If you don’t like picking shells off your seafood, you’re missing out. It’s time to man up and pull the tender meat from the tail of a lobster and crack its generous claw, revealing a sweet treat. To hammer a blue crab and pick its juicy lump crabmeat or to suck on a jumbo shrimp shell that’s been simmered in wine, garlic, shallots and red peppers. Cooking shrimp in their shells keeps them moist and juicy. And what could be more fun than to sit around a table with your best buds, sharing an ice-cold beer while you peel and eat shrimp?
How to Buy Shrimp
Fresh or frozen? How many to buy? Shell on or off? These are questions shoppers often query when buying shrimp. It is usually thought that fresh is best, but unless you live where they’re harvested, most shrimp are pre-frozen before they get to your supermarket or fishmonger. The fish department just defrosts them to make the gleaming jumbos in the case look fresh!
Frozen shrimp have a much longer shelf life than the pretend fresh shrimp, and they cost less per pound. You also don’t have to cook them immediately. You can get shrimp peeled and deveined, in the shell, or cooked with just the tail on. All you have to do is pull them out of the freezer when the mood hits, and you’ll have a smashing meal within minutes.
Estimating Quantity to Buy
A bag of frozen shrimp, regardless of size, lists the number of shrimp in the bag and the weight of the bag. Plan for a half-pound of shrimp per person. The smaller the shrimp, the more you’ll get, but the smaller shrimp are more apt to overcook and be tough. Go for the large, jumbo or colossal shrimp for hearty eaters who love the taste of shrimp, and forgo breading them before cooking.
Defrosting Frozen Shrimp
The jury is out as how best to defrost shrimp, whether they’re in the shell or out. Placing the frozen morsels in a colander and running cold water over them is logical, and it doesn’t take forever. But have you considered that the water is also washing away some of the briny seafood flavor?
When you know in advance that you’re serving shrimp, just take the bags out of the freezer and let them defrost in the refrigerator overnight. It may take 24 hours, but your shrimp will taste like shrimp.
After defrosting, remove the shrimp from the bag and pat each one dry, shell and all. You’re wiping away any moisture that has collected as well as preparing them for the saute pan. You want the shell to absorb your ingredients, not fight with them.
Shrimp Scampi in the Shell
One of the best ways to enjoy every element of shrimp that is in the shell is to saute them in a scampi sauce. Shallots, garlic, red pepper flakes, butter and white wine coat the shells, making the shells a savory taste sensation even before peeling and biting into the shrimp itself.
You’ll know they’re done when the tails curl around, forming an “O.” It only takes a minute or so on each side, so pay attention, and don’t overcook! Serve immediately over rice or angel hair pasta.
Grilling Shrimp in the Shell
You’ll have more control over the shrimp if you skewer them before placing them over the heat of your barbecue. You won’t be able to rely on the tails curling in for your doneness test, so think about 90 seconds per side. Be sure the shells are well-seasoned and oiled before grilling, giving them flavor and keeping the shells from burning.
Making a Shrimp Boil
The same ingredients that you put into a scampi can be enhanced for a shrimp boil. Just add parsley, water, beer, onion, oregano and bay leaves to build your boil. Add the shrimp and boil until the shells turn pink ‒ no longer than 4 minutes.
And save the shells. They make a wonderful base for seafood bisque and bouillabaisse. Rinse them off and store them tightly in a bag in the freezer until you’re ready to tackle a not-too-complicated recipe.