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 is necessary when working with fresh shrimp. Luckily, this is a relatively easy process, and with a little practice, you’ll be cleaning pounds of shrimp in no time at all! First, 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 getting used to – so don’t get frustrated! Then 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. Finally, 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 look, try butterflying the 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. From here, you can poach the shrimp from here for shrimp cocktail or prepare it however you’d like. 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 often necessary when the fresh variety is just not available. Don’t worry – it happens to me too! Luckily, frozen shrimp are readily available and can be tasty in dishes as well – as long as you know my tips for selecting, handling and cooking frozen shrimp. For starters – what does all that terminology mean? “I’ll take some 15-20 IQF P & D, please.” OK – let me translate. IQF is a term to describe the way in which shrimp is frozen. It means individually quick frozen. If your IQF bag of shrimp has ice crystals or the shrimp is frozen together in a clump, don’t buy it. This means the bag has defrosted and been re-frozen. This is something that should generally be avoided in purchasing frozen foods. Shrimp are labeled with a number range (15-20) that refers the the number of shrimp that come in a pound. The larger the number, the smaller the shrimp. Medium is around 15-20; Salad shrimp are 96+. As I mentioned above, it is best to clean shrimp when fresh. The exception to this would be on shrimp boats where they have the technology to immediately freeze the shrimp they catch at very low temperatures (quickly). So – frozen shrimp can be purchased cleaned or not cleaned. If they have been cleaned before freezing, they are called P&D – peeled and de-veined. This means you will be cooking frozen shrimp in a matter of minutes – after defrosting, that is. One last thing – always defrost shrimp before cooking frozen shrimp. The best way to do this is in the refrigerator. If you need to defrost more quickly, you can place the shrimp in a bowl under slowly running cold water to defrost.
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?