Cooking Shrimp Made Easy for the Home Cook with these Simple Techniques
by: Chef Todd Mohr
Cooking shrimp at home is a wonderful, casual alternative to a night out at a restaurant. But that's only if you know how to handle shrimp and produce those beautiful professional results yourself. Unfortunately, most people have trouble with shrimp for a couple of reasons. First, there is the cleaning of the shrimp. This can be a bit challenging, but with the right technique and a little bit of practice, it's a lot easier than you think. The second main obstacle that many face in preparing shrimp at home is not handling shrimp correctly and ruining a great ingredient. Shrimp must be handled well from start to finish to ensure the best possible outcome in your cooking. So - learn these tips and make cooking shrimp a delight in your house!
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:
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!
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.
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 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?
About The Author
This article on Cooking Shrimp is based on the “Cooking Coarse” video series, created by Chef Todd Mohr and based on his cooking-without-recipes philosophy.
Chef Todd is a classically trained chef, entrepreneur and educator in addition to being the host of "Cooking Coarse". For more details on Cooking by Method and how you can cook better everyday at home, visit Chef Todd’s website http:/www.I-hate-cooking-recipes.com where you can view over 170 free cooking videos and subscribe to the Free monthly e-zine “Burn Your Recipes.” Cooking videos and further information about cooking shrimp is provided at: http://www.i-hate-cooking-recipes.com/cooking-shrimp.html.
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