Why Eat It
Nutrition Chart

Why Eat It

Shrimp ranks second to tuna as Americans' favorite seafood. Like chicken, the dense white meat of shrimp has a fresh, mild flavor that combines well with many ingredients. You can buy shelled and cleaned (deveined) shrimp; or even precooked to use as a quick, convenient (and considerably more expensive) recipe ingredient.

Almost all shrimp caught are frozen at sea for optimum freshness. The shrimp are thawed for sale or sold frozen (thawed shrimp should be labeled "previously frozen"). Shrimp are low in fat and calories, but higher in cholesterol than most seafood, with about 166 milligrams of cholesterol per 3-ounce serving.


Some 300 species of shrimp are sold worldwide, but saltwater shrimp are generally designated as warm- or cold-water species. Warm-water shrimp are caught in tropical waters. Much of the U.S. catch is harvested in the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Warm-water species are classified by shell color (white, pink, and brown shrimp) but the differences in appearance and flavor are hard to detect. Rock shrimp, another warm-water variety, has a hard-to-peel shell but unusually sweet meat. Cold-water shrimp, caught in the North Atlantic and northern Pacific, possess firmer meat and a sweeter flavor. They are usually sold cooked and peeled.


Shrimp come in a wide range of sizes; the larger the shrimp, the higher the price. (In some areas of the country, very large shrimp may be called prawns, a term used in many other countries to refer to shrimp of any size. But in the United States, shrimp is the standard name for all types and sizes.)

Size classifications range from Tiny (150 to 180 shrimp per pound) through Colossal (10 shrimp or less per pound). Larger shrimp may cost more per pound, but they may not taste any better than their smaller counterparts. Fresh-frozen shrimp are sold in bulk; whole, shelled, and shelled and deveined, and either raw or cooked. You can also buy canned or packaged frozen cooked shrimp.

Fresh shrimp should have a clean smell, with no trace of ammonia. If sold still frozen, shrimp should be solidly encased in ice. Cooked shrimp should be purchased the same day they were cooked (the same is true of cooked crab or lobster). If cooked in the shell, shrimp should be pinkish-orange, with opaque rather than translucent flesh. Fresh-cooked seafood should not be displayed alongside raw fish or shellfish, as bacteria can migrate from the raw to the cooked.


Uncooked shrimp should be stored like fish and used the same day as purchased. Do not freeze raw shrimp (since "fresh" shrimp are most often thawed, but previously frozen): Cook them first. You can also buy frozen shrimp making sure they are still solidly frozen when they reach your home freezer. Cooked, shelled, and deveined shrimp can be frozen in airtight packaging. Most types of frozen raw or cooked shrimp will keep for two months if the freezer is set at 0° or colder. Thaw frozen shellfish in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.


Shrimp purchased shelled and deveined are ready to be cooked, though this makes the shrimp more expensive. The less expensive option is to shell and devein them yourself. It's not difficult to do once you know how. You can shell the shrimp before cooking, or cook them with the shells on, which some people feel adds flavor to the dish. To prepare uncooked shrimp, use a small sharp knife to make a shallow cut down the back (outer curved side) of each shrimp. Remove the shell and legs, leaving on the tail portion if desired. Use the knife tip or a metal skewer to pick out the black intestinal vein at the back; working under cold running water will help free the vein. Remove shells from cooked shrimp by peeling off the shell with your fingers. Devein as described above.

Always thaw frozen shrimp in the refrigerator before cooking it!

When it comes to cooking shrimp, the trick is to heat them sufficiently to destroy harmful organisms, but not so long as to make the flesh tough. This requires careful monitoring, as shrimp can be toughened by just seconds of overcooking. Cooking times vary depending on size. Shrimp undergo a characteristic change when cooked that indicates doneness: Shrimp flesh turns opaque and changes color from grayish-green to pink or orange.

Baking: Shrimp respond well to this method if the baking is carefully timed. Peeled shrimp turn out moist if baked in parchment or foil packets. To bake in packets, place the shrimp on a large square of cooking parchment or foil and add lemon and spices if desired. Fold the wrapping over the contents, crimp the edges together to seal it and bake until just done--about five minutes, or according to the recipe.

Boiling: Shelled or unshelled shrimp to be served cold or used in a recipe are usually boiled first. Cook at a rolling boil. For extra flavor, use fish stock instead of plain water, or add a few lemon wedges to the water.

Broiling/grilling: Shrimp, in or out of the shell, can be grilled on skewers or broiled in the oven. A marinade or baste will keep the shrimp moist as it cooks.

Microwaving: This is a good method for cooking shrimp: They stay moist and there's certainly no faster way to cook them. Place shrimp (preferably in the shell) on a plate with their thicker portions to the outside; cover with plastic wrap.

Poaching: This cooking method works well for shrimp in or out of the shell. Poach shrimp in fish stock, or a mixture of water and lemon juice or wine. Flavor the poaching liquid with herbs, if you like. Bring the liquid to a gentle simmer, add the shrimp, partially cover the pan, and poach until the shrimp are done.

Sauteing: This method for cooking shrimp traditionally requires quite a bit of butter or oil, both for flavor and to keep the shrimp from sticking to the pan. For a healthier low-fat saute, use a nonstick pan; sprayed lightly with cooking oil. Remove the shrimp from the pan promptly when done, or they will continue cooking (and may overcook) from the pan's heat retention.

Steaming: Steaming provides a gentle, fat-free method for cooking shrimp. Steam them in a collapsible steamer or steaming rack.

Stir-frying: Stir-frying is a quick-cooking method well suited to shrimp. Remove the shrimp from the wok as soon as they are done: Stir-fry any other ingredients in the dish separately, then return the shrimp to the pan briefly to reheat just before serving.

Nutrition Chart

Shrimp/3 ounces cooked

Total fat (g)
Saturated fat (g)
Monounsaturated fat (g)
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
Dietary fiber (g)
Carbohydrate (g)
Cholesterol (mg)
Sodium (mg)
Vitamin B12 (mcg)
Iron (mg)
Selenium (mcg)

Date Published: 04/21/2005
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