Shrimps, prawns, wriggly meats of the sea. Some people hate ’em, but most of us love ’em. Today we are going to talk about how to purchase and prepare shrimp in a variety of ways, so you can integrate this healthy protein, full of good cholesterol, into your diet.
Selecting Suitable Shrimps
First stop: purchasing good quality shrimp. It is daunting to buy shrimp if you are concerned about sustainability. The best choice is to purchase farm-raised shrimp from the West Coast if you are shopping in the U.S. You will want to avoid purchasing wild shrimp for ethical reasons; trawling is the method by which wild shrimp are caught, and there is a very high incidence of ensnaring other creatures while trawling. This disrupts the whole ecosystem and has many unintended environmental consequences, so avoid supporting the practice of trawling for shrimp if at all possible.
When you are shopping for good shrimp, go for the frozen specimens, because even the fresh stuff has likely been frozen at some point during transportation. You are paying a premium for shrimp that has been pre-thawed! Whether fresh or frozen, you will see specifications such as 16/20, 26/30, and 41/50. These are the approximate number of pieces per pound. The smaller the number, the larger the shrimps, so keep that in mind while making your selection.
A final consideration when purchasing shrimp is how much preparation you’re willing to sign up for. You can buy packages of shrimp that are already cleaned and deveined, meaning the heads, shells and sometimes tails have been removed prior to freezing. Some people believe that cooking shrimp with the heads on enhances the flavor. By the same token, eating food with faces can squick people out. Adding onto that, it can be a lot of work to clean a large quantity of shrimp, so it comes down to a personal preference. If you do clean the shrimp yourself, you can keep the shells and heads to make a great seafood stock.
Before cleaning, you’ll need to thaw shrimp that is frozen. You should always thaw any seafood in the refrigerator, never leaving it at room temperature for very long unless it’s already been cooked as in shrimp cocktail. The proper method of cleaning is as follows:
- Remove the head by grasping and slowly pulling it away from the body.
- Remove the shell– the thin clear, layer covering the whole body of the shrimp– by pulling on the legs and unwrapping the layer around the meat.
- If you see a “sand vein”, the dark tube running along the body and into the tail, pull it out or rinse that off.
- If you’re going to remove the tail, lightly grasp the tail and the body with separate hand and pull. Sometimes the tail will come off more cleanly than others; just remember to be a bit delicate during this step.
Methods of Cooking
The most common methods of cooking shrimp are roasting, grilling, boiling, and sautéeing shrimp.
Roasting shrimp in the oven requires very little effort. Spray a baking sheet with oil, place the shrimp in a single layer on the pan, add whatever seasonings you desire, and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 8 minutes.
Grilling shrimp usually means you’re making kabobs. Stick four shrimp onto a skewer, through the thicker part of each shrimp but not too close to the head. Brush them with olive oil and whatever seasonings are desired, and place them on the grate of a medium-high heat grill. Cook for about three minutes on each side, flipping with tongs. You should have a nice char on each side of the shrimp when they are done.
Boiling shrimp rivals roasting for the easiest preparation. Bring a pot of water to boil, and add the shrimp, making sure they are all submerged. Drain after two to three minutes.
Sauteeing shrimp requires a lot of attention. Heat some cooking oil over medium-high heat, and then add a single layer of shrimp to the pan. Keeping an eye on the shrimp, and flipping occasionally, the shrimp are done when they are all pink. This can take around 5-8 minutes. Be cautious while sauteeing shrimp, because if you leave them on the stove too long or at too high of heat, they will not char like they would over a grill, but will become rubbery and unpleasant very quickly.
There are so many different types of cuisine that utilize shrimps. Shrimp scampi is a very common one, a dish of sauteed shrimp in garlic, lemon, butter, and parsley served over pasta. Spring rolls are a popular shrimp dish in Vietnamese cuisine and are a good way to use boiled shrimp. Here are a few other ideas:
If you have a favorite way to prepare shrimp, let me know in the comments!