10 Things You Didn’t Know About…Cooking Shrimp
How does a picky kid from Missouri, one who spent most of his childhood landlocked at least 500 miles from the nearest body of salt water, develop a bona fide love of shrimp? Beats me. I was the kind of kid who got squeamish when I saw my mom cutting up raw chicken — if I’d ever seen a shrimp with its head on, I’d probably have lost it (seriously…shrieking).
Truth is, I can’t remember the first time I tried shrimp (this isn’t one of those “one bite and it changed my life” sort of foodie stories); likely it was featured in some chain restaurant’s pasta special, and I was a teenager trying to order something that seemed sophisticated.
Nevertheless, far from being a once-in-a-while treat, shrimp have become a go-to staple in our house, whether they’re served steamed in dumplings, grilled on skewers, luxuriating in a rich stew or (a summer favorite) simmered in olive oil and butter and on the table in less than 10 minutes (see #10 below). To be honest, as much as I hate peeling them (and I do!), I love eating them.
A good rule of thumb if you’re serving shrimp as a main course: 6–8 oz. of shrimp per adult.
To devein or not to devein? Not even the experts agree. The large “vein” that runs down the back of the shrimp is actually its intestinal tract — a fact that, in and of itself, would seem to qualify for its removal.
However, many cooks, like seafood aficionado James Peterson, take a pragmatic approach to deveining: after you’ve peeled the shrimp, pick out a few and run a sharp knife down their backs, making a shallow incision. If the exposed veins are translucent, don’t bother removing them. If the veins are dark, they’ll likely muddy the taste of the shrimp when they’re cooked (though eating them won’t hurt you). Devein the whole batch.
The larger the shrimp, the more likely the “vein” will be dark.
Mazatlan, Mexico, set the Guinness world record last fall for the world’s largest shrimp cocktail. It weighed in at more than 1,187 pounds and included a thousand pounds of shrimp, 127 pounds of ketchup, 22 pounds of lemon juice and 8 pounds of Worcestershire sauce.
Unless you live right on the Gulf Coast, the shrimp you buy “fresh” have actually already been frozen. You can often save money by buying a large bag of frozen shrimp and thawing them as needed. They keep in the freezer about two months.
Wild shrimp are caught in huge trawling nets, which can trap and kill sea turtles and other ocean wildlife. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, U.S. trawlers are required to use devises that minimize the amount of “bycatch,” so if you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your food, the aquarium recommends wild U.S. shrimp as a better alternative to those imported from other countries.
Most people only eat half the shrimp. The shrimp’s head, which is usually removed during processing, accounts for 50 percent of its size.
Shrimp are high in cholesterol (a typical serving has a full two-thirds of your daily recommended allowance of the stuff). That said, studies have shown that shrimp increase levels of “good” HDL cholesterol more than they increase levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Of all things we put shrimp in — pastas, stews, enchiladas, cocktail sauce, even ice cream (in Japan) — for shrimp lovers, the simplest preparation may be the best. In a large sauté pan, heat ¼ c. olive oil and 1 tbsp. butter over medium heat. Add 1 lb. of peeled shrimp in a single layer. Cook about 2 minutes, turn once, and cook approximately 2 minutes more, until shrimp are pink and opaque. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with lemon wedges, if you like.
Have a hankering for shrimp? Explore all our shrimp recipes!