Shrimply Irresistible: How to Buy, Store, and Cook Shrimp
This nutrient-rich crustacean is the star ingredient in many wonderful dishes, from shrimp scampi to shrimp and grits. Put on your a-prawn and check out this handy guide to cooking shrimp.
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Garlic Butter Shrimp Pasta from Craving Tasty
Shrimp is a crustacean for celebration! It’s used in just about every type of dish, from pastas and risottos to tempura, stir-frys, and salads. It’s a popular ingredient on special occasions, and just as beloved on busy weeknights when 30 minutes is all the time you have to prepare dinner.
If your shrimp has been less than stellar, you may want to learn a few fine points. What should you look for when shopping at the grocery store? How do you clean shrimp? How do you know when it’s done cooking? How should you store the leftovers? The answers to these questions and many others are the key to a fabulous meal. Overcooked shrimp is chewy or dry; undercooked shrimp can be potentially dangerous. Since shrimp cooks very quickly, there's a fine line between poorly cooked and properly cooked. We're here to make sure you don't cross that line.
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How to buy shrimp
Here are a couple of tips to help you understand your options when you're at the market
Buying shrimp at the grocery store
Fresh vs. frozen
Most of us aren’t lucky enough to buy fresh shrimp from a fish market. Unless someone lives on the coast, frozen or thawed shrimp from the grocery store is what’s available — and frozen shrimp is not bad. It’s flash frozen (or IQF — individually quick-frozen) which preserves the integrity of the raw shrimp. However, some frozen shrimp has preservatives — steer clear of those. Shrimp should be the only ingredient listed on the package.
Ordering by size
For recipes, you may also want shrimp of particular sizes. At the seafood counter or on frozen packages, look for the number of shrimp per pound. For instance, you’ll see something like "16-20/lb." That just means you’ll get about 16 to 20 shrimp for every pound you buy rather than the size of the shrimp (i.e. “jumbo shrimp”).
How to tell when shrimp is bad
To avoid food poisoning and other health concerns, it’s important to be able to identify when shrimp is not safe to consume
Fresh-looking raw shrimp
Use your senses
Raw shrimp smell and appearance: When raw shrimp is fresh, it should have only a faint whiff of the ocean. A strong fishy smell is a warning sign. As for appearance, raw shrimp should look translucent and glossy. If the shrimp looks discolored or cloudy, you should toss the shrimp (or don't buy it to begin with at a seafood counter). Likewise, if the raw shrimp is slimy, it’s not worth the risk.
Cooked shrimp smell and appearance: If you’re trying to evaluate if your cooked shrimp is OK to consume, look for a fresh pink color and mild aroma without any off-putting smell.
How long is raw shrimp good for?
When you buy raw shrimp, refrigerate it as soon as you get home. Raw shrimp should be cooked within two days of purchase, or kept in the freezer to enjoy longer.
How long is cooked shrimp good for?
Cooked shrimp will safely keep a few days longer than raw shrimp. Still, you should eat cooked shrimp within 3-4 days, or freeze your leftovers immediately to prolong their life.
How to store shrimp
Once purchased, store fresh raw shrimp in the refrigerator for up to 2 days before cooking. The refrigerator’s thermometer should read 40°F or below for safe storage. If you do not plan to cook your shrimp within 2 days of purchase, wrap up the shrimp in plastic wrap or foil, place in a well-sealed zip-top bag, and store in the freezer.
How to prep shrimp before cooking
In addition to peeling and deveining shrimp, there are a couple of optional additional prep steps that can lend excellent flavor and texture to your shrimp. Learn more about your prep options here.
Deveined raw shrimp
How to safely thaw frozen shrimp
Like other raw meat, the safest way to thaw shrimp is to leave it in the refrigerator overnight.
How to peel shrimp
Raw shrimp is often sold peeled, but if not, you’ll need to do it yourself. Twist off the head, if it’s still on the shrimp. Then pull off the small legs, grasp the shells on the shrimp, and pull them off from the head end toward the tail. You can keep the tails on if you like that look, or take them off for easier eating.
How to devein shrimp
The grey or yellow vein that runs along the back edge of shrimp is its digestive tract, and it can be gritty, so you’ll want to remove it before cooking if you didn’t buy deveined shrimp. To remove the vein, lay a shrimp on its side, cut along the back with a paring knife about ⅛ inch deep to expose the vein, and pull out the vein with the tip of the knife.
Brining shrimp is an excellent way to enhance their flavor and help seal in moisture. Shrimp does, after all, live in salty seawater. The other option for maintaining the flavor of the shrimp is to cook them with the shells on, but that’s not ideal for every recipe.
Save the shells
Most of the time it’s best to peel and devein shrimp before it’s cooked. We are all for that, but we encourage you not to throw away the shells. Instead, they can be poached in a liquid (water and white wine, for instance) to make a stock or sauce. The shells hold a lot of flavor that we don’t want you to miss out on, so when you’re peeling your shrimp, keep sauce possibilities in mind. Save the shells!
Toss in baking soda
Tossing the raw shrimp in a little baking soda before cooking gives the shrimp a firm, snappy texture — Serious Eats evangelizes this method, but if you want to know why this is practiced in Chinese restaurants, Rasa Malaysia has an excellent explanation on why this works.
Shrimp cooking methods
Shrimp is a versatile protein, handling multiple different kinds of cooking methods like a champ!
Skewered shrimp cooking on the grill
If you’re boiling shrimp for something like shrimp cocktail, bring your water to a boil before adding the shrimp. Once you add the shrimp, watch the pot and just before it returns to a boil, take it off the heat. As soon as the shrimp are pink, remove them and plunge them in ice water.
Poaching or braising
Sometimes a dish calls for adding the raw shrimp to a hot liquid as part of the preparation. This is the case with shrimp étouffée, where you're really just lightly poaching (or braising) the little guys. In this case and in the case of soups and stews (shrimp gumbo or shrimp bisque), add the shrimp at the very end of cooking and remove the soup from the heat. The shrimp will reach its optimal temperature by cooking in the residual heat of the soup or broth you've put it into; this reduces the risk of overcooking the shrimp.
If you're grilling shrimp, the easiest way is to skewer them separately from other meats and vegetables you're cooking. This way they're easy to turn on the grill and you also don't run the risk of overcooking them, since the cooking times for each item likely vary greatly. You don't want undercooked mushrooms with your overcooked shrimp. It’s a bummer and workarounds are a lot of … work. Skewered shrimp on the grill are easy. They only take about 2 minutes to cook on each side.
If you’re sautéing shrimp to top pasta or a salad, it’s best to cook the shrimp over medium-high heat for about 1 minute to 1 ½ minutes before taking it off the heat to let it finish cooking on its own. That's known as carryover cooking — when the item continues to cook after it's removed from heat. For this method, just make sure not to overcrowd the pan.
If you’re stir-frying shrimp with vegetables, the shrimp should go in last when the vegetables are very hot so they can help cook the shrimp — the shrimp should be done in 1 to 2 minutes.
How to tell when shrimp is done cooking
While there are a number of ways to cook shrimp, doneness indicators remain the same. Here are several ways for determining if shrimp is properly cooked.
Perfectly cooked shrimp scampi
The internal temperature of fully cooked shrimp is 120°F. That is really just for reference — few home cooks will be using a thermometer on these tiny decapods and it’s really not necessary, either. But issues of shrimp doneness can be a bit confusing. While it's safe to eat raw shrimp that is sushi grade, undercooked shrimp may not be safe to eat because at its fully cooked state, it's technically within the USDA's definition of "temperature danger zone." That's between 40°F and 140°F when bacteria grows the fastest. It's unlikely you'll come across this, but it's good to make a mental note of it.
Raw shrimp is a translucent gray (raw frozen shrimp is gray as well). When it’s cooked, it should be an opaque white with some pink and bright red accents. This is the best indicator of whether or not shrimp is fully cooked. If the shrimp is still gray or translucent, cook it a little longer.
Shape (not a great doneness indicator)
When shrimp cooks, the muscle contracts, so the shrimp shrinks and curls. Some cooks say it’s perfectly cooked when it reaches a C-shape and it’s overcooked if it continues to curl to an O-shape, but you’ll find that almost all shrimp — even shrimp cooked by the best chefs — yields an O-shape, so it is not the best indicator of overcooked shrimp. All that said, it is safe to eat overcooked shrimp.
Shrimp sides and appetizers
From salads to finger foods, shrimp makes a great first course
This easy appetizer is made by poaching jumbo, shell-on shrimp for exactly 3 1/2 minutes and then shocking them in an ice bath to stop the cooking immediately. Serve on crushed ice alongside a delicious tomato-based dipping sauce that features horseradish and lemon. and serving them with a tomato-based dipping sauce. This timeless appetizer is perfect for any occasion, but makes an especially great side dish at a dinner party.
Delectable coconut shrimp doesn't have to be unhealthy and fried. This air fryer recipe allows you to enjoy a classic shrimp favorite that’s on the lighter side.
The flavors of old bay seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, and shrimp pair delightfully with sweet pineapple, making it a surefire summer treat.
With just four ingredients, this recipe is a no-brainer. Fire up the grill outside, or just use a grill pan for easy weeknight prep.
For many sushi aficionados, ordering tempura is as much a tradition as the spicy tuna roll. This copycat recipe for shrimp tempura allows you to make the beloved Japanese restaurant staple in your own kitchen. Flour, cornstarch, and club soda are the not-so-secret ingredients in this at-home tempura batter.
If you set up your workstation right, this recipe comes together fast. Seasoned shrimp gets dunked in a bowl of flour, then a bowl of beaten egg, then a bowl of panko bread crumbs. Once dropped into the fryer, they fry up fast and you'll be eating perfectly crunchy fried shrimp appetizers.
Pasta dishes with shrimp
Seafood pastas are among the most beloved pasta dishes. Next time you’re craving a bowl of noodles, consider one of these shrimp pastas
It's a classic, made with a flavorful butter sauce, fresh garlic, Parmesan, and perfectly cooked shrimp. And while shrimp scampi itself is not technically a pasta dish, it’s included in this section because it’s so often served over angel hair pasta or linguine noodles!
Reminiscent of shrimp scampi, this recipe includes the noodles. There’s just something about garlic, butter, shrimp, and noodles that go so well together. This straightforward, simple pasta dish is full of flavor without burying the shrimp in sauce.
You’ll find fettuccine alfredo on many Italian restaurant menus. But this version takes the already indulgent, creamy pasta dish to the next level by featuring delicious shrimp.
Shrimp main dishes
Shrimp for dinner! Put one of these recipes on next week’s Meal Plan.
Fresh, simple flavors make this shrimp recipe a crowd pleaser. If you're having a Cajun- or Creole-themed party, this is a go-to!
Bring your vegetables to life with savory shrimp and bold flavors stir-fried in classic fried rice. A great dinner staple for the entire family!
This classic Southern dish is the ultimate comfort food. It’s also versatile, working equally well for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
This is an easy weeknight dinner that comes together in under 30 minutes, and is fun for the whole family. Kids and adults can build their own tacos, adding slaw and crema to their liking, or other yummy toppings of choice.
Straight from New Orleans, this classic fried shrimp sandwich is everything you hope it will be: crispy battered shrimp, flavorful Cajun remoulade sauce, and refreshing Iceberg lettuce shreds atop French rolls
With a mere 4 ingredients and just 15 minutes of combined prep and cook time, this sweet and savory dish is a strong contender for what to serve on your busiest weeknight. Honey, soy sauce, and garlic are mixed together, then tossed with shrimp in a baking dish for a simple oven-baked dinner.
The perfect summer party food, shrimp boil can be made in large quantities without large effort. Corn cobs, sausage, Cajun seasoning, potatoes, and shrimp form the base for this classic dish.
In this robustly flavored dish, shrimp is cooked in a spicy tomato sauce and ladled over rice. We also like to serve it with fried plantains. This version is quick to prepare when you use family-friendly shortcuts like canned tomatoes and storebought veggie stock.
More seafood inspiration
Explore more fish and shrimp recipes and tips in the articles below.