My boss is awesome. I told him I had this recipe for Tequila Marinated Grilled Shrimp that sounded oh-so-tasty and he hands me $40 and tells me to buy enough shrimp for him, his wife, his two kids and me, and bring it prepared to cook for Monday dinner. I was thrilled and immediately went to the grocery store to buy 3.5 pounds of fresh (relatively speaking) jumbo shrimp.

Now first of all "fresh" jumbo shrimp from the grocery store are usually actually frozen jumbo shrimp that haven't been peeled, deveined or cooked at all. Unless you are lucky and live near an ocean and can actually get freshly caught shrimp from a market you are stuck with the "fresh" frozen ones. So now I have 3.5 lbs. of headless shells as far as I can tell. And no real idea of how to make them into those delicious curls of fluffy white meat with fantails that I always received at restaurants. Little shrimp legs are just icky so I immediately turned to e2 to figure out how to get these tastey little morsels naked. The search was fruitless though! So I took my knowledge that I must devein them, not exactly knowing where that vein was, and a paring knife, and set to stripping dinner.

And now for what you've all been waiting for: How to peel and devein shrimp.

First you must remove the shell of the shrimp. This is easiest if you have a kitchen scissors. I did not and used my paring knife, which managed just fine as well. The shrimp is curled in a little ball. Uncurl it and hold it in one hand with the shell in your palm and the legs facing you. Now take your knife or scissors and cut the shell between the legs from the neck down through the last pair of legs. Do NOT cut all the way through the tail. You want the tail to remain on for aesthetic and practical reasons. I later learned that if you have the scissors you can cut the top of the shell. This is silly because the top of the shell is thick and crunchy and pieces fly everywhere if you try to cut it. It also plain does not work if you only have a knife.

Now to remove the shell. Pull the top pair of legs up and back to remove them from the meat of the shrimp. You can then grasp the shrimp and pull it down, essentially curling the shrimp back up. Keep your finger between the shell and the shrimp meat as you do this to make sure it separates, although this should happen easily. Once you reach the last piece of shell with legs break it away from the tail. There should be just one point on either side that holds this piece to the tail. Congratulations, you have peeled a shrimp! They are not yet edible, though. Now you must devein them.

The vein that you need to remove is in the back of the shrimp. The side opposite of where the legs were. Removing the shell should bare this vein, but if it doesn't no worries. Only two of mine did. If you don't see the vein simply make a very shallow cut from head to tail of the shrimp. Then hold open this cut and you should see a dark vein. Carefully remove this by either pulling it out with your fingers or the knife. If you don't see a dark vein run the tip of your knife gently across the cut and see if you catch the vein. It is not always dark. Sometimes they are tricky and clear.

Finally thoroughly rinse your naked, veinless shrimp. You can also do any other trimming that strikes your fancy to make it look pretty. Joy! You can now enjoy!

Under most circumstances these days, I would find it abhorrent to post a "response" writeup, but in this case I feel it is necessary. With all due respect to lailoken, the method she describes in her writeup is rather complicated. This is because she wants to keep the tail attached to the shrimp, presumably for decorative purposes. I'm sure it's an effective method, and if the amount of time you are willing to spend preparing shrimp in this way is unlimited, or if the quantity of shrimp you have to prep is relatively small, go for it.

But what if you're not worried about saving the tail? What if you have to peel and devein 30 pounds of shrimp? Or maybe you're feeding 300 people, and have 150 pounds to prepare (that's a lot of shrimp). What if the ice is melting, and you need to peel these shrimp in a hurry?

I grew up on the Gulf Coast of Florida, and enjoyed the bounty of fresh seafood that the Gulf of Mexico and its numerous bays, sloughs and tributaries had to offer. My father spent his leisure time fishing and netting, gigging for oysters, scallops and flounder, and taught me how to do all of these things at an early age. I've been peeling and deveining shrimp since I was a little boy, and let me assure you: There is an easier way.

Peeling

The thing to keep in mind when dealing with whole shrimp, including prawns, is that there is really nothing holding them inside their tiny exoskeletons. The meaty bit you're after is more or less just resting inside the shell, like a knight in a suit of armor. In almost every case, the shrimp can be extracted with just a few pinches.

  1. If the shrimp is whole, the first pinch you make will be to remove the head. This is easy, as the shell is segmented where the head joins the body. Find the spot where the segments join, and pinch with your fingers. Just rip that sucker right off. The shrimp is already dead - it won't care.


  2. The next pinch you make is to remove the shrimp's legs. I've never seen a shrimp walk, so I'm not sure why they have legs to begin with, but they are easy to remove. Just grab them all between your thumb and forefinger, pinch down and pull.


  3. The last pinch is the clever one. The only thing holding the meat inside the shell at this point is the fact that it's attached to the tail. So pinch, at the spot where the tail segment joins the body - but don't rip! Pinch so that the meat separates from the tail, and push it out of the shell where the head used to be. Damn, this is easy!
Of course, this process is best suited for regular shrimp, up to the jumbo variety. If you've got prawns as big as your hand (or larger), you're going to need some seriously strong, muscular fingers. Using scissors or knives is probably an easier option in such a case.

Deveining

There are three quick approaches to the issue of removing the shrimp's black "vein" (actually part of the crustacean's digestive system).

  • The first is, don't bother. If you're going to boil or fry the shrimp, it won't really matter if you leave the vein in - eating it won't kill you or make you sick, once the shimp's been cooked. But if the vein grosses you out, it's not that difficult to deal with.


  • The second is rather nasty, but is the fastest, provided that you have fingernails that are grown out enough to do the job. Using your thumbnail, make a slice down the shrimp's back, and pull the vein out with your fingers. If it's stubborn, you can dig it out with your nails. I've seen people who can completely peel and devein a shrimp this way in about five seconds.


  • The third is to use a special tool known as a "Shrimp Deveiner." If you find yourself performing this peel-and-devein process with any regularity, you may find it worth your while to pick up one or more of these implements. At $1.79 each, it's not going to impact your food budget. I've used them before, and while they take a little getting used to, they make the deveining process simple, cleaner than the thumbnail method, and much safer than using a sharp knife. There is also a slightly more sophisticated utensil known as a "Shrimp Cleaner" that, for a few dollars more, will allegedly take care of the peeling part as well, in one fell swoop. Caveat emptor, kids.
So to summarize, if you're preparing shrimp for broiling or to be included in a fancy dish where their tails add to the aesthetic of the presentation, lailoken's method seems reasonable. But if you're more interested in just getting the little suckers out of their shells and in to the pot in short order, now you have an easier way. Enjoy! And save some of that gumbo for me.


Sources:
http://www.kitchenhaven.com/store/page232.html
http://www.sagekitchenonline.com/shrimpcleaner.html

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