What Are Rock Shrimp?

rock shrimp with garnish

Peggy Trowbridge Filippone

Rock shrimp (Sicyonia brevirostris) have a hard, spiny shell more like some lobsters rather than their shrimp cousins. They also have a texture and flavor like lobster.

Where Does the Name Come From?

Rock shrimp get their moniker from their shell which is "hard as a rock." They live and spawn in warm deep waters, 120 to 240 feet below the surface. Until machines were invented to process them, rock shrimp were popular only with avid fishermen and divers because getting to the meat through the hard shell was such a chore.

Commercially Available Rock Shrimp

Today, rock shrimp are readily available, both fresh and frozen, head on or off, split and deveined. While rock shrimp do not grow as large as their shrimp cousins, they are sorted and sold in the same way. They are sold by count, meaning the number of shrimp it takes to weigh in at 1 pound. The largest commercially available rock shrimp are 21 to 25 to the pound and are about 2 inches in length (although some have been found measuring up to 6 inches).

How to Handle Unpeeled Rock Shrimp

If you buy whole or headless unpeeled rock shrimp, the easiest way to split the hard shell is to use kitchen shears to cut through the exoskeleton. If you are brave, you can use a heavy, sharp knife. However, the knife can easily slip and cause injury.

How to Cook Rock Shrimp

Rock shrimp have a sweet flavor, much like spiny lobster. Keep in mind that rock shrimp cook faster than shrimp, so keep an eye on them. Rock shrimp may be substituted easily for shrimp in most recipes. Storage instructions are the same as for shrimp. Here's how to cook them:

  • To boil, add to boiling water, stir, and remove after 35 seconds. Immediately rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.
  • Split rock shrimp can be broiled about 2 minutes until the flesh turns opaque.
  • For sautéeing purposes, the shell is usually removed before cooking. If you overcook it, the flesh becomes tough and chewy.