Focus on Shrimp

Shrimp are wonderful any time of the year but they are especially great in the summer because they cook so quickly with minimal effort. There are a few things to know about shrimp, though, and that is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

When you go to your supermarket, or if you are lucky to have a fish market, you may be faced with different varieties of shrimp. Here is a discussion of some of those.

A common question is if there is a difference between Shrimp and Prawns. Although both terms are used interchangeably in the US, there are anatomical differences. Prawns are larger, have a branching gill structure, longer front legs and a second set of pinchers that are larger than the front set. They also carry their eggs inside their body, which tend to be larger than those of shrimp.

Shrimp are of a different sub-family and tend to be smaller, have a lamellar gill structure, shorter front legs, larger front pinchers, they carry their eggs outside their body and have smaller eggs.

From a culinary perspective, there is not much of a flavor difference and they can be used similarly. What makes more of a difference in flavor and texture is the diet and habitat. Even within the same category of shrimp, these factors can make them taste differently.

Brown Shrimp

The shells of this category of shrimp are reddish-brown. They are also known as “summer”, “redtail” or “golden” shrimp. They are firmer in texture than other shrimp and have a mild but mineral-like flavor. When cooked, the flesh turns somewhat redder than white shrimp.

Pink Shrimp

This category encompasses different species of shrimp. They tend to be pink when raw but can look anywhere between white and gray. They are usually small and sometimes termed “Salad Shrimp”. They are mild and sweet.

Rock Shrimp

Named for their rock-hard shells, they are normally sold cleaned and de-shelled as doing this process yourself can be difficult. Their taste and texture is similar to lobster and so, could be a substitute for lobster.

Tiger Prawns

Also known as Tiger Shrimp, they have a striped pattern on their body. They can be up to a foot in length and have a very strong shrimp flavor.

White Shrimp

Once again, this category includes different species of shrimp. When uncooked, they look translucent and blueish-green but turn pink when cooked. They have a sweet flavor, a tender texture and are easy to peel.

Another concern when you are shopping is the size of the shrimp or the “count per pound.” For example, if you see 41/50 on a label, it means there are between 41 and 50 shrimps per pound. Here is a breakdown of the terminology from Cooks Illustrated. Other sources may vary slightly in the shrimp count.

TYPICAL NAMECOUNT PER POUND (U = UNDER)
ColossalU/12 (under 12 per pound)
Extra-JumboU/15
Jumbo16/20 (16 to 20 per pound)
Extra-Large21/25
Large26/30
Medium-Large31/40
Medium41/50
Small51/60
Extra-Small61/70

If your recipe calls for 1½ pounds of shrimp and you buy shell-on, you must account for the weight of the shells. Generally, 12 ounces of shrimp with shells intact will give you 8 ounces of shelled shrimp.

If you buy shrimp with the shells on, you must peel and possibly devein them. Peeling is rather easy. Just open the shell on the belly side and peel it back and remove making sure to also get all the legs. If not done already, the intestinal track should be removed – called deveining. Make a shallow slit along the back from the head to tail end. This will expose the “vein”. Insert the tip of a knife under the vein and lift it out. Finish by rinsing.

If you are so inclined, throw the shells in a plastic bag and put in the freezer. When you have a sufficient number of shells, you can make shrimp stock for your chowders, stews and gumbo.

When cooking shrimp, the important thing to remember is that they cook very quickly and you want to prevent over-cooking. Although you can use almost any method of cooking, they are particularly well-suited to grilling or sautéing. If you have read my Cooking Tips for any length of time, you know I am a big fan of taking internal temperatures to gauge doneness. However, that is not feasible with shrimp. Instead, you want to see the shrimp turn from translucent to opaque and from gray to pink. They will also start to curl into a C-shape. If you are unsure, take one shrimp out of the pan and cut in half to ensure it is cooked through.

The shrimp can be cooked and served on their own or can be used in shrimp & grits, risotto or any number of dishes. What is your favorite way to cook and serve shrimp? Let me know.