Shrimp cook in just a few minutes, making them a good choice for a quick weeknight supper. They’re high in nutrition, low in calories, and ounce for ounce, no more expensive than chicken, beef or pork.
Shrimp should be cooked until the meat is firm, the interior is opaque and white, and the exterior is pink. Shrimp and other crustaceans like lobster and crab turn pink on the outside because a pigment called astaxanthin is released when exposed to heat. This takes 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp and the cooking method. If you’re unsure if the shrimp is cooked, check the internal temperature – it should be 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
Test the shrimp after 3 minutes by slicing one in half. You can cook the shrimp longer, if necessary, but you can’t uncook it if it’s overdone. Remember that the shrimp remaining in your recipe will continue to cook while you test for doneness, so work quickly.
Undercooked shrimp texture is soft and chewy. Overcooked shrimp are tough and rubbery.
Fresh shrimp should be displayed on ice at the seafood counter in the supermarket, and they should have very little odor.
Store fresh shrimp in the fridge for up to two days before cooking. Frozen shrimp will keep indefinitely, but the flavor and texture will begin to deteriorate after three to six months. Thaw frozen shrimp in the refrigerator. If you’re pressed for time, you can thaw it in an airtight bag in cool water. In a real pinch, defrost shrimp in the microwave on the defrost setting as long as you cook it immediately after thawing.
Wash your hands, cutting board, utensils and countertops with warm, soapy water before and after handling shrimp. Don’t put cooked shrimp on a plate that has been used for raw shrimp without washing it first.
Fresh Shrimp vs. Frozen Shrimp
Almost all of the fresh shrimp you find at a seafood shop or in the supermarket will have the shell on. You can cook the shrimp peeled or unpeeled. Uncooked frozen shrimp usually has the tail on, if not the entire shell.
Peel cooked or uncooked shrimp by pulling off the legs; then sliding a fingertip under the shell. The shell should come off in one piece. Or, grab the tail with one hand and the upper part of the shrimp with the other. Tug gently on the tail. The shell should come off in one piece.
The dark sand vein that runs down the back of a fresh shrimp may be present – it’s hard to miss. Remove it with the tip of a sharp knife.
If you find fresh shrimp with the heads on, they can be cooked with and without their heads. To remove the head, hold the shrimp firmly just below the head and twist off the head. Save the heads for seafood stock.
Shrimp Recipe Ideas
- Easy shrimp scampi: Melt a couple of tablespoons of butter in a skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil. Add chopped garlic to taste and cook for a minute or two. Add peeled, uncooked shrimp and cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the shrimp turn pink. Stir in chopped parsley and a splash of lemon juice; serve with pasta.
- Boiled shrimp: Add your favorite seasonings like garlic salt, onion powder and cayenne or a commercial seasoning blend like Old Bay or Zatarain’s to a large pot of water. Bring to a boil and add peeled or unpeeled fresh shrimp. When the water returns to a boil, cover the pot and remove from heat. Let the shrimp cook in the warm water for about 5 minutes.
- Shrimp and grits: Cook grits according to package directions. When the grits are done, stir in shredded cheese. While the grits are cooking, season raw shrimp with salt and pepper and saute it, stirring all the while, until the shrimp are cooked through. Ladle grits into a bowl and top with cooked shrimp.
Native New Yorker Meg Jernigan stayed in Washington, D.C. after attending the George Washington University, and worked in the tourism industry with the National Park Service for many years. She’s a dedicated foodie with an extensive cookbook collection and years of experience in the kitchen. Jernigan’s recipes have been published online and in magazines like Southern Living.