Among the many varieties of seafood, shrimp ranks as one of
America’s most favorite. Even people who dislike fish seem
to enjoy shrimp and there is an endless number of ways in
which shrimp may be prepared. The dense white meat of shrimp
has a fresh, mild flavor that combines well with many
ingredients. Shrimp is great for dieters as they are very
low in fat and calories; however, they contain a greater
level of cholesterol than most seafood so that must be taken
into consideration if anyone has been advised by their
physician to limit their cholesterol intake.
Of the numerous species of shrimp sold worldwide, saltwater
shrimp are generally designated as ‘cold water’ or ‘warm
water’ species. Cold water shrimp are caught in the North
Atlantic and northern Pacific waters while warm water shrimp
are caught in tropical waters. The majority of warm water
shrimp available in the United States are harvested from the
waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic. These
shrimp are generally classified by the color of the shells
(i.e., pink, brown and white shrimp). The differences in
appearance and flavor are difficult to distinguish but it is
thought that the Gulf white shrimp (although the most
expensive) are the most desirable.
Shrimp come in a wide range of sizes; naturally, the larger
the shrimp, the higher the price. Size classifications range
from Tiny (150 to 180 shrimp per pound) to Colossal (10
shrimp or less per pound). Although larger shrimp may cost
more per pound and be easier to prepare (because you will
have less of them), they don’t necessarily taste any better
than the smaller ones.
BUYING AND STORING SHRIMP…
Shrimp are not inexpensive, so you will want to be certain
that the shrimp you buy are the best quality. Follow the
guidelines below when purchasing and storing shrimp:
When buying shrimp:
Purchase frozen shrimp with their shells on if possible.
Most all shrimp are frozen as soon as they’re processed, and
the longer they stay frozen, the fresher they’ll be.
Look for shrimp with firm white meat and a full shell. Avoid
frozen shrimp that has already been peeled and deveined, as
the shrimp will be less protected against freezer burn
without its shell.
Do not buy shrimp with black spots or rings (unless it’s
black tiger shrimp) as this indicates the meat is starting
to break down. Also avoid pink meat.
Make sure the shell is not yellow – this indicates that the
shrimp has been bleached.
Avoid shrimp that smells of anything other than salt water.
It should have a clean smell with no trace of ammonia or
Be cautious of labels such as ‘large’ or ‘jumbo,’ as there
are no firm guidelines for such terms. For each shrimp
variety (size), the market or grocery should display the
number of shrimp that make up a pound – use this as a
Cooked shrimp should be purchased the same day they were
cooked. If cooked in the shell, shrimp should be
pinkish-orange with opaque rather than translucent flesh.
Avoid fresh-cooked seafood that is displayed alongside raw
fish or shellfish, as bacteria can migrate from the raw meat
to the cooked.
When storing shrimp:
Uncooked shrimp should be stored like fish and used the same day they are purchased.
When buying frozen shrimp, make sure they are still solidly
frozen when they reach the home freezer.
Cook raw shrimp before freezing…since ‘fresh’ shrimp are
most often previously frozen and then thawed at the market.
Cooked, shelled, and deveined shrimp may be frozen in
airtight packaging. Most types of raw or cooked shrimp can
be safely kept frozen for up to two months at a temperature.
Always thaw frozen shellfish in the refrigerator rather than at room temperature.
It is much easier to eat shrimp that have been shelled prior
to cooking, but the shells do add flavor to the dish. Of
course, shrimp may be purchased that have already been
shelled, deveined and are ready to be cooked, but this makes
the shrimp far more expensive. Shrimp will cost less if you
buy them in the shell and learn to shell and devein them
yourself. Once you know how, it’s really not difficult.
How to shell shrimp:
To remove the shell from uncooked shrimp, use a small sharp
knife to make a shallow cut down the back (outer curved
side) of each shrimp. Use your fingers to pull off the shell
and legs, leaving the tail portion attached to the meat.
How to devein shrimp:
The black “vein” that runs along the back of the shrimp is
actually its digestive tract. It isn’t necessary to remove
the vein, but the shrimp certainly look better and some say
they taste better when deveined. You can devein shrimp while
leaving the shell on (the shell adds flavor and can protect
the meat if you’re grilling the shrimp.)
To make it easier to access the vein of unshelled shrimp,
cut down the back (outer curved side) of the shell with a
knife or kitchen scissors. Use a small pick (‘shrimp pick’),
a skewer or your fingers to find the vein, and pull it out.
Pull out as much of the vein as possible (working under cold
running water will help free the vein). Repeat in several
other areas until the vein has been fully removed.
How to butterfly shrimp:
Many recipes will call for ‘butterfly’ shrimp. The raw
shelled shrimp are split and flatten to give them a pretty
appearance or aid in preparation, such as battering and
First shell the shrimp leaving the tail attached. Next
insert a knife or kitchen shears about 3/4 of the way into
the shrimp at the head region. Cut almost all the way
through the flesh, down the center of the shrimp’s back and
to the tail. Use your hands to open the flesh of the shrimp
until it lies flat. Remove the vein with your fingers or the
tip of a knife. Hold the shrimp under cold running water to
Methods of cooking shrimp:
When cooking shrimp, it is important to heat them
sufficiently to destroy harmful organisms, but not so long
that the flesh becomes tough and looses flavor. This can
happen with only seconds of overcooking. Cooking must be
closely monitored and times will vary depending on size.
Shrimp will undergo a characteristic change when cooked that
indicates doneness. The flesh of adequately cooked shrimp
will turn opaque and the color will change from a
grayish-green to pink or orange.
BAKED: Peeled shrimp turn out moist when baked in foil
packets. To bake in foil, place the shrimp on a large square
of heavy-duty foil and add lemon slices and butter (herbs
and spices may also be added, if desired). Fold the foil
over the shrimp and seal by crimping the edges together.
Bake in an oven that has been preheated to 375F until just
done (approximately 5 minutes).
BOILED: Shelled or unshelled shrimp that are cooked ahead to be served cold or used in a recipe are usually boiled. Add raw shrimp to water that has been brought to a rolling boil. For extra flavor, add a few lemon wedges and crab-boil to
the water. Avoid overcooking or the shrimp will toughen and
loose flavor. Medium shrimp (2 to 3 inches long) take only
about 2 minutes to cook; larger shrimp take 3 to 5 minutes.
BROILED or GRILLED: Shrimp, in or out of the shell, can be grilled on skewers or broiled in the oven; however, leaving
the shells on will protect the delicate meat as it cooks and
add flavor. A marinade or baste will keep the shrimp moist
as it cooks.
MICROWAVED: This is a quick method for cooking shrimp. Place shrimp (preferably unshelled) around the edge of a
microwave-safe casserole dish with the tails pointing toward
the center. Drizzle with lemon juice and cook on high for 2
to 3 minutes. Be careful not to overcook.
POACHED: This cooking method works well for shrimp in or out of the shell. Poach shrimp in a mixture of water and lemon
juice or wine. Flavor the poaching liquid with herbs, if
desired. To poach 2 pounds of shrimp, bring 2 quarts of
liquid to a gentle simmer, add the shrimp and bring to a
boil. Once the liquid boils, cook shrimp for 60 seconds,
then remove immediately.
SAUTEED: This method for cooking shrimp traditionally
requires quite a bit of butter or oil, both for flavor and
to keep the shrimp from sticking to the pan. Remove the
shrimp from the pan promptly when done, or they will
continue cooking (and may overcook) from the pan’s heat
STEAMED: Steaming shrimp provides a gentle, fat-free and
flavorful method of cooking. Steam unshelled shrimp in a
collapsible steamer or steaming rack over boiling water.
Seasonings may be added to the water in the steamer for
additional flavoring. Cook just until the shell on the back
of the shrimp ‘lifts’ away from the meat.
STIR-FRIED: Stir-frying is a quick-cooking method that is well suited for preparing shrimp. Cook and remove the peeled
shrimp from the wok as soon as they are done then stir-fry
the remaining ingredients in the dish. Return the shrimp to
the cooked ingredients in the pan to briefly reheat
immediately prior to serving.
According to Bubba and Forrest Gump…
Shrimp is perhaps the most versatile shellfish on the
market. The number of ingredients shrimp compliment is
limitless as it adapts well to both spicy and plain recipes.
Not only does shrimp make an excellent gumbo, it can also turn
a plain pasta and sauce recipe into an elegant dish.
Although the ingredients may vary, there are only a few
basic methods of preparing shrimp. Once you know how to
select good shrimp and have a basic knowledge of how to
prepare them, you will find endless ways to enjoy this
delicate, succulent tasting crustacean.
Copyright ©2005 Janice Faulk Duplantis