Shrimps come in a variety of species and are available in different forms in the local market. You can buy them with the head on or off, the shell on or off, the vein removed or intact, tail or tailless. Some are available pre-cooked, while others are frozen, fresh or previously frozen.
Here is everything you need to know about choosing, buying and storing shrimps.
Counter check: Shrimps are highly perishable, so it is important to know how to pick out the freshest shrimp available, not just for taste and texture but also for safety. When buying, take note of its smell and appearance. The smell should that be of the sea and appearance firm. Shrimps that are limp, slimy or falling apart shows signs of decay.
Fresh or frozen: Most shrimps are frozen after they are caught and then shipped to supermarkets, including those you see thawing on ice at the counter. There is no correct way to know how long they have been there, so you are better off buying frozen shrimp from supermarkets and defrosting them at home where you have more control over the process. Also, make sure your shrimp does not spend much time outside the freezer before it is cooked. The one exception to the always-buy-frozen rule is when you have access to live shrimp. In that case, cook as soon as possible for best flavor and texture.
Heads and shells: Shrimp heads and shells are like treasure chests of shrimp flavor. That is why shrimp taste better when you cook them in their shells. Save your shrimp heads and shells in a freezer bag. Later, sauté them in a little butter to make instant shrimp butter, or simmer them with herbs, salt and a few veggies for instant shrimp stock.
Types: There are numerous varieties of shrimps. Of these, the three most common are brown, white and pink shrimp.
Brown shrimp mostly comes from the Gulf of Mexico, though they are found down the entire Atlantic coast. They tend to be fairly small with a purple-ish coloring on the tail. They are firm in texture and their flavor is not the strongest compared to others.
The white shrimp is more tender and sweet. With a slightly lighter color and a green-hued tail, they are found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts in shallow muddy waters.
Pink shrimps are usually considered the tastiest of the three. They are mild and sweet without the distinctive ammonia taste some of the brown and white shrimps have. The pink shrimp can range from white to gray in color. You can recognize them by the dark blue coloring on the tail; they usually also sport a spot on either side of the body, about three quarters of the way to the tail.
Deveining: The ‘vein’ of a shrimp is actually its digestive tract, typically a thin, dark tube. It is recommended to remove it before cooking as it could contain sand (which has an unpleasant texture) or taste bitter.
There are a few methods to devein a shrimp. The first and easiest is to just ask your fishmonger to do it. But if you prefer doing it yourself, then with a knife, make a shallow incision right through the shell on the shrimp’s back, from its head to its tail and then pick out the vein. Or you can opt for a shrimp deveiner, which will both peel and devein the shrimp.
Keep it cool: As with any fresh seafood or protein, keep your shrimp as cold as possible. You can also ask your fishmonger to add some crushed ice into your bag so as to retain its freshness on your journey home.
Let it breathe: Store fresh shrimp in the coldest part of your fridge and use within a day or two. If the shrimp is in a plastic bag, then open the bag and lay a damp paper towel over the top. Shrimp placed in plastic bag for a long time will emit a foul smell.
Thaw frozen shrimp: Frozen shrimp should always be thawed before cooking. To thaw, take them out of their bag and place in a bowl under cold (not warm) running water. In a few minutes, they will be good to go. You can also place them in a bowl of cold water and let rest until defrosted.