If you ask my husband what is favorite food is, he will without a doubt tell you shrimp. This means I’ve become quite the shrimp expert through the years. And while it seems pretty straightforward, I can almost guarantee that you are only scratching the surface.
What are shrimp?
Shrimp are decapod shelled invertebrates (crustaceans). There are thousands of species, but only 20 that are seen sold commercially.
They can live in freshwater, salt water and even mixed habitats. Shrimp come in many sizes and also several colors when raw, but mostly all pink hues when cooked.
Are Shrimp Good For You?
I hate the word healthy these days; it means so many things to so many people. This is what I do know about shrimp.
- high protein
- low fat
- high iron
- low calorie
But, they do have higher amounts of cholesterol per pound.
How To Cook Shrimp
Shrimp are so verstile and can be prepared in SO many different variations. They can be fried, sautéed, boiled, baked, ceviched and grilled. They are seen through nearly every ethnic cuisine, many of which have unique ways of making shrimp.
In general you’ll want to cook until tails start to curl (but aren’t fully curled) and they are a taunt pinkish opaque. They cook fast, so be mindful to not overcook when they can get mushy or rubbery.
Types of Shrimp
Shrimp are put into four categories: white, pink, brown and red. Chances are the stuff you are buying at the store is white or pink, but then there are several types of both white and pink.
One of the biggest determinants is where they were sourced.
- White shrimp: Either caught wild or farmed, white shrimp tend to have less flavor than pink. The flavor they do have has been described as nutty or sweet. They are better with rich and flavor-forward sauces and spices. Their raw shells are a greyish-white and the while the shell turns pink when cooked, the actual shrimp stays white.
- Pink shrimp: Most come from the gulf and these have a shrimp-ier flavor. They are mild and sweet and do best with mild and delicate sauces so you can actually taste the shrimp. When raw they have pink shells and both the shell and meat will be even more pink when cooked.
- Brown shrimp: Another contender for shrimp flavor, these are sometimes mislabeled as white shrimp because the shells tend to be greyish as well. They are usually smaller and darker because of iodine content. They do turn pink when cooked and do best in hearty sauces because of their firm texture.
- Royal red shrimp: They have a bright red shell and often look like little lobsters. They have sweet, tender meat and can be subbed for recipes calling for chopped lobster or langostinos.
- Tiger shrimp: These are the big boys of shrimp and are sometimes called prawns. They have sweet, buttery meat and best served by themselves for a shrimp cocktail or with a light sauce. They are also ideal for grilling because they are large enough to not fall through the grates.
- Rock shrimp: They have a spiny shell that is rough instead of smooth. The are smaller, but their meat is also comparable to lobster and great as a substitute.
How to Buy Shrimp
The seafood counter can be a little misleading. The names colossal, large and extra large can vary from counter to counter and there aren’t any hard and steady rules.
Prawns are also shrimp, but the largest with several names.
|Baby (bay)||70 or more per pound|
|Small||51-60 per pound|
|Medium||43-50 per pound|
|Medium-Large||36-42 per pound|
|Large||31-35 per pound|
|Extra-Large||26-30 per pound|
|Jumbo||21-25 per pound|
|Extra-Jumbo||16-20 per pound|
|Colossal/Giant/Prawns/U15||10-15 per pound|
Shrimp can be purchased peeled, deveined or head-on. Depending on what recipe you are using them in, you might need to buy one or the other. I prefer to buy head off, only because I don’t eat the head and I am still paying by the pound.
However I do recommend purchasing them with the shell on and cooking them in the shell whenever possible. The shell actually holds most of the flavor, so cooking it with shell imparts flavor.
It also protects the delicate meat from overcooking. If marinating, working the marinade into the shell literally holds it up close to meat to help keep it moist and flavorful.
Look for shrimp that don’t look limp, are free from black spots and don’t smell overly fishy. Some fish smell will be there- they are seafood.
Prawns vs Shrimp
What is the difference between prawns and shrimp? Most people assume they are the crustacean, just different sizes. That is FALSE!
Both shrimp and prawns are crustaceans that have ten legs and possess external skeletons. However, shrimp belong to the sub-order Pleocyemata, while prawns belong to the sub-order Dendrobranchiata.
Try to say that 10 times fast! In fact, just try to pronounce it once. I dare ya!
In layman’s terms…
Prawns have branching gills, claws on three pairs of their legs and second pincers that are larger than their front ones.
Prawns lack the distinct bend in their bodies that is seen with shrimp and each of their body segments overlaps the one behind it in succession.
Shrimp have plate-like gills and claws on two pairs of their legs with their front pincers being the largest. Shrimp also have a distinct bend in their bodies and their second segments overlap the first and third segments.
Use that as a little pre-dinner discussion or JEOPARDY… here you come!
Storage & Freezing
Shrimp are high perishable, so if buying fresh, only buy as much as you need and try to use it within 24 hours.
I always ask if it was previously frozen (and in most commercial grocery stores it was) so I know if freezing it is an option if I don’t use them right away. Do not freeze previously frozen shrimp.
You can also buy frozen shrimp. I like to grab a bag when they are on sale. I buy both cooked and raw. Cooked are great for defrosting and throwing on a salad or topping a plate of pasta, which raw can be used for nearly anything.