Sweet, succulent, and slightly briny, shrimp is America's favorite seafood. Delicious cooked all kinds of ways—poached in shrimp cocktail, battered and deep fried, sautéed, broiled, and grilled—this crustacean is quick-cooking and incredibly versatile. White shrimp and tiger shrimp are two widely available varieties. Size ranges from smaller than a pinky to colossal, which can be as big as a hand. Because adjectives that describe the size, like "jumbo" or "large," aren't used consistently, a better way to buy shrimp is by the "count," a pair of numbers divided by a slash, which refers to the number of shrimp in a pound. For instance, shrimp labeled "21/25" means 21 to 25 shrimp in one pound.
1 pound of raw shrimp = Â½ to Â¾ pound cooked meat
The best shrimp are flash frozen in blocks of water like giant ice cubes within hours of pulling in the net. It's sold in 4- to 5-lb. blocks. Look for jumbo 16 to 20 count shrimp, which means that there are 16 to 20 shrimp in a pound (in general, the lower the number of shrimp per pound, the larger the shrimp). Your next best bet is buying frozen unpeeled shrimp in a bag and thawing it yourself. Most likely, this shrimp has been individually quick frozen (IQF) and is just as fresh as the ice-block shrimp, just not as protected from freezer burn. So check for excessive ice crystals. If buying "fresh" shrimp (in almost all cases, the shrimp was previously frozen), look for firm meat and a pleasant odor.
To thaw: Let frozen shrimp thaw overnight in the fridge, or for faster thawing, take the shrimp out of its package, put it in a bowl of cold water, and let a trickle of cold water run into the bowl while excess water goes down the drain. The shrimp should be ready to cook in about 15 minutes. The vein in shrimp won't hurt you, but it's sometimes unsightly and a bit gritty.
To devein: Many shrimp these days are sold as "EZ Peel," which means the meat and shell have been slit down the back, and sometimes the black "vein" (really the intestine) running through the shrimp has been removed. If the vein is still intact, it's easy to remove yourself: just use the tip of a paring knife to lift the vein out of the shrimp, and wipe it on a paper towel. You can also rinse it out under cold running water.
To devein shrimp in the shell: This is an alternate deveining method for when you're cooking the shrimp in its shell. Bend the shrimp so the shell sections nearest the tail separate, exposing the flesh. Insert a wooden skewer into the shrimp, digging in deeply enough to get under the vein. Lever the skewer to begin pulling the vein from the shrimp. If you’re lucky, you’ll get it on the first or second try. Once it pulls out completely, pinch off the end to separate it from the tail.
If the vein breaks at the first tail section, try the next one. Sometimes you can pull out just enough to grasp and finish the job with your fingertips before the vein break.
Don't freeze shrimp that you buy fresh at the grocery store; it's likely already been frozen and thawed once, and refreezing will hurt quality. Use fresh shrimp within a day or two of buying. For longer-term storage, buy frozen shrimp and defrost it as needed.
Keep shrimp frozen until ready to use; thaw under cold running water. Store thawed shrimp in the refrigerator in a loosely closed plastic bag on a bed of ice in a large bowl or dish with sides. Refresh ice as it melts, and use within a day.