Rock shrimp have a hard-as-a-rock shell (which explains their name) and the flavor and texture of a lobster. Find out more about this tasty little crustacean and why it is worth battling the shell to get to the meat inside.
What Are Rock Shrimp?
Rock shrimp (Sicyonia brevirostris) live and spawn in warm deep waters, 120 to 240 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, from Florida down to the Gulf of Mexico, Cuba, and the Bahamas. Though there is some debate about whether they are actually shrimp or prawns, rock shrimp are on the smaller side, typically 2 to 3 inches long and about 21 to 25 to a pound.
Until machines were invented to process them, rock shrimp were popular only with fishermen because getting to the meat through the hard shell was so laborious.
How to Cook Rock Shrimp
If you buy whole or headless unpeeled rock shrimp, it is best to peel them before cooking. The easiest way to split the hard shell is to use kitchen shears to cut through the exoskeleton. Then remove the vein, if necessary. (Rock shrimp can often be purchased already shell-split or peeled and deveined.)
From there, you can cook them just as you would most any other shrimp: boiled, steamed, sautéed, fried, or grilled. Just keep in mind that rock shrimp tends to cook faster than other shrimp, and you want their succulent texture, so be careful not to overcook them.
What Do Rock Shrimp Taste Like?
Rock shrimp have a sweet, briny flavor similar to Dungeness crab and a soft yet resilient texture like that of a spiny lobster, all packed into a curled shrimp body.
Rock Shrimp vs. Spiny Lobster
Spiny lobsters are a good comparison for rock shrimp. If you were to split a rock shrimp's shell and broil it with butter, it would closely resemble broiled lobster tail in miniature, and the rich taste would not be too far off either. Spiny lobsters are also more comparable to rock shrimp because, unlike Maine lobster, they do not have large edible claws, so it is tail to tail. The differences have more to do with size and habitat: Rock shrimp are relatively small while spiny lobsters are much larger. And whereas spiny lobsters are West Coast creatures, from Baja California up the entire coast to Alaska (as well as the Sea of Japan, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean), rock shrimp live in East Coast waters.
Rock Shrimp Recipes
Rock shrimp are easily adaptable to almost any recipe for shrimp or lobster. They do particularly well with grilling, roasting, steaming, and broiling, and would also be a great addition to a shellfish stew or a paella.
Where to Buy Rock Shrimp
Rock shrimp are readily available, fresh and frozen, head on or off, shell on, or pre-split and deveined. They are usually sold by count, meaning the number of shrimp (head on) it takes to weigh in at 1 pound.
The best place to buy rock shrimp is at a good seafood market (or fish section of a supermarket) with high turnover or an online site specializing in shellfish.
Storing Rock Shrimp
Fresh (or previously frozen and thawed) shrimp should be cleaned, cooked, and consumed within a day or two at most. Fresh cleaned raw shrimp can be placed in airtight plastic bags and kept in the freezer for up to six months. Heads must be removed, and it is also easier to freeze and thaw shrimp without the shell. If the shrimp have been previously frozen and thawed, it is preferable not to freeze them again, as it could have a negative effect on the texture.