A while back, when I was under the weather, my husband actually went to the grocery store for me. I can count on one hand how many times he’s gone in the last 32 years, so I felt pretty honored by his effort.

My list was pretty short, but it included shrimp. I had been craving shrimp and doing something spicy with it. Hey – nothing stops me from eating.

But to make it easy, I had my husband pick up – wait for it – frozen, cooked shrimp. Trust me, this was a first.

Now, I know that working with raw shrimp is the far superior way to enjoy them, even though it includes some tedious peeling and cleaning, but I don’t really mind the process. I have noticed on blogs, however, that some people forego the preparation of shrimp, and opt for pre-cooked. Maybe not frozen pre-cooked, but pre-cooked nonetheless. It’s always surprised me, because good cooks who have cooking blogs should follow the adage of always using the highest quality ingredients. This means using the freshest raw shrimp that is available to you.

Let me just say that I couldn’t eat the shrimp my husband brought home. It wasn’t his fault – he bought what I asked for. I thawed them, rinsed them, and patted them dry, and yet they remained water-logged and tasteless. They had really lost any shrimp texture as well. So much for my plan. But I did learn a lesson that I knew anyway.

The shrimp I can get raw might have already been frozen once after being fished out of the Gulf of Mexico, but I’ve never had any issues with the quality. And I’ve always been happy with the results – nicely textured shrimp with good flavor.

I have friends who’ve never cleaned shrimp, but then, they don’t really cook either. But I thought I’d give a little primer on cleaning shrimp to help out those who’ve never done this prep work before. I can now say with 100% assurance that this is the only way to go. Experienced home cooks won’t need this information, of course.

How to Clean Shrimp

Start with 1 pound of the freshest shrimp you can get. Mine were medium-sized, because they look the best. I personally don’t like the really large Tiger shrimp that are available where I live, nor do I want to mess with the smaller sized shrimp.

Place them in a colander and give them a good rinse.

To begin peeling the shrimp, hold one in one hand – I’m right handed so I used my left – and pull off all of the legs on the underneath side of the shrimp.

Then starting where the legs were, begin removing the peel around the fatter shrimp end.

Then remove the remaining half of the shell surrounding the smaller shrimp end.

But you’re not done. There’s still the tail to contend with, and there’s shrimp meat in there. Carefully pull on the shrimp’s tail with one hand while gently pulling on the shrimp body with the other. The tail meat will come out.

See the lovely tail meat? You might as well get the whole shrimp body separated from the shells.

Holding the shrimp body with the back side facing (the opposite side from where the legs were), slice down the back of the shrimp about 1/4″ deep, from one end to the next. What is revealed is the shrimp’s intestine. And if you think about what’s in the intestine, well that’s why we want to remove it.

With the same small knife end, grab the intestine and remove it, pulling on it to get the whole length. Some shrimp will be dirtier than others, so just inspect the incision and make sure you got everything.

Place the shelled and cleaned shrimp back in the colander and give them another rinse. Then place them on paper towels or a clean dish cloth. If you’re going to be marinating or immediately grilling the shrimp, they need to drip dry. If you’re going to be poaching them, there’s no need.

Tomorrow I’ll post on poaching shrimp. It’s essentially a shrimp boil using your own herbs and spices. They’re good to eat as is, or to use in recipes. Stay tuned!

note: Some people like the tail left on the shrimp, but I don’t. If you prefer it that way, then just remove the main body peels and leave the rest on the tail. But still clean the shrimp as much as you can towards the tail end.

40 thoughts on “Shrimp

  1. I am totally with you here. I cannot, simply cannot stand the pre-cooked shrimp. The texture is rubbery, the taste is gone. No, there are shortcuts that should not be taken, and that is number one

    (great nail polish… I just bought a similar very dark one, haven’t tried it yet)

  2. Once I figured out fresh shrimp was better it is hard to go back to frozen! I’m with you on wondering why there are some food bloggers that don’t chose the fresh ingredients. Like boxed cake mixes. It’s more expensive and doesn’t save any time!

    • Well I’m with you on that. If you can’t afford the right ingredients, then don’t make the recipes. There were many years I couldn’t afford shrimp, but I never bought pre-cooked frozen. Standards. Thank you for your comment.

  3. I absolutely love shrimp but peeling them is one of my least favorite things! When you have a big dish it always seems like such a long and arduous task. However I do agree with you 100%, the frozen and pre-cooked shrimp just aren’t the same. Excellent tutorial and pictures to accompany, thanks :)

  4. I do include both frozen shrimp and cake mixes in my blog… sorry about that! I totally agree that fresh shrimp tastes waaay better but not every reader has the time or inclination to use fresh shrimp – esp. during the week. (Of course, they can always use fresh shrimp if they so choose.) As for cake mixes…. again…. not everyone wants to make a ‘from scratch’ cake even though it’s so quick and simple to do. Manymy most popular recipes are those that are what I call ‘Quick, Easy and Good’ because people today are often pressed for time. Thanks, Mimi, for the excellent info. and photos. I’m gonna have to ‘get me’ some fresh shrimp!!! ; o )

    • No apologies necessary. I’m certainly not telling you what to do. As busy as I’ve been in my life I always had very high standards for ingredients. If I couldn’t afford the quality, I didn’t buy it. It’s a lot about how I was raised.

      • And that’s why you are called CHEF Mimi!! Me – I’m a ‘cook’!! I was raised in the 50s and 60s – we ate a lot of fresh fruits and veggies but we ate a lot of canned veggies. (They also boiled veggies like broccoli TO DEATH in those days!!) Most of the people in town at that time, including my mom, would’ve never thought of using fresh herbs etc. It just wasn’t done. There’s so much more awareness now! For instance, freshly grated cheeses are soo much better. And dried parsley can’t hold a candle to fresh!! Me – I’m totally open to learning what’s best… and I doubt if I’ll be buying anymore frozen shrimp!! ; o )

      • I was born in 1956. The difference? A French mother!!! She never opened a can of anything!!! I never had fast food until after I left home, and I was so disgusted!!!

      • I NEVER would’ve thought you were born in 1956 – you look wonderful !! I love the idea that your mother’s French – I would’ve loved to have been your childhood friend ’cause I would’ve invited myself over to your house to eat!! (No wonder your mom still looks so very elegant!)

      • That’s very nice of you, but I wasn’t allowed to have friends over, because they made messes. So that wouldn’t have worked out at all! But food-wise, it was very unique, considering how most kids were raised in the 50’s and 60’s…

  5. Haha… I’ve sent my husband to the grocery store before, with very explicit descriptions written in a list (as in brand name, colour of the packet, where it is in the supermarket). Guaranteed, he will come home with something completely different. So frustrating. I’ve given up now! Good thing your husband actually bought what you wanted, despite the shrimp being a bit inedible. What a shame. I completely agree though, nothing compares to fresh!

  6. A lot of fresh frozen shrimp are now showing up in supermarkets described as ‘Easy Peel.’ These have been processed to split the shell down the back and remove the vein. They’re very easy to peel and the quality is just as good as regular frozen shrimp.

    When I shop for shrimp, I always ask the clerk if the shrimp in the display case were previously frozen. The answer is almost always ‘yes.’ I then ask to purchase some of the same shrimp that are still frozen, which must be retrieved from the freezer in the back. This saves the degradation of double freezing if I’m not planning to use them the same day.

    You can also purchase an inexpensive shrimp cleaning tool which makes the process a whole lot easier. Here is a link to one example:

    • Thank you for your comment! I’m sorry I’ve been on vacation, but I’m just now catching up. We just need to learn to delegate shrimp cleaning to somebody!!!

  7. Fresh shrimp every time. My husbands pretty good at going to the supermarket and getting the shopping as long as I give him a list. Thanks for sharing such a great recipe. Miles would give this one the thumbs up. Emma xx

  8. beautiful tutorial! I find peeling shrimp as therapeutic as kneading dough :) I wonder why shrimps are sold headless pretty much everywhere. I remember when I was living in Venezuela, we would get the whole thing. The heads make great stock.

  9. Great instructions. I’m surprised to see your shrimp have been decapitated. I never waste the opportunity to make a lovely rich stock when I have shells and heads. You don’t need many to make a litre of the best flavoured seafood stock ever.

    • I know. Maybe in bigger cities here in the US they’re not headless, but I don’t have a fish monger. Just a grocery store. No surprisingly, the shrimp I observed in France and even in London had their heads in tact. It’s a shame. I wonder what the US does with the shrimp heads?

  10. When I’m on the coast I can get fresh shrimp, but in my land-locked town here we have to make do with previously frozen. I have never bought pre-cooked frozen, I can imagine that was a disappointment for you. Nice tutorial!

  11. Years ago I lived outside St Louis. These guys I met would drive up from New Orleans once a week with with a truck full of shrimp that had been caught that morning. They would bring a couple dozen coolers stuffed with wonderful fresh shrimp. I would buy a five pound bag, take it home and clean it then and there. With practice I came up with a quick and easy procedure.

    1. Grab the legs and instead of pulling them off, pull them around the shrimp and most of the shell will come off in one quick movement.
    2. Grab the tail and squeeze slightly and the shrimp will easily pop out of the rest of the shell.
    3. Once all the shrimp are shelled, take a paring knife and remove the vein.

    There are times when you want to keep the shell on the shrimp. A guy at my local fish market showed me a trick. Take a toothpick or a thin skewer, and insert it into the shrimp in one of the tiny gaps in the shell. It should go in about an eighth of an inch from the back of the shrimp. Then just pull it up and the vein should come with it.

    I have thought about trying the frozen shrimp when I couldn’t get to the fish market. Thanks to you, I am not even going to try it. I live a few blocks from the beach in Florida. It would be a sin to buy bad seafood when we have so much of the good stuff readily available.

  12. Agree completely, Mimi. Another advantage of cleaning your own shrimp is that you can turn the shells and heads into wonderful shrimp stock.
    Much of the shrimp sold here is farmed in Southeast Asia and is not the same quality as wild caught. Shrimp is almost always frozen when it is caught, because like lobster it deteriorates quickly.
    I don’t like leaving the tail on either. It looks nice, but you can’t eat it.

  13. When you pick up shrimp with the tails intact at a party, you still get “fishy”, so I’d just rather spear one completely shell-less with a toothpick!!! Thanks for your comment, Stefan!

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