|Written by Walkaboutangel|
Shrimp - How To Select
Shrimp is one of my favorite protein foods and it is so fast and so easy to prepare. It is perfect for those days when you don't have long to fix dinner and want something really satisfying and flavorful.
When I started writing shrimp recipes in 1992, there were not very many choices when it came to shrimp. Most of the shrimp for sale in the USA were caught here and most were from the ocean. That is no longer true....
Today there are shrimp available from all over the world and most of them are not ocean shrimp. Although some of the farmed shrimps are farmed in salt or brackish water ponds near the ocean, many of them are fresh water prawns and are farmed in fresh water ponds inland. I have sampled as many of these different varieties of shrimps as I can find... and I find the taste to be unpredictable.
I assume this is dependent on the water conditions and food sources of the farm ponds where they are raised.
I find most of the freshwater species to taste a little bland. It is not just the lack of the briney sea taste or the faint iodine hint from some ocean shrimps... it is also the lack of that sweet richness that floods your mouth when you bite into perfectly cooked ocean shrimps. The freshwater shrimps LOOK fabulous, huge and plump... but the underlying bland cardboardy taste is such a disappointment.
Again, it must be the water conditions and food supply as I have had fresh water prawns that had the rich sweet taste.... just not often.Â There are some farmed in West Texas, of all places, that have a very nice sweet richness.
The farmed ocean shrimp are usually identified as white shrimp orÂ tiger shrimp. They are farmed in brackish ponds and again I miss that briney ocean taste and that rich sweetness.
I also have concerns about water quality in some of the areas where shrimp are being farmed. China has some of the worst water pollution in the world and I really do not want to eat seafood that is farmed in their fresh water or caught off their shores. They are pouring so many billions of tons of raw industrial and residential sewage into the ocean. I hate to think of the shrimps and fishes swimming in that soup of pollution and definitely don't want to eat any of them.
For most dishes I prefer Certified Wild Caught Gulf Shrimp or fresh shrimp off the boat on the Gulf coast. Florida Pink Shrimp also have a nice flavor and there are some Alaskan Shrimp that are marvelous. Red dot shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico are very sweet in flavor.
In other words, I prefer ocean shrimp caught in the USA. Fresh are definitely better than frozen... and harder to come by unless you are near the coast. My fish monger sometimes has fresh, never frozen shrimp. If I must use frozen, I prefer to buy them that way... not thawed in the fish monger's counter.
That brings us to fresh and just what does fresh mean. Sometimes shrimp marked fresh means fresh frozen and thawed at the fish monger's... so ask. And remember, if you just ask if they are fresh... some will say yes... some will say oh yes they are fresh frozen.... you have to ask if they have ever been frozen. Don't just ask if they are fresh. To me fresh means never frozen, but to many it means fresh frozen and then thawed.....
If you must get a farmed shrimp product, my first choice is from West Texas.Â Second I find that the shrimp farmed in Indonesia is closer in taste to the wild ocean shrimp. I also would use that farmed product in dishes that will have a high component of added flavor... such as bacon wrapped shrimp or a shrimp dish that is marinated prior to cooking. This will give you an opportunity to correct the flat, bland flavor with a little added sea salt and perhaps a bit of sugar in the brine or marinade.
Farmed shrimp tend to be less expensive and are more consistently available in large sizes.
Now that you have decided on the species you will purchase... how do you select the shrimp themselves?
First and foremost.... I cannot emphasize this enough.... SMELL the shrimp if they are not in a frozen state. There should be no fishy or ammonia odor.... They should really have no smell in particular... a slight ocean smell. If they have a strong odor.... walk away. Chose something else for dinner.
Second, how do they look? They should look plump and moist... not shrunken or dried out around the edges.... The flesh should look translucent and be a bright clear color. If the color looks murky or cloudy... the shrimp are old and may have been treated with chemicals to retard spoilage and smell.... They will taste of it.
Finally, there should be no black spots or edges. Black spots are spoilage... and they will taste of it... Black spots or edges may also indicate wounded areas of the shrimp with necrotic tissue... it will not taste good...
Always ask the fish monger if the shrimps have been dipped. He should know his suppliers and be able to tell you if they dip their shrimp or not. Some suppliers routinely dip their shrimp in chemicals to retard spoilage and to prevent the formation of ammonia as the flesh ages.... they will taste of the chemicals. The chemicals also cause the flesh to absorb water... so the taste is diluted and the shrimp weigh more... therefore, you pay more for less......
Occasionally, fresh shrimp will have a chlorine bleach like aroma. They may have been dipped in chemicals or they may truly be fresh shrimp with a high iodine content... If you know they are fresh and simply have a high iodine content you can reduce the iodine by packing the shelled shrimp in pureed raw potato and refrigerating them in the puree for at least an hour. The starch in the potatoe will absorb some of the iodine so that the iodine flavor will not be too strong in the cooked shrimp. Just rinse the puree off the shrimp and use the shrimp in your recipe.Â The puree may turn dark as it adsorbs iodine from the flesh of the shrimp.
Frozen shrimp are either frozen on the shrimp boat, on a freezer boat at sea, or unloaded from the shrimp boat into a freezer plant at the dock. Thaw them in your fridge and they will be almost as good as fresh.... at least they will not be spoiled.
Now that you have selected your shrimp, keep them cool until you can get them home. Most fish mongers will supply you with a bag of crushed ice in which to pack them at no charge. I carry a small cooler with me to transport my shrimp and their ice pack. Prepare them as soon as possible. I try to serve shrimp within 24 hours of purchase or of thawing.
And be sooooooooo careful not to overcook them. The succulent, sweet, rich flavor of a perfectly cooked shrimp is fragile and fleeting. Overcooking disperses it to the winds and it cannot be recaptured.
Follow these guidelines and you will be assured of serving the best possible shrimp to your family and guests.