Phil, of Stone Soup fame, has been looking for healthy and quick alternatives to chicken. He asked me to show him how to cook with shrimp, so we did a quick lesson yesterday. Here are the highlights:
Shrimp are Nutritious
- High in Omega-3 fatty acids (which have been found to have protective effects against heart disease, stroke and diabetes.)
- High in protein – 18 grams in only 3 ounces of shrimp.
- Low in fat and sodium with no carbohydrates (if cooked in water with no fat.)
How are shrimp sold?
- Shrimp is either farm-raised or wild caught.
- Whether it is farm-raised or wild caught, it can be sold frozen, previously frozen (thawed when you buy it, but frozen at an earlier time), or fresh, i.e. never frozen.
- Shrimp is sold by weight and size. In other words, if you buy it at a fish counter or store, you can generally order as many ounces or pounds as you want. Shrimp are graded by their size and often labeled as “medium” “large”, “jumbo”, “colossal” etc. But like Starbuck’s coffee and olives, the size names are a bit deceiving if the smallest size is medium or large. The best way to judge size is to look at the label that indicates the number of shrimp to the pound – the more shrimp to the pound, the smaller the shrimp.
Shrimp are easy and quick to cook
- Shrimp cooks in under 5 minutes when boiled in water, beer, or a broth.
- Shrimp fries (in a pan or in a wok) in just a few minutes, and requires little oil. Good quality shrimp quickly fried with a bit of kosher salt and pepper are delicious.
- Removing the tail and shell before cooking fresh or frozen uncooked shrimp is straightforward. You can clip off the shrimp tail by pressing it between your thumb and second fingers. Then, to shell the shrimp, simply turn it with the legs facing up, pull them apart in the middle with your thumbs and peel the shell toward the back. Often the shell and legs will come off in a single piece, but even if they don’t it won’t take more than a couple of motions to remove the entire casing. Occasionally, you’ll find a small, dark vein at the back of the shrimp, which you can lift out by starting with the point of a sharp knife, then pulling it out. (Not surprisingly, that is called “deveining the shrimp.”) Some recipes call for leaving the tail on during cooking and simply shelling the shrimp beforehand and others call for cooking shrimp in the shell, requiring the diner to shell the shrimp him or herself before eating.
- To boil, simply bring water, beer and spices or a quick vegetable broth to a rolling boil, add the shrimp, lower the heat and cook at a low boil/simmer for a few (usually 2-5 ) minutes until the shrimp has turned bright pink.
Shrimp are versatile.
- They are great as an appetizer, dipped in sauce.
- Shrimp stir-fries are fabulous as are other main course shrimp dishes.
- They also work well in one-dish meals, such as salads, pasta (with sautéed onions and red pepper, fresh spinach or arugula, and spices such as cayenne pepper/red pepper flakes, with a spoonful or 2 of the water in which the shrimp was boiled.) and fried rice.
The Taste Test
The Shrimp Varieties We Tasted
Phil and I had 3 types of shrimp, so we decided to see how they matched up:
- frozen, cooked shrimp from Trader Joe’s ($11.99 per pound),
- frozen, raw shrimp from Whole Foods ($9.99 per pound), and
- fresh (never frozen), raw shrimp from Whole Foods ($14.99 per pound.)
We defrosted the cooked, frozen shrimp according to the Trader Joe’s directions, thawing it under room temperature running water then refrigerating it for a couple of hours, even though the FDA and directions for other cooked frozen shrimp I’ve used have recommended overnight thawing in the refrigerator. We cooked both of the Whole Foods shrimp by boiling them in plain water so that we could taste only the shrimp, even though if we had been cooking them for a meal, we would have boiled them in a vegetable or beer, broth with spices and fresh lemon juice.
The frozen, cooked shrimp from Trader Joe’s were almost tasteless and rather water logged. Neither of us thought they were worth eating. The frozen, raw and fresh, raw shrimp from Whole Foods were both good. I thought the fresh shrimp had slightly better texture, but both had a pleasing, “shrimp-as-it-ought-to-taste” flavor. Whether a modest improvement in texture is worth 50% more ($14.99 vs. $9.99 per pound) depends on what you are using the shrimp for, and your pocketbook.
After all, if you’re just using the shrimp as a cocktail sauce delivery vehicle, maybe the extra few dollars are better spent on good beer?