Shrimp Storage and Selection

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Raw Shrimp. © 2014 FoodPhotography Eising/Getty Images, licensed to About.com, Inc.

One of the most popular types of seafood, shrimp are delicious and used in a variety of food dishes. Whether you want to grill shrimp, toss them with pasta, stir-fry them, or just serve them as cocktail shrimp, a few tips on selecting and storing these crustaceans will ensure your meal turns out perfect.

Types of Shrimp

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. As a rule, the colder the water, the smaller and more succulent the shrimp.

Tiger shrimp is also popular and gets the name from its dark stripes. In its raw state, it is not pink, but a bluish-white. When these shrimp are cooked, the color turns 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 another type that's gaining notoriety. They get the name because of the very rock-hard shell and have a flavor and texture 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 Count Sizes

Shrimp are normally graded by size and count, meaning the average number of shrimp to make 1 pound. 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 of the shrimp. Generally, count on 1/3 pound to 1/2 pound of shelled shrimp per person.

The amount of shrimp you get per pound is determined by its size. These are the average shrimp counts you can expect in one pound:

  • Colossal: 10 shrimp or less
  • Jumbo: 11 to 15
  • Extra-Large: 16 to 20
  • Large: 21 to 30
  • Medium: 31 to 35
  • Small: 36 to 45
  • Miniature: about 100

Selecting Shrimp

Shrimp is highly perishable, so it needs to be handled with care from the time it's caught until it's cooked. It's sold fresh, frozen, and previously frozen. Which you choose will likely depend on where you live and when you intend to cook it.

The best shrimp are firm and have 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, which is 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 will probably not find never-frozen shrimp fresh from the ocean anymore unless you know a shrimper or net it yourself. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Nowadays, shrimp are 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.

Storage

Cooked shrimp can be stored in a sealed bag no more than three days in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Both cooked and raw shrimp may be frozen, but freezing it raw preserves a better flavor. Raw shrimp can be frozen with or without the shell and some are deveined but all should have the heads removed.

Raw frozen shrimp will last six months in the freezer while frozen cooked shrimp should be consumed within two 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. They can be added frozen to casseroles and baked dishes. If you need to quickly thaw shrimp, put them under cold water. Never use warm water as it will begin the cooking process.

Shrimp is also available canned. Canned baby shrimp are a nice addition as a salad garnish. They should be rinsed thoroughly before using and, depending on the grade, you may need to pick over them, discarding any that look off.