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Size matters: How to choose and cook the best shrimp for you

Updated on December 3, 2012

Here is the scenario: You are hosting a party for someone and the guest of honor is a big fan of shrimp. So, you approach the seafood counter at your local grocery store and are overwhelmed at the many choices available to you. Remember, I said the person you want to please is a big fan

of shrimp, but you are not sure whether they are a fan of big shrimp! What to do?

With any luck, there will be a helpful sales associate behind the counter to guide you, but in the era of streamlining and efficiency, unfortunately many stores have eliminated this service. . However, I can give you some advice because I have been known to double as that helpful sales associate behind the counter.

Many different choices.

Shrimp are like people. They come in different sizes and colors and are from different parts of the world. In a grocery store it gets more complicated because you have some shrimp that are sold raw and some that are sold cooked. Even some of the raw ones look like they are cooked. This is because when a shrimp has been cooked, it usually is a bright red or orange color and shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico, for example, has an orange color to it.

Some are sold frozen and others are sold defrosted. Some stores even offer ready made shrimp platters.

Size matters

The first thing to know is what size would you like? Some shrimp are very tiny and others would only take a few to make a meal, and there are several sizes in between. A shrimp's size is expressed in numbers, but unlike shoe size, the higher number means the shrimp is smaller. The smallest shrimp that is commonly available is used in shrimp salads. These are the 250-350 count. That simply means the average number of those shrimp it takes to make a pound. 100-150s are also used for shrimp salad. (So basically, if the number is 100 or higher, it is mostly used for shrimp salads.) Shrimp from about 25 to 80 or 90 in size are most commonly used for steaming or boiling or cooking. These also account for most of the sales at the seafood counters I've worked. Sizes offered include 26-30, 31 or 36-40, 41-60, 51-70, 60-80 and 71-90.

I consider 26-30 and 31-40 a good mid-range in size and price. They are great for snacks or as a meal or in cooking. 60-80s are the smallest I would recommend for nibbling on, but they are also usually the least expensive of the shrimp. They are great if you don't mind peeling a lot of shrimp. If you want shrimp for grilling, butterflying or making an impressive display, I would recommend the larger sizes. 16-20 are great for grilling and there are even larger ones, with as few as 6-8 shrimp per pound. Some people will buy 2 or 3 of these and eat them for a meal. A standard serving size is usually defined as 1/4 pound RAW shimp. So if 4 people will be snacking, get one pound. If they are used for a meal, get more.

To cook or not to cook? That is the question.

The next question should be: Raw or cooked? That depends on what they will be used for. If you are using them as an ingredient in cooking, I suggest getting them raw. If they are already cooked, further cooking will make them tough or rubbery. However, if they will be served cold, as in a fancy platter or shrimp cocktail, I would get them cooked. If you want your shrimp to be hot when you eat it, get them raw. It is not difficult to cook shrimp. If you can heat soup or boil an egg, you can cook shrimp. Like other fish, shrimp cooks quickly. Depending on size and thickness, shrimp can be steamed or boiled in as little as 3-4 minutes for the smallest, thawed shrimp or as long as 8 minutes for the largest shrimp from a frozen state.

I suggest thawing the shrimp first by running the frozen shrimp under COLD running water or defrosting in a pan. Depending on size and how frozen they are, this could take up to 25 minutes. I do not advise microwaving them to defrost as this may start the cooking process and make them tough as noted above.

Another piece of advice people have told me is that if you choose to have the shrimp cooked at the store, you should not close the bag as the shrimp will continue cooking and get tough and rubbery.

Easy cooking instructions

To cook shrimp, bring a pan of water to a boil, and a little salt to the water, then put the shrimp into the boiling water or steamer basket. Boil or steam until they have a pink/orange color and no grey remains. Cook to an internal temperature of 165 F, using a meat thermometer in the center of 1-3 shrimp to test.

Because cooking times vary greatly based on size and how thoroughly shrimp are thawed, the meat thermometer is the most reliable way to determine doneness. Some shrimp may appear done but may only be cooked to 120F on the inside and that is not safe, so be careful.

When shrimp are done, dump shrimp into a strainer and add desired seasoning. I use Old Bay seasoning at about 1-2 tablespoons per pound of shrimp and stir it well.

Platters and presentation

If you have offered to provide someone with a shrimp platter for an affair, you can buy a ready made one which will certainly save you time and effort, or you can make it yourself which will save you money. To make a shrimp platter, simply get a large plate and a small bowl of cocktail sauce. After cooking shrimp or buying cooked shrimp, arrange the shrimp in a circle around the plate making the cocktail sauce bowl look like a bulls-eye. I would suggest not seasoning the shrimp. For extra color add lettuce leaves and lemon wedges.


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Shrimp are the best!

    • profile image

      Lauren C. Stine; Indianapolis, Indiana 

      9 years ago

      This was the MOST HELPFUL POST I have found YET on the subject of shrimp! Two thumbs up!!!

    • SimeyC profile image

      Simon Cook 

      10 years ago from NJ, USA

      Nice Hub - my wife is a huge fan of shrimp - she buys it raw and then cooks it - she wants to make sure it's cooked perfectly...


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