A Guide to Shrimp
shrimp - a great Southern food
I'm a southerner who absolutely loves shrimp - grilled shrimp, fried shrimp, and boiled shrimp. Yes, shrimp is a Southern food. In fact, the modern shrimping industry was born in North Florida. Living near both the Georgia and Florida coasts, I’ve learned a thing or two about shrimp. For one thing, these little critters are probably the most popular type of seafood in the U.S. Also, about 95% of American shrimp are harvested off the Southern Atlantic and Gulf states, as wild-caught shrimp.
In the last few years, raising shrimp as part of aquaculture operations has also become popular in some areas, and the farm-raised shrimp are similar – but not quite as good – as wild shrimp. For one thing, wild shrimp eat a different diet, made up of seaweed and animal matter, which gives them a better flavor. And since the wild shrimp get more exercise, their meat is generally firmer.
Shrimp are low in fat and great sources of tryptophan, vitamin D, vitamin B12, protein, iodine, selenium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, copper, vitamin B3, and omega-3 fatty acids. Some consumers worry about the cholesterol in shrimp, but studies found that eating shrimp raises good cholesterol more than it does bad cholesterol. The study also found that eating shrimp regularly can decrease triglycerides.
What type of shrimp should you buy? Different species of shrimp taste slightly different, but the most important aspect is freshness. Always choose the freshest variety available. Below, you’ll find a guide to different shrimp species.
White shrimp can reach a length of eight inches. They have light grey bodies, green tails, and a yellow band on the abdomen. They also have very long antenna and a long horn. White shrimp are caught mostly in the fall months. These shrimp have a mild, sweet flavor. One thing I like about white shrimp is that it's easy to tell if they/ve become discolored because they're not fresh.
Whites can be boiled, steamed, baked, grilled, fried, sauteed, stuffed, or used in casseroles. They're my favorite shrimp to use with tomato-based sauces, like in shrimp Creole.
Brown shrimp are brown or olive-green. Their horn has small notches or teeth. Brown shrimp can reach a length of nine inches. Many shrimp connoisseurs feel that this shrimp species has a sweeter, more pronounced flavor than most other popular commercial shrimp.
The browns are good fried, grilled, stuffed, sauteed, and in stir-fries, but my favorite way to eat this variety is steamed or boiled because of their distinct flavor.
Pink shrimp have a pink hue and a dark abdominal spot on each side, between the third and fourth segment. The tail flippers usually have a dark blue band. Pink shrimp usually have a clean, ocean-like taste.
Pink shrimp can be prepared any way, but in my opinion, they're the best for frying of all the shrimp varieties.
Tiger shrimp are also called “black tiger shrimp” and “tiger prawns.” Most are captured in Asian or African waters, or they’re farmed. These shrimp are easy to identify because of the black bars or stripes across their back. Tiger shrimp have a very mild flavor and firm meat.
Tigers are excellent for grilled shrimp recipes and for steaming, but many people don't like them fried.
Freshwater shrimp are grown in aquaculture ponds across the U.S. They’re not as firm as other popular shrimp species, and from my experience, they don’t have much flavor. They do absorb other flavors well, however, so keep this in mind when cooking them.
I've tried these shrimp boiled, but they were almost tasteless. I've had much better results frying them and using them in grilled shrimp dishes.
Rock shrimp have a very hard exoskeleton. They have a firm texture and taste like a combination of shrimp and lobster. They require extra prep time, but they’re worth the trouble!
Rock shrimp are best broiled or grilled, with lime and butter.
Sizes of Shrimp
Shrimp size is determined by how many individual shrimp it takes to make one pound. The following guidelines are generally followed in the U.S.:
10 or less shrimp to the pound – colossal
11-15 – jumbo
16-20 – extra large
21-30 – large
31-35 – medium
36-45 – small
46-100 – salad or miniature
How and Where to Buy Shrimp
Shrimp can be purchased fresh, with or without the heads. They can also be purchased frozen – cooked, shelled, and deveined; raw, shelled, and deveined; cooked in the shell; and raw in the shell.
Shrimp flesh deteriorates quickly, so it’s important to handle the shrimp in a timely manner. When buying fresh shrimp, use your senses. They should feel firm and not “mushy.” They should smell like the sea and not like ammonia. Unless you’re buying pink shrimp, raw shrimp should never be pink. Also, the eyes should be prominent and the shells glossy.
You can almost always buy "fresh" shrimp at your local seafood market and at many grocery stores. But how fresh are they? How far are you from where they're caught? I try whenever possible to buy shrimp straight from the shrimp boats or from individual shrimpers who have roadside stands near coastal waters. These are the freshest - and often the cheapest - shrimp you'll find. We usually fill up our coolers whenever we make a trip to the coast.
For those unfortunate readers who live far from the ocean, this isn't a luxury you can enjoy, except for perhaps when you're on vacation. You might be better off to purchase shrimp that have been flash frozen instead of trying to buy shrimp that are supposedly fresh.
If you're interested in catching your own shrimp, read the article below entitled "Beach Seining."
When to Buy Shrimp
Shrimp season opens in the spring, but there’s no set annual date. The opening of the shrimping season is determined each year by governmental agencies after researching the shrimp population of a given area.
If you’re interested in purchasing fresh American shrimp, take advantage of the supply-and-demand rule. White shrimp are most abundant in the fall. Brown shrimp are usually most abundant from June until October. Pink shrimp are most abundant in the winter and early spring.
Tiger shrimp and farm-raised freshwater shrimp are available year round.
How to Store Shrimp
Get your shrimp from the market to your refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible. If you have a long trip home, ask that the shrimp be placed in a bag with ice. Once you’re home, rinse fresh shrimp under cold running water and place in a bowl of ice. Store in the refrigerator for up to two days.
I’ve had very good luck freezing fresh shrimp. Remove the heads first, then rinse the shrimp and drop them into a gallon milk jug. Fill the jug with water and freeze. The shrimp will retain their flavor and texture better if they’re frozen in the shell. Use frozen shrimp within six months for the best results.
Lean to clean and devein shrimp by watching the following video.
For some wonderful shrimp recipes, click the links below the video!
How to clean shrimp
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