Shrimp come in a variety of sizes and types. Although there are more than 300 varieties of shrimp, the most popular types are the brown, pink, and white shrimp from the Atlantic ocean. These common names refer to the general color of the shrimp before cooking.
Tiger shrimp is also popular. It is so named for its dark stripes. In its raw state, it is not pink, but a bluish-white. When these shrimp are cooked, the color turns in color from pink to bright orange-red due to a chemical change brought on by heat. Once cooked, you may have a hard time distinguishing them from other varieties of shrimp.
Rock shrimp is also now becoming popular. They have a very rock-hard shell, hence the name. The flavor and texture is likened to spiny lobster. Headless rock shrimp do look much like a miniature lobster, although the largest commercially-available variety is under 2 inches in length.
Shrimp are normally graded by size and count, meaning the average number of shrimp to make a pound weight. The higher the number, the smaller the shrimp. In some areas, jumbo shrimp are referred to as prawns, but the prawn is actually a completely different species in the lobster family.
Determining how much to buy will depend on the size, but generally, count on 1/3 to 1/2 pound (shelled) per person.
As a rule, the colder the water, the smaller and more succulent the shrimp.
Shrimp Count Sizes
- Shrimp per pound:
- 10 shrimp or less = Colossal
- 11 to 15 = Jumbo
- 16 to 20 = Extra-large
- 21 to 30 = Large
- 31 to 35 = Medium
- 36 to 45 = Small
- about 100 = Miniature
Shrimp is highly perishable. Select firm shrimp with a mild scent. If there is any hint of the aroma of ammonia, it is a sign the shrimp is way past its prime. Some may have spots, an indication of poor handling. Commercially-sold shrimp is defrosted, in which case the flesh will appear opaque. Truly fresh shrimp will have almost translucent flesh.
Do not confuse the term "fresh" with never-frozen. Truth be told, you probably will be unable to find never-frozen shrimp fresh from the ocean these days unless you have a shrimper friend or net it yourself. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Nowadays, shrimp is harvested, cleaned, and flash frozen on the boats before they ever reach the shore. This makes for a fresher product until it reaches the market.
Once it reaches the market, you are at the mercy of the handlers. If it goes right into the freezer, all is well. If you are buying from the seafood counter, there is no telling how long that shrimp has been defrosted, although icing it does help.
You are better off buying frozen shrimp and defrosting it yourself in the refrigerator. It does not take long to defrost.
Cooked shrimp can be stored in a sealed bag no more than 3 days in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Both cooked and raw shrimp may be frozen, but freezing raw preserves a better flavor. Raw shrimp can be frozen with shell or without but should have the heads removed. Raw frozen shrimp will last 6 months in the freezer while frozen cooked shrimp should be consumed within 2 months. Commercially-frozen raw shrimp will last longer in the freezer without deterioration since they are flash-frozen fresh with little handling.
Frozen cooked and uncooked shrimp should ideally be thawed in the refrigerator in advance of need. They can be added frozen to casseroles and baked dishes. If you need to quickly thaw, you may put the shrimp under cold water, not warm. Warm water will begin the cooking process.
Shrimp is also available canned. Canned baby shrimp are a nice addition as a salad garnish, but should be rinsed thoroughly before using and may require a bit of picking over depending on the grade.