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Tasty, tender shrimp are easy to cook but easy to get wrong.
Here’s what you need to cook shrimp, so they turn out just like you want them to.
Shrimp buying tips
Fresh or Frozen Shrimp?
The “fresh” shrimp on the ice at your grocery store is anything, but fresh. It’s typically frozen, then thawed, and you don’t know how long it’s been sitting out, and shrimp can spoil quickly; their shelf life is pretty short. Fresh shrimp should be cooked within a day or two of purchasing.
So oddly enough, frozen shrimp is the ideal choice. It’s frozen as soon as it’s caught, preserving the freshest flavour.
You’ll also save money and have more flexibility when you buy frozen shrimp in the shell, and then, you can thaw right before preparing.
Be sure to thoroughly defrost them before adding to the marinade.
With or without the shell?
Frozen shrimp with its shell on will hold a bit more flavour and better texture than peeled ones. They’re also less processed. But I certainly understand the convenience of peeled and deveined shrimp, so grab what you can.
How about the cleaned and pre-cooked?
As it has already been pre-cooked, the flavour will not be as intense as fresh. It should be added to the recipe at the end of cooking.
Wild or farmed?
Wild shrimp will be free from antibiotics and injected hormones, and they’re better for the environment.
Which size of shrimp should I use?
In the seafood industry, shrimp are sold by their quantity per pound—26 to 30 (26/30) or 16 to 20 (16/20), for example.
In the supermarket or recipes, they’re usually given names like large, extra-large, or jumbo, but these don’t uniformly describe the same count since there’s no standard for the names.
If you’re making a recipe from a source that doesn’t give a count, use the following guide—it’s the closest thing we’ve found to a standard.
Find the count numbers (such as 21/25) on the bag. It tells you the average number of shrimp in a one-pound bag.
The smaller the number, the larger the shrimp.
You want your shrimp to be large and juicy. Use the largest (smaller count) shrimp you can find. If you’re putting them on skewers, the Extra jumbo (16/20) is meatier and easier to work.
You can go smaller if need be, and the recipe will still be delicious.
Between U-10 and 30 per pound: They have more flavour and firmer texture because they are meatier. Suitable for recipes where shrimp is the highlight of the dish.
Between 16 to 30 shrimp per pound: They are ideal for most recipes.
Between 31 to 50 shrimp per pound: They are great for recipes where the shrimp adds flavour and is important in the look.
Between 31 to 50 shrimp per pound: Use in recipes where the seafood adds flavour to the preparation but does not need to show up on the plate.
How much to buy?
If the recipe calls for 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of clean shrimp, consider 30% more weight (1.3 kg/2.86lb).
1 kg (2.2 pounds) of shrimp with shell yields 700 g (1.54lb) of clean shrimp + 300 g (10.58oz) shell and head.
Even though 500g (1 pound) of clean shrimp should serve four, I do recommend you make more than you’ll think you need. They’re sort of irresistible; you’ll want to eat them all yourself.
How to thaw the shrimp?
There are two ways to thaw shrimp safely:
- Ideally, thaw your shrimp slowly in the fridge overnight in a fine-mesh sieve, so the water drains out of them.
Don’t worry if you forgot to do so and are short on time.
- You can quickly thaw them in a colander placed in a bowl inside the sink and run cold water over the shrimp until it thaws. Just run the frozen shrimp under cold water in a colander.
This should only take a few minutes, depending on the amount and size of shrimp you are thawing. Rotate the shrimp occasionally to make sure they all thaw under the water. The bowl will also help the shrimp on the bottom to thaw.
Gently pat them dry with a paper towel when they’re completely thawed.
Keep an eye on the shrimp; you don’t want to leave it under the water too long or in too warm of water since it can cook your shrimp.
Use just cold water. Never in warm water.
How to peel and clean shrimp?
Should I remove the shell?
You can cook shrimp with the shell on or off. If you want to peel off the shell, start by pulling off the legs, and the shell can easily slip off.
Should I remove the tails?
It’s a matter of personal preference whether you leave the tails on or remove them before grilling. I usually remove them on casual meals, but I typically keep the tails on when looking for a nicer presentation.
The tails make it easier to eat without utensils. Leave the shell on the tail to make a handle if you’re serving shrimp with a dip.
How about the dark threadlike digestive tract (aka vein)?
Shrimp have a dark (sometimes clear) threadlike digestive tract running along their curved backs. You need to remove this after thawing and before cooking shrimp; otherwise, you could get a bit of sandy grit in your meal.
Here’s how to remove that vein with or without taking off the flavorful shell:
- If you’re going to cook the shrimp in the shell, use kitchen scissors or a small sharp knife to cut through the shell along the backside of the shrimp, from the head to the tail, to expose the vein, then use the scissors or knife to lift out the vein.
- If you’ve removed the shell, just cut a slit along the back, and remove the vein.
If the vein is broken, then insert again a bit lower towards the tail. If you can’t find the vein, don’t worry about it.
If some sandy residue remains, you can easily rinse it away in cold running water.
What happens if I don’t devein shrimp?
You can’t eat shrimp that hasn’t been deveined if you eat the shrimp raw. The thin black “vein” that runs through it could cause harm. That’s the shrimp’s intestine, which, like any intestine, has a lot of bacteria. But cooking the shrimp kills the germs.
Note that the decision to devein shrimp is a matter of personal preference and aesthetics, not hygiene, and the vein is not harmful to the human body if eaten. Sometimes it is easy to see, and other times it is barely visible. Most cooks will not bother deveining medium-sized or smaller shrimp unless they look particularly dirty. I always clean it.
Should I rinse the shrimp?
Rinse the shrimp to make sure it is all cleaned off.
You can clean shrimp when they‘re raw or previously cooked.
Rinse the shrimp in cold water to remove any loose shell bits or gunk from the inside of the shrimp.
Japanese cooking tip: clean shrimp with potato starch (or corn starch)
Sprinkle some potato (or corn starch) and coat the shrimp. Potato(or corn starch) will absorb the smell and dirt from the shrimp. Rinse the shrimp under running water.
Now you might be wondering why to use potato starch (or corn starch) to clean shrimp after removing the shrimp shell.
Sometimes rinsing the shrimp under cold running water is not enough to completely clean shrimp. Japanese cookers usually clean shrimp with potato starch by rubbing them together. The potato starch absorbs the smell and dirty particles from shrimp very well. You will see how dirty the starch becomes when you’re rinsing the shrimp.
Check the difference between one rinsed with potato starch and one without it. You’ll be surprised!
Can I store shrimp after cleaning?
It’s usually best to cook raw shrimp right away, after cleaning, or you can store them loosely in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours until you want to cook them.
What to do with shrimp shells
Don’t throw away those shrimp shells. Save the shells in a zip-lock bag and freeze them to make homemade seafood stock.
It’s tasty. Yes, it’s a specific taste, not just a sub for chicken stock, but try it in risotto, chowders, or a pan sauce, and you’ll be convinced.
Shrimp stock might seem like a “restaurant-only” sort of thing, but it’s incredibly easy to make at home.
Get the Recipe for Easy Shrimp Broth (see mirepoix notes)
2 tablespoons oil (or butter)
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup diced carrot
1/4 cup diced celery
1 bag of frozen shrimp shells
Seasonings (fresh or dried herbs, peppercorns, hot chile powder, or anything you want)
6 Cups Water
Make the aromatic mirepoix base – Saute the onion, carrot, and celery in the oil until softened and translucent.
Give Shrimp heads, shells, and tails a quick rinse under cold water first. Then, add the shrimp shells and cook for about 2 minutes until they turn pink and fragrant.
If you want additional seasonings, add them now.
Add water (with enough water to cover the shells), bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered until the water takes on a light orange-stock colour, for at least 15 minutes to 1 hour.
Then Strain all the shells out.
- If you want a thicker consistency, blend everything and strain through a colander, pressing on with a silicone spoon to make sure all the flavour is released.
- If you prefer a lighter liquid broth, strain the liquid through a colander, pressing on the shells with a silicone spoon to make sure all the flavour is released.
Use the stock in your shrimp recipe for an extra boost of flavour.
Can you eat pre-cooked shrimp out of the bag?
The frozen pre-cooked shrimp is safe to eat if they come from a reputable source. You may wish to cook them a little bit to heat them to service temperature and integrate them with a sauce or spices or so on, but you could peel and eat them if you wanted to.
How to marinate shrimp?
How long to marinate shrimp?
Timing is essential when it comes to marinating foods, and if you are trying to create the perfect, rich recipe with shrimp, you might be wondering what the maximum marinating time is.
The point of marinating meat is to help ensure that it absorbs the flavours and breaks down any toughness. Marinades are designed to make sure tough meats become juicy and tender before consuming them. Often, marinating foods overnight is a great way to help them absorb flavours. In some cases, meat can be marinated in a highly acidic sauce for a day or even more.
Shrimp, however, should never be tough and should not need this treatment. The flesh is porous and will quickly absorb the marinade’s flavours, meaning that you do not usually need to leave it for very long to ensure the meat is tender, succulent, and delicious. Often, a couple of minutes in a marinade will be sufficient.
So, how long can you marinate shrimp? Depending on the marinade, the ingredients of the marinade make a big difference, the more acidic the sauce is, the faster it will affect the texture of the shrimp, and the less time the shrimp needs to marinate for.
- If it’s acidic (lemon, lime, orange, vinegar, etc.), for just a few minutes, ideally 30 minutes in the fridge, but even just 10 minutes should be fine. Any more than that and the acid will start to break down the delicate shrimp meat and make it mushy. Shrimps should not be left in an acidic sauce for more than about half an hour if you want to keep them tender and prevent them from turning mushy. Never marinate the shrimp in an acidic sauce for longer than 2 hours. The acid can cook the shrimp without any heat needed, which happens with a long marinade time.
- If your marinade is non-acidic (olive oil, garlic, herbs, and spices), you could marinate for an hour or more. Some people will recommend a longer period for marinating your shrimp, and up to eight hours may be okay in the right kind of marinade. In either case, marinate in the fridge until you’re ready to get cooking.
Remember that the flesh of a shrimp is delicate, and a marinade will very quickly start to break it down. If left for too long, marinated shrimp will become mushy and unpleasant. The longer it is left for, the mushier it will become, and the more the texture will degrade.
If you need to, you can prepare the marinade in advance and keep it in the fridge until you are ready to add the shrimps to it.
Does the Size of the Shrimps Make a Difference?
If you are marinating large shrimps, remember that they will need to spend longer in the sauce to penetrate the flesh properly. Small shrimps are often less satisfying and tasty but will soak up sauce faster.
Give large shrimps a little longer, up to half an hour (acidic) or an hour (non-acidic), to marinate. This will ensure the juices are adequately soaked up, and the shrimps are deliciously succulent!
How long can you leave the shrimp at room temperature?
If your recipe says that the shrimps only need to marinate for half an hour or so, you can leave them at room temperature if you choose to, but it’s better to keep them in the fridge. This increases the safety of the food and minimizes the risk of food poisoning.
Do not leave shrimps in a marinade on a kitchen surface overnight, even if you cover the bowl. Shrimps need to be kept chilled to stop food-borne bacteria from forming inside them, and if you forget to put them in the fridge, they will not be safe to eat by the next day.
Whether your shrimp is raw or cooked, it should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours or an hour if the weather is hot. If the temperature in your home exceeds 32°C/90°F, put shrimps into the fridge as quickly as you can to ensure that they do not start to breed bacteria.
Should You Remove Shrimp Tails Before Marinating?
It probably won’t make a significant difference. The only problem is that if you marinate the shrimps first, you may find that the tails are slippery and hard to remove.
Can You Marinate Frozen Shrimp?
You might be wondering whether you can save time by putting frozen shrimps directly into a marinade.
It is better not to do this. Frozen shrimps will release water as they thaw, diluting the marinade. It will also mean that the shrimps are damp and will not soak up the marinade as effectively as if they are dry, and you will end up with a weak and unsatisfying flavour.
Ideally, you want shrimps to be nice and dry before you tip them in the marinade so that they will soak as much of it up as possible.
Can you marinate already cooked shrimp?
Yes! It is better to marinate raw shrimp, but if you purchased already cooked shrimp or did not feel like cooking it yourself, cooked shrimp is perfectly acceptable to marinate.
For best results, marinate cooked shrimp for at least a few hours and up to overnight, but omit the lemon juice until you are ready to serve.
Other tips for success
Pat the shrimp dry before tossing with the marinade. This ensures the sauce sticks to the seafood.
Toss the shrimp gently to make sure every piece is coated with the marinade. A large bowl or plastic bag works well.
Reserve one tablespoon of the marinade for finishing. It adds a light, bright flavour at the end of cooking.
Which ingredients should you use in the marinade?
Olive oil or Butter
I use olive oil, but you can substitute it with an equal amount of melted butter if you want.
It will help distribute the flavours from spices and dry herbs evenly over the shrimp.
The fat will also protect the fresh garlic from burning and enhance its flavour.
And, particularly if you’re using an outdoor grill, it provides an excellent protective coating for the shrimp, keeping them plump and juicy as they develop a slight char on the grill.
Any citrus would work
Feel free to use lime zest and lime juice instead of lemon. Orange or grapefruit would offer a nice twist, too.
Soy sauce is a wonderful replacement for the lemon juice if going for an Asian zing. If doing so, omit the salt in the recipe.
Honey or Brown sugar
The honey makes all the difference! It adds a subtly sweet flavour that makes the shrimp more addicting.
Brown sugar is an excellent alternative for honey. The sugar granules will naturally dissolve while whisking the marinade.
Use your favourite paprika
Use whatever spice level you prefer. Mild or hot paprika will do. Smoked paprika would add a touch of smoky flavour without ever having to turn on the grill.
If you are a fan of spicy food, feel free to add a few dashes of your favourite hot sauce for an addictive spicy marinade.
How do you cook the shrimp?
Using skewers, marinated shrimp can be grilled, baked, broiled, or sautéed.
There are many other ways you can prepare shrimp.
- Battered and fried
No matter which way you choose, cook the shrimp for 2-3 minutes on each side in medium-high heat or until pink and opaque. You know they’re ready when the tails start to curl in.
Why should I use skewers?
You can grill a shrimp recipe without using a skewer.
But how do you keep shrimp from falling into the grill or from accidentally overcooking? If you try to grill them without a skewer, you run the risk of these little guys falling through the grill grates when you go to turn them.
Skewering the shrimp is the easiest way to cook them!
It means that you can turn them all in simultaneously so that they cook evenly. I use a pair of tongs to hold and turn over my shrimp.
You can use either metal or wooden skewers. If you use wooden, soak them in water before grilling.
Why should I soak the skewers?
Soak your skewers in water before threading the shrimp on helps them burn less on the grill.
Just submerge the skewers in some warm water and allow them to soak while you prepare the shrimp.
How to place shrimp on a skewer?
You want to make sure your shrimp are nice and secure on the skewer so that they won’t fall off or through the grill grates.
The shrimp stay on great when you go through the body and then again just behind the tail. You can cook the shrimp with the tail on or off; that is just a personal preference. Going through both the bottom and top of the shrimp will hold the shrimp on snug so they won’t fly off when turning them on the grill.
Pro tip: If you want juicier shrimp, place the shrimp close together, while those who prefer crispy, charred shrimp will want to place the shrimp slightly apart.
How long to cook the shrimp?
Shrimp cooks very quickly, so it’s imperative to watch your shrimp to avoid overcooking.
It typically takes 1 to 3 minutes per side. If you have larger shrimp, they will take a little longer to cook but still grill quickly. You will only need to flip your shrimp one time while cooking.
How do you know your shrimp are ready?
You’ll be able to tell when the shrimp are done because they’ll turn from grey and flabby to pink with a bright red tail, opaque, and curling up into a C shape.
If you’re grilling skewered shrimp, you’ll have to pay close attention to the colour more than the curl. They are overcooked if they start to curl up.
And as far as texture, cooked shrimp should be slightly firm in texture with enough crunch with your bite (look for enough resistance to the teeth, but should give way to a gentle bite.)
Don’t overcook the shrimp. If you overcook them, they lose their juiciness and become rubbery.
What happens if you eat undercooked shrimp?
Vibrio (or Vibrio vulnificus) is a marine bacterium found in sea creatures. It makes humans sick with an illness called vibriosis. You can get infected with this germ by eating raw or uncooked seafood. But you can also be infected if a wound comes into contact with raw or undercooked seafood or its juices.
Can you cook shrimp ahead of time?
If short on time, you can mix the marinade up to 5 days in advance. The marinade can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use. Keep in mind; this is only the marinade, NOT the marinade with the shrimp.
You can marinate the shrimp in advance but be careful not to do it for more than 2 hours because the acid from the lemon will end up cooking the shrimp.
Cooked shrimp can be stored in the fridge safely for up to 3-4 days, but I recommend you serve them as soon as they are cooked for the best taste and texture.
How to store leftovers?
If you have a few shrimp leftover, store them in an airtight container in the fridge. They will keep for 3-4 days.
To store leftover grilled shrimp kabobs, remove them from the skewers.
You can also freeze them for about 3 months in freezer-safe containers. It’s best to freeze them within 1-2 hours of grilling to prevent bacteria from growing.
You can enjoy it cold as an appetizer or over a salad or reheat in the microwave or in a skillet with a bit of olive oil.
What happens if you leave cooked shrimp out overnight?
Left too long at room temperature, any bacteria that cooking did not destroy begins to multiply again. When this happens, cooked shrimp stays suitable for only a short period before bacteria growth rises to levels that can make you sick if you eat it.
Can you eat cooked shrimp after 5 days?
Properly stored, cooked shrimp will last for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. To further extend the shelf life of cooked shrimp, freeze it; freeze in covered airtight containers or heavy-duty freezer bags, or wrap tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil or freezer wrap.
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