My training came when I sold my photography business in the mid 1980s in Jackson, Mississippi, and I moved to Destin, Florida. There I started cooking for Fudpuckers Bar and Grill. That led me to management positions with Harry T’s Boathouse, and finally with AJ’s Seafood and Oyster House, all there in Destin. I stayed at AJ’s, with my friend Alan Laird, for nearly 15 years. There I learned an awful lot. First I oversaw special events, then I ran his catering operation, then I was kitchen manager, then I was commissary manager, and finally, I was director of food operations.
Vassallo: Are there other seafood products that you carry, or is it entirely shrimp?
Miller: My business here is entirely shrimp! That keeps me completely busy. The demand here has amazed me.
Vassallo: You’re bound to have one secret recipe that you can share.
Miller: I do – just one. It involves my Voodoo Brew. It is a two day process to boil it, and then I let it steep like a tea until cool. I then store it in 5 gallon food buckets and I put those in the freezer over night. When the shrimp are boiled, I dump them into this slushy, half frozen Voodoo Brew to shock them and stop their cooking. They soak in this brew to allow them to absorb all the spicy flavors of Louisiana. This is what puts the flavor into the shrimp and makes my shrimp different from any one else’s. Some of the main ingredients that put the “Voodoo” in the brew are fresh minced garlic, hot sauce, beer, and a dozen different herbs and spices suggested by the Colonel, and my old Texas Uncle Charlie, who always brought us fresh jumbo Texas Gulf shrimp every Thanksgiving and Christmas. We were always glad to see him drive up!
Vassallo: Do shrimp run year round or is your business strictly seasonal?
Miller: Shrimp are now a year round business for all the suppliers and restaurants.
Vassallo: What else would you like for the Oxford consumer to know about “The Shrimp Man”?
Miller: I value quality over price for my shrimp. I support the Gulf fisherman in sustainable fishing practices, and in their way of life. Also, don’t forget, “Friends don’t let friends eat foreign, farm raised shrimp!”
Visit Miller’s website for more information.