How To Select And Prepare Shrimp

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.


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 will 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 bleach.

- 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 guideline instead.

- 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 frying.

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 rinse thoroughly.

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 375°F 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 retention.

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

Users Reading this article are also interested in:
Top Searches on Cooking Seafood:
Devein Shrimp Black Tiger Shrimp
About The Author, Janice Faulk Duplantis
Janice Faulk Duplantis, author and publisher, currently maintains a web site that focuses on both Easy Gourmet and French/Cajun Cuisine. Visit to see all that Bedrock Press has to offer. Janice also publishes 4 free monthly ezines: Gourmet Bytes, Lagniappe Recipe, Favorite Recipes and Cooking 101. Visit to subscribe.