Carol Huntsberger

By Robin Chotzinoff
Photography by Marc Brown

Like a lot of moms, Carol Huntsberger likes to send her daughter back to college with a little something to eat. But Huntsberger is a fishmonger—we’re not talking homemade cookies. “Certainly not. A two-pound bag of Texas Gold shrimp, individually flash-frozen,” she says. “Audrey cooks them all the time at school. They’re so easy.” 

Not just easy to prepare, sautéed and mixed with a little pesto, for instance, but also to acquire. Huntsberger owns and runs Quality Seafood Market, and she really likes connecting people and fish. Seafood, she likes to say, is “the fittest fast food.” She entertains herself and friends by bringing some home and throwing it on the grill. (A cookbook, coauthored with good friend Lori Brix, should be out in 2013.) Huntsberger’s kids got swept up in her enthusiasm, even though they were teenagers when it began. “It is possible to get sick of P. Terry’s,” says her son, Aaron. “In high school, all our friends wanted to go to Quality Seafood and we brought people home all the time. It was that kind of house.” 

This morning, it still is. With Audrey home from Texas A&M University and Aaron just in from Chapman University in Southern California, they’re making shrimp migas—a favorite recipe for a favorite time of day. “When they were little, their dad traveled all the time, and somehow breakfast became our meal, even if it was cheesecake with caramel sauce. And one time, it was. Because…why not?”

Why not was often Huntsberger’s impetus in those days. “I was always throwing a party, trying new recipes, new themes. Sometimes I had massive flops. One year for Thanksgiving, with the whole family out at the lake house, I was trying to impress them with this gigantic bird. It was raining and we were cram-packed into that house and temperatures rose, but the turkey never did get done.”

Food was a hobby, a break from her job as a Mary Kay sales director closing in on pink-Cadillac status. Then came 9/11 and the resulting financial meltdown. Her then-husband, Paul, lost his financial-services job and decided, on a whim, to buy Quality Seafood, then a 65-year-old Austin institution. “I had no interest and I wanted nothing to do with it,” Huntsberger says. “But at the end of the first year, we’d lost money. So I went to work and cracked down.”

Mary Kay hadn’t prepared her for a computerless office at the back of a modest storefront restaurant that closed early and didn’t bother to open at all on Sundays or Mondays. “I looked around and saw nothing but a roomful of men eating fried fish with plastic forks,” she remembers. “I thought there had to be a way to get something on the menu a woman might want to eat.”

Thus began a self-directed apprenticeship—learning “all the jobs: how to buy the fish, sell the fish, cook the fish, cut the fish. We put in two-dollar fish tacos and beer on Tuesdays, plus kids’ meals, crab cakes and an oyster bar.” By the end of the second year, Quality Seafood was only $3,000—as opposed to $200,000—in the hole. By 2010, divorced from Paul, who was back in the banking world, Huntsberger had become the market’s sole owner. She added culinary-school-trained chefs, instituted health insurance and 401(k)s for her employees and started the process of buying the Quality Seafood building and expanding the restaurant.

Early on, she had a shocking realization. “I had fallen in love. I remember the weekend it hit me—I was up at Quality Seafood for Good Friday. Every Christian in town was there eating fish. Saturday morning I ordered fried chicken for the staff—I always bought a staff meal on the busiest day. I was standing over a trash can full of salmon heads, eating my chicken, and I thought my life has changed.”

Nearly 10 years after that morning, she prepares to share another unorthodox breakfast—this time with her adult children. Aaron, who calls himself “an accomplished microwaver,” but is actually quite adept in the kitchen, keeps his eye on the shrimp while his mom whisks eggs and crumbles cheese. “They cook; I organize things on the plate,” Audrey says. “It’s what we do. It’s how we hang out.”



Serves 4 to 6

For the shrimp:
1 lb. medium shrimp (whole,
¼ c. olive oil
¼ c. lemon juice
¼ c. fresh parsley
¹/³ c. fresh cilantro
2 t. minced garlic
1½ t. paprika
1 t. ground cumin
3½ t. crushed red pepper flakes
½ t. salt
¼ t. ground black pepper
Special equipment: wooden
skewers, soaked in water

For the migas:
8 large eggs
2 T. water
¼ t. salt
Fresh-ground pepper
2 T. butter
1 small white onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, seeded,
chopped and drained
1 c. grated Oaxaca cheese (or a
semi-soft white cow’s milk cheese)
1 c. tortilla chips, broken into
large bite-size pieces
Hot sauce, to taste

Thaw the shrimp, if frozen. Shell, devein and set aside. Place all of the ingredients except the shrimp into a blender and process to a fine puree. Place the shrimp and the puree in large glass bowl, cover and marinate, chilled, for 30 minutes. Heat a grill to medium-high heat. Drain the shrimp, reserving the marinade. Thread the shrimp onto the soaked skewers and grill (or broil in the oven) until pink, turning frequently and brushing with the reserved marinade—about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, remove the shrimp from the skewers and set aside.

Add the eggs, water, salt and pepper to taste to a mixing bowl and whisk. Melt the butter in large nonstick skillet over medium heat, tilting the pan to swirl the butter around. When the butter foams, add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the egg mixture and let set for 20 seconds. Cook and stir for 3 to 4 minutes, or until almost set, then add the prepared shrimp and the tomato and cheese. Continue stirring and cooking until mixed well and the cheese melts. Add the chips and stir to combine. Sprinkle hot sauce over the top if desired and serve.