How To Prepare Fresh Shrimp: Cooking Tips & Ideas

How To Prepare Fresh Shrimp: Cooking Tips & Ideas
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With bags of frozen shrimp readily available at the grocery store, knowing how to prepare fresh shrimp is somewhat of a dying art. Choose fresh shrimp whenever possible, as the freezing and thawing process quite often changes the texture of the meat.

Many of the 300 species of shrimp look like miniature versions of their close cousin, the lobster. Shrimp is a healthy source of protein that is low in calories and saturated fats, and rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and DHA. A 4-ounce serving of shrimp contains 112 calories, 11 calories from fat with only 3 calories from saturated fats, and over 23 g of protein.

Selecting Fresh Shrimp

Fresh shrimp has a very short shelf life, generally only a few days if kept in the refrigerator, and should be eaten no more than 24 hours after purchase. If frozen, fresh shrimp can last up to several weeks.

Smell the shrimp before purchasing. Fresh shrimp should smell like the sea, without any fish or ammonia aroma. The meat should be translucent with no black spots or pink meat.

How To Prepare

Although there are four basic preps involved with fresh shrimp, only one is mandatory–most of the time.


If you look closely at your shrimp, you will see a dark line running down its back. What is normally called the vein is actually the shrimp’s digestive tract. The question of whether or not to devein the shrimp before cooking depends on the shrimp’s size, but is normally recommended for medium-sized shrimp (41 to 50 shrimp per pound) and larger. Use a sharp knife or devening tool to make a 1/8-inch incision down the back of the shrimp, pull the vein out and discard.

Photo: Flickr-Laurel Fan

Removing the Head

Shrimp is normally served without the head, although there are a few instances, such as jambalaya made with shrimp, where you may choose to leave the head on for aesthetic purposes. To remove the head, grasp the body of the shrimp with one hand, and pinch the head with the other hand. Make a quick twisting motion and pull the head off. Rinse the shrimp and/or wipe with a soft towel to remove any innards that may be left.

Removing the Tail

The tail of the shrimp should be removed for most cooking preparations, unless the shrimp is to be served cold as a finger food. To remove the tail, hold the body of the shrimp with one hand. Pull the tail from its base with the other hand until the tail comes away from the shrimp.

Removing the Shell

In most cases, the shell of the shrimp should be removed before serving. Exceptions to the rule are when grilling or broiling the shrimp, as the shell acts as a barrier that helps keep the shrimp from drying out, or when you are serving very small shrimp where shelling each piece may not be feasible. To remove the shell, hold the body of the shrimp with one hand, and use the other hand to grasp the legs and pull them from the shrimp. Then simply peel the shell off.


There are several methods that you can use to cook fresh shrimp, including boiling, grilling, deep frying or sauteeing. You can also chop up the raw meat of the shrimp and combine with other ingredients to make a filling for shrimp eggrolls, ravioli or dumplings. The total cooking time depends on the size of the shrimp, but in all cases, the shrimp are fully cooked when they turn pink and are no longer translucent.

Boiling Shrimp

Bring one quart of water per pound of shrimp to a rolling boil. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of kosher salt or sea salt to the water. Add the shrimp to the pot, cover and let the water return to a low simmer. Remove the cover and cook until the shrimp has turned pink and is opaque in the middle. Larger shrimp may take 7 to 8 minutes, while small shrimp may take only 3 to 4 minutes. When fully cooked, immerse the shrimp in an ice bath or cold water to immediately stop the cooking process.

Photo: Flickr-FotoosVanRobin

Grilling/Broiling Shrimp

Place the shrimp on a broiler pan, on skewers or special grill pan. Spray very lightly with olive oil, if desired and if the shrimp are not in their shell, and sprinkle with seasonings of your choice. Place under the broiler or on a hot grill for 3 to 4 minutes, turning once.

Deep Frying Shrimp

Remove the head, tail and shell from the shrimp. Preheat a deep fryer or saucepan filled with oil to 375 degrees F. While the oil is heating, dip the shrimp into the breading or batter of your choice. Refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes. When the oil is hot, place a few of the shrimp in the oil. Do not overcrowd the pan as too many shrimp will bring down the temperature of the oil, causing the shrimp to become greasy and soggy. Fry the shrimp for 4 to 5 minutes, depending on the size, or until the shrimp are pink and the meat is opaque. Place on a rack or paper towels to drain.

Sauteeing Shrimp

To saute shrimp, place in a hot pan coated with a few tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with seasonings. Saute, flipping the shrimp occasionally, until the shrimp are cooked, roughly 4 to 5 minutes (depending on the size of the shrimp).


Shrimp are very versatile, and pair with many flavor profiles. They complement most Asian and tropical flavors, like coconut, well. Citrus pairs well with shrimp as well. If boiling, add a few lemons or limes cut in half to the water to give them the essence of the fruit, or squeeze fresh citrus juice over the cooked shrimp.They pair surprisingly well with Italian flavors, including light tomato sauces. Shrimp also fare well with spicy flavors, including some barbecue sauces.Avoid serving shrimp with any type of cheese, as it tends to overpower the shrimp’s light taste.

Try shrimp in your next stir-fry, add it to a cold green salad or serve it cold with a variety of dipping sauces.


The World’s Healthiest Foods: Shrimp

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Image Credits

Image 1: Courtesy of Flickr - stevendepolo

Image 2: Courtesy of Flickr - Laurel Fan

Image 3: Courtesy of Flickr - FotoosVanRobin