The Smart Cook's Guide to Shrimp
What's America's favorite seafood? If you guessed shrimp, you're right! And it's no wonder we love shrimp: It's quick-cooking, versatile, and delectable. Here's what you need to know about choosing the best of this popular crustacean at the grocery store or fish market, plus our best tips for storing shrimp at home.
Fresh or Frozen?
Most markets offer fresh and frozen shrimp and you might think fresh is, well, a fresher choice. What's actually true is that most shrimp is flash-frozen on board the boat it was caught on, so the fresh shrimp you see on the seafood counter has probably been frozen, then thawed by the folks at the market. Unless you are sure the fresh shrimp for sale is actually straight from the boat—most likely if you live near the coast—frozen shrimp is a better buy (and quick to defrost). A couple of additional points: Fresh shrimp should not smell like ammonia, nor should shells be soft.
Another way to get tastier shrimp is to buy shell-on. It's often more economical, and you can use the shells for shrimp stock.
There are questions about the sustainability of both wild-caught and farmed shrimp, as well as concerns about the treatment of workers, so shop carefully when choosing shrimp. Seafood Watch recommends looking for Marine Seafood Council Certified Fisheries or Aquaculture Certified Fisheries. Their certifications will be displayed on packaging.
Although the shrimp industry sets guidelines for determining how shrimp is to be labeled, the sizes often differ from store to store. So, what one market calls medium, another may call large. To make sure you get the amount you need for your recipe, it's better to buy shrimp by the number of pieces per pound rather than by size; cooking times will vary, but the taste will be the same. Note that the larger the shrimp, the higher the cost.
Shrimp Size Guide
Because size varies by store, it's important to keep these general rules of thumb in mind when choosing shrimp by size. For colossal, you'll get anywhere from 8 to 12 shrimp per pound. For jumbo shrimp, expect to bring home 16 to 20 per pound. With large, you'll end up with 31 to 45 shrimp per pound. For medium shrimp, the average is 41 to 50 per pound. And for small, you should plan for the widest range, which is generally anywhere from 61 to 90 shrimp per pound.
Thawing and Storing
To thaw frozen shrimp, keep them in the refrigerator for one to two days or, in a pinch, run them under cold water. Chill fresh shrimp in the refrigerator for up to two days before cooking.
Shrimp needs to be kept well chilled until the moment you cook it. If you're tight on fridge space or want to bring your shrimp to the grill a few minutes in advance, here's how to keep it cool: Fill a shallow pan with ice. Cover with plastic wrap, place the shrimp on top, and cover with more wrap.