The Simple Secrets of Cooking Shrimp for the Best Results Every Time

Published: 09th June 2009
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Cooking shrimp is something I do all year long, but in the summer it feels extra "right" to be preparing and enjoying this little crustacean. Unfortunately, so many of my friends don't enjoy this delicacy as they should because they are not sure what to do with it. There are a few important steps to master in cooking shrimp and then it is a relatively simple ingredient to use in all types of preparations. As you read this article, I'll explain my best tips for choosing shrimp, cleaning shrimp and preparing both frozen and fresh shrimp for excellent summer dishes that everyone will love. From simple suppers at home to easy potluck to impress, shrimp is a great addition to any meal! Best of all - cooking shrimp is fast, which means you won't have to spend all summer in the kitchen!

Cleaning Shrimp

Cleaning shrimp is sometimes necessary depending on how you purchase your shrimp. It is also necessary to clean fresh shrimp that you plan to freeze because it is much easier to do this when the shrimp are fresh. My favorite place to eat shrimp is at the beach on vacation. I love going to the local fish market and buying the freshest fish I can find. So - this entails cleaning shrimp for sure! But don't worry - it's easy and a little bit fun, too. Once you've removed the heads from your shrimp, here are the rest of the steps in cleaning shrimp:

  1. Hold the shrimp by the tail between your thumb and forefinger, legs up, holding the shrimp in place with the rest of your fingers - this takes a bit of practice so don't get frustrated!

  2. Take your paring knife and run down the legs of the shrimp, scraping them off as you go. You could even use a clam knife here because you don't need it to be sharp. Now it should be easy to remove the shell.

  3. It's time to take the vein out. Hold the shrimp - vein up - tightly in your hand. With your other hand, make small incision, exposing the body cavity. Now simply pull the vein out.

For another trick on cleaning shrimp, try this simple method for butterflying shrimp. Make an incision and run down the length of the shrimp to open 2 halves. Be careful not to cut the shrimp all the way through. You can poach the shrimp from here for shrimp cocktail or even lay it flat on a tray, stuff it and lay the tails on top before baking it. This method of cleaning shrimp increases surface area - making the shrimp look bigger, helps the shrimp cook more consistently and makes a very nice presentation. Once you've cleaned all your shrimp - don't discard those shells. I freeze them to use later in shrimp stock, shrimp sauce and shrimp butter.

Cooking Fresh Shrimp

Cooking fresh shrimp is a wonderful experience because after cleaning, there are just a few short steps to enjoy a wonderful shrimp creation of your own making. But there are some important things to consider when handling fresh seafood of any kind - especially shrimp. First is in selection. I generally try to buy shrimp with the heads still on. This tells you something important about the shrimp: it's never been frozen. Freezing shrimp with the heads on makes a mess (and not a lot of sense) so anytime you need to start cooking fresh shrimp by removing the heads, you know they're fresh! Next is temperature. Shrimp should always be kept at around 34 degrees Fahrenheit. Most refrigerators are around 40 degrees, which might sound close, but it's not - as far as the shrimp are concerned. Studies have shown that just a 5 degree temperature reduction (from 40 to 35) doubles the shelf life of fish and shellfish. So before cooking fresh shrimp, you will most likely need to store your raw shrimp on self-draining ice in the refrigerator. I place the ice and shrimp in a colander and then into a metal bowl to catch the water as the ice melts. Incidentally, the same is true for refrigerators at the store. Fresh fish should always be stored on ice. Before cooking fresh shrimp, give it a smell. If shrimp does go bad, you'll know it by a strong ammonia odor, which is true of most fish.

Cooking Frozen Shrimp

Cooking frozen shrimp is the norm for anyone who lives inland and not right at the coast where fresh seafood is readily available. But that doesn't mean that all frozen shrimp is created equal. Luckily, there are some standard labels that help us identify a few things about the shrimp we are buying - if we understand what they mean. Most often, you will be looking for shrimp that is IQF - individually quick frozen. So look at the bag of shrimp. If the shrimp are frozen together in a clump or covered in ice crystals, you know that this bag of shrimp was defrosted at some time and refrozen. This will greatly diminish a product's quality so you don't want this! Before cooking frozen shrimp, know what you are planning to make so you can buy the correct size shrimp. Litle salad shrimp aren't going to work in a shrimp cocktail. Conversely, why spend more money on big shrimp just to cut them up for salad. You know shrimp size based on its number in the bag. 15-20 means that there are 15-20 shrimp per pound. The larger the number, the smaller the shrimp. When cooking frozen shrimp, the shrimp might have been cleaned before frozen, which is called P&D for peeled and de-veined - or you may have to peel and de-vein after defrosting. Always cook frozen shrimp after it has been defrosted in the refrigerator. You can speed up defrosting by placing the shrimp in bowl under slowly running cold water.

Cooking shrimp is a skill that enables you to prepare wonderful home-cooked dishes quickly and easily. Shrimp is a versatile ingredient that can be prepared in so many different ways, you are not likely to get bored anytime soon. By understanding and applying these simple techniques, you will soon be cooking shrimp at every meal. Shrimp omelet, anyone?

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