How to Choose and Prepare Fresh Shrimp

Originally posted onto 4/20/16

When it comes to seafood, no other delicacy can compare with the nirvana we feel when we scarf down an entire platter of shrimp. Little shrimps or its larger sibling “prawns” are the crustacean often ordered on the side with a steak or, or with pasta, or even just a la carte with cocktail sauce. However you order it, grilled, tossed in lemon and garlic, boiled, sautéed, you can’t go wrong with a dish that contains shrimp.

Many seafood lovers have the constant desire for these little guys to incorporate them into meals that they consume when they go out, but get immediately squeamish when it comes time to make the attempt to prepare a shrimp bearing dish at home. It does look complicated, let’s be honest. What you receive on your plate at the restaurant looks starkly different than what you lay eyes on in the aisles of the supermarket while you try to gain enough courage to ask the butcher to pack up pound for you to take home.

Although it looks very difficult to prepare these little alien looking sea creatures to go into a delicious meal, rest assured that it isn’t. The hardest part of the process is actually even before you begin cooking the little suckers. Depending on what you buy: fresh caught with head and shell and tail and nerves still attached, or frozen and de-veined and detailed and de-shelled and beheaded, we here to help you through the daunting procedure of preparing raw shrimp.


What tools you’ll need

If you have ever tried to look up a tutorial online for where to begin, you might have been instructed to procure special knives for the occasion. Of course, specialized tools will always make any job exponentially easier, but rest assured that this job can be done just as easily with your bare hands. Special knives would be nice, but know that they are not necessary by any means.


Picking your shrimp

If you are forgoing knives, then you are now set to pick out your shrimp. This can be tricky, but if you know what exactly it is that you want before you are even at the butcher shop, then your job is easy. When it comes to shrimp, there are many variants. There are tiny little shrimp that can just be added to a dish straight away and eaten raw with no prep, and then there are gigantic jumbo-sized shrimp that need to be deshelled and peeled and deveined, and then there are different kinds of shrimp that register on this scale on every level in-between. There are also color differences in shrimp, and these colors indicate possible flavoring. A more seafood-y and ocean-y taste in the pink, or a more iodine tasting flavor in the grayish-brown. These flavorings are not definite, but are more or less apparent in some kinds of shrimps.

For picking your shrimp, try not to buy pre-bagged and frozen shrimp. Although it is much easier to buy pre-bagged shrimp, a much better shrimp experience awaits for those who dare to purchase hand-picked shrimp on ice under the glass inside the butcher shop. Ask the butcher for help if this is your first time buying shrimp. As you look at the selection, know that you want the freshest available. To check for freshness, look at the ice that is directly underneath the shrimp. If the ice is clean and has no grayish drippings or discoloring, then this is the shrimp that you want. The less time the shrimp has been on ice due to recent placement, the better. Always go for fresh and untouched shrimp. That means it should still have its shell, and still have its legs and head, and still have its veins. The longer these additions are still attached, the more natural flavor the shrimp will end up having.


Prepping your shrimp

When you get home and are ready to start cooking, it’s time to prep your shrimp. Submerge your soon to be cooked shrimp in salt water (not boiling). This rejuvenates them, keeps them fresh, and also makes them easier to handle when it comes time to pull off their heads, legs and tails (you knew this wouldn’t be a pretty picture).

Now taking the shrimp one by one, it is now time to remove the unessential pieces. Start with the head. This can be easily removed by firmly gripping the shrimp (don’t squeeze too hard!) and twisting off the head. It comes off pretty easily, and just discard once removed. The shrimp won’t be needing it anymore where it’s going…

Now for the shell. If the legs are still attached, then they will probably be in the way of just slipping off the shell. You can either use one of those fancy knives, or your bare hands, to peel the shell off. Start at the belly and peel away the shell as if it were wearing a jacket and you are helping it take it off. It should come off in a single piece without too much effort, but don’t feel bad if it doesn’t come off as easily or as neat as you would like. The first shrimp is always going to be a little more mangled than the rest due to it being the “Guinea pig”.

All that should be left is the tail. This is an easy one: grip the now exposed meat and just pinch and pull. Once slipped off, you should just be looking at a slippery looking curl of shrimp meat. Almost there!


The last step before cooking is to de-vein and remove the intestines. Calm down, this can be done very easily and in one swipe. Looking at the back of the shrimp, take a knife (or fork, or any pointed tool) and cut a little slit along its back. This will reveal its insides, which will look like a black cord that runs up and down its tiny back. Essentially you could leave this black cord in, but since this black cord is the shrimps little digestive tract, most people remove it (yes, this is where the shrimp keeps and sends out its waste from). Just use the tool to scrape it out and it will come out no problem. You can even rinse out the shrimp with a little water if you are feeling too spooked.

From the same opening, run the fork or knife or whatever tool you have ready and run it through the little groove you made. Go up the groove and back down, and as you do, you may notice your tool being snagged on little ripples. These are the veins and intestines of the little shrimp, and once you snag them, just pull them out. These parts should come out no problem but just take out what you can. There are no apparent health issues associated if you end up eating them, so don’t worry about being too thorough.


That’s it!

Once you have gone through this process of stripping down your whole shrimp, that’s it! Your freshly selected meat has been successfully cleaned and prepped and is now ready to undergo whatever delicious plans you may have for it. Sautee it, grill it, boil it, add it to a pasta (yum!), whatever! With this knowledge, you can apply it to any crustacean and be an expert. Lobsters, crabs, prawns, anything! So from now on, you have no reason to be afraid of preparing raw shrimp. It’s not as hard as it looks.

Happy shrimping!




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