Items you will need
- Shrimps, fresh or frozen
- Sharp knife
- Flat sturdy work surface
- Bright light for working
This is an article that will guide you from start to finish the preparing of raw shrimp before cooking.
The most time consuming part is deveining the shrimp, but it's worth doing it yourself. At the market, fresh shrimp that is cleaned, deveined and/or cooked cost roughly 2 to 3 times more per pound.
- Tips Buying Shrimp - -
Choose shrimps from the following tips:
(1) Fresh shrimp should smell like the sea. There should be no "fishy"; "shrimpy" smell.
(2) The body of shrimp should be firm, but gives a little when pressed with your fingers. The body should bounce back after being pressed.
(3) If sold head-on/shell-on/tail intact, these parts will turn black or brown in color on spoiled shrimp that is not fresh.
(4) Previously frozen shrimp meat is white in color, not translucent. When you buy frozen shrimp at the supermarket (not in the bag at the frozen food section, but at the fish monger counter), it should state that the shrimp was previously frozen. If not, you can tell by the color of the shrimp meat and know if the seller is honest.
- Many "previously frozen" shrimps are sold without their head or shells intact, so it's hard to tell if they were fresh/not spoiled prior freezing. However, when these are cooked and eaten, they will taste mushy.
- Cleaning the Shrimp - -
Cleaning the shrimp is a straightforward process. Whether you buy shrimps that is fresh or frozen, with or without the shell, wash them before cooking. Bacteria multiplies quickly on seafood when temperature drops even just a few degrees. So never thaw shrimp or seafood in room temperature, do so in the fridge but bacteria still grows since temperature is lower than the frozen state (e.g. when they were in the freezer). Use on the same day after thawing.
The best way to clean shrimp is to put some salt on it and rinse under running water. Salt helps in killing the bacteria. You can do this with either shells intact or peeled.
- Peeling the Shrimp - -
If you bought the shrimp head-on, you can leave it on while cooking; it's just a personal preference, this is same to the tail.
(1) Hold shrimp with your hand. Use your other hand and squeeze with your fingers the joint between the carapace and abdomen, gently twist the head off. Discard or keep for making shrimp stock; seafood broth.
(2) Peel body shell starting from the swimming legs, and the rest will come off easily.
(3) For the tail, hold with your hand and use the fingers on your other hand to pull off the tail. Tails are also the ingredient to make shrimp stock.
- Devein - -
To devein or not is a matter of personal preference. If you are using tiny shrimps, like those for salad (so called salad shrimps), there is no need to clean the vein. But if you are using larger ones, say of any that is fewer than 31-40 per pound, then it is recommended that you remove them.
You can devein after or before the shrimp is cooked, most people prefer the latter.
There are two visible lines running the length of a shrimp body. You will find one on the top (at the back), and the other one at the bottom where the swimming legs meet the underside of the body. The one at the top is the digestive track, the other on the bottom is the nerve cord.
You do not need to worry about the nerve cord. But the one on the top is of sanitary concern in many people, since it's the intestine of the shrimp. Yes, the digestive track that contains "soil" of whatever the shrimp ate just before it died.
In theory, it is okay to eat the "vein" because any bacteria will be killed during cooking, and nobody ever got sick from consuming that. It really depends your view and your feeling. Some people eat it with the shrimp, some don't. But experts recommend that if you are cooking for someone, better devein because it is unappealing to your guest, even you don't mind when cooking for yourself and eat it whole with the vein.
If you bought it "cleaned" for you, fine. If not, here's how to devein a shrimp:
(1) After peeling the shrimp, lay it on a work surface with the "vein" facing you; dorsal view.
(2) Slightly press down the shrimp and hold it in that position. Use a sharp knife with your other hand and make a slit running the length of the body. You should see the "vein" protruding. Use a toothpick or your finger and pry out the vein, then rinse shrimp under running water to wash off any debris.
Make sure you use the length of the sharp side of your knife to devein, not just the tip of the knife. That way, you'll have more control and it will not slip easily to cut your fingers.
Notes: Fresh shrimp not deveined will not alter its taste after cooking.
For your information: If shrimps were raised in farm, some shrimp farms will not feed the shrimps the day before they were caught, just to let the shrimps "empty" out. So in some shrimps not deveined, you will find the "vein" invisible. Many shrimp farms also feed shrimps with lighter colored feed to solve the "unsightly" problem.
As you can see, preparing shrimp for a recipe can easily be done. It might even turn into a hobby!
Please read the below "Tips and Warnings" section for additional seafood safety information.
If all possible, buy fresh raw shrimps. Previously frozen or pre-cooked shrimps are not as tasty as fresh ones. If you have access to a fish market, buy shrimps (and other seafood) there. They are usually no more than a day or two old, comparing to the ones you find in the supermarket.
If spoiled, quality of shrimp will diminish dramatically, especially the look and feel of the shrimp when eaten. In most cases, taste will be strange. Seafood generally spoils quickly.