The word shrimp comes from the Middle English shrimpe, meaning “pygmy” or the crustacean itself.
In the 7th century, shrimp and other seafood composed the majority of the Chinese diet, and still do today. In 1280, Marco Polo commented on the abundance of seafood in Chinese marketplaces, including shrimp. Harvesting of shrimp dates back to the 17th century, where Louisiana bayou residents used seines up to 2,000 feet in circumference to scoop up the delicacy. Mechanized shrimping didn’t come about until after 1917. Today, the US harvests over 650 million pounds a year, more than any other country. And still this is not enough to fill the need. The US imports yet another 200 million pounds a year.
Shrimp is not only very nutritious, it is the most popular shellfish in the United States. Luckily, it is available year-round. It is a popular ingredient in appetizers, salads, chowders, and, of course, as a main dish. Shrimps are related to crabs and lobsters.
Shrimp come in a variety of sizes and types. Although there are more than 300 varieties of shrimp, the most popular types are the brown, pink, and white shrimp from the Atlantic Ocean. These common names refer to the general color of the shrimp before cooking. Tiger shrimp is also popular, so named for its dark stripes. Yet, when these shrimp are cooked, the color turns from pink to bright orange-red due to a chemical change brought on by heat.
Shrimp are normally graded by size and count, meaning the average umber of shrimp to make a pound weight. The higher the number, the smaller the shrimp. In some areas, jumbo shrimp are referred to as prawns, but the prawn is actually a completely different species in the lobster family. Determining how much to buy will depend on the size, but generally count on 1/3 to ½ pound (shelled) per person. As a rule, the colder the water, the smaller and more succulent the shrimp.
Shrimp per pound:
- 10 shrimp or less = Colossal
- 11 to 15 = Jumbo
- 16 to 20 = Extra-large
- 21 to 30 = Large
- 31 to 35 = Medium
- 36 to 45 = Small
- about 100 = Miniature
Cooked shrimp can be stored in a sealed bag no more than three days in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Both cooked and raw shrimp may be frozen, but freezing raw preserves a better flavor. Raw shrimp can be frozen with shell or without, but should have the heads removed. Raw frozen shrimp will last six months in the freezer while frozen cooked shrimp should be consumed within two months. Commercially – frozen raw shrimp will last longer in the freezer without deterioration, since they are flash-frozen fresh with little handling.
Frozen cooked and uncooked shrimp should ideally be thawed in the refrigerator in advance of need. They can be added frozen to casseroles and baked dishes. If you need to quickly thaw, you may put the shrimp under cold water, not warm. Warm will begin the cooking process. Shrimp is also available canned. Canned baby shrimp are a nice addition as a salad garnish, but should be rinsed thoroughly before using and may require a bit of picking over depending on the grade.
It’s important not to overcook shrimp or it will become dry and rubbery. Cook only until the flesh is s opaque. When using a boiling method, the shrimp will turn pink, rise to the top and float when done. Some recipes will cook the shrimp within the recipe itself. Others will require you cook the shrimp ahead, usually via a simple boiling method and perhaps with a spice mixture.
- You can make a wonderful broth by boiling the shells from shrimp with spices, onion, garlic, and perhaps some celery and carrot. Cool and sift through cheesecloth when the desired strength is achieved, and freeze it for later use in soups or chowders.
- Use beer for your cooking liquid for shrimp to give a wonderful, slightly sweet flavor.
- If your shrimp begins to smell a bit off, but are still young from the market, they are probably still okay to eat. You can remove the smell by rubbing the shrimp with baking soda, let them stand in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes, and then rinse thoroughly to remove all traces of the soda. Do not use this method if the shrimp has a strong ammonia odor, which is an indication that it’s time to toss them.
- It’s easier to peel and devein raw shrimp rather than cooked shrimp.
- Shrimp cooked in the shell has more flavor than shrimp peeled before cooking.
- Expect the weight of raw shrimp to reduce by half when cooked. Two pounds raw shrimp will yield 1 pound cooked, peeled shrimp.
A shrimp’s shell is hard and stiff and encloses the animal’s body. The only way the shrimp can grow is to molt (shed its shell) and grow a new shell. A shrimp molts many times during its life. A new, larger shell hardens after each molt, if any appendages have been lost, new ones develop during the course of several molts.
Various species of shrimp have different life cycles. Some live a year at most, but others may live five years or more. Some females carry their eggs on their swimmerets until they hatch. Others lay their eggs and swim away. Some shrimp do not swim about but live in burrows in sand or mud.
The most common kinds of United States food shrimp, peneid shrimp hatch from eggs laid in the ocean up to 100 miles (160 kilometers) offshore. A newly hatched peneid looks like a tiny pear with legs. It changes shape several times until, after two to four weeks, it looks like a miniature adult.
Young peneid shrimp move toward shore as they develop, but 80 percent or more may be eaten by sea animals along the way. The survivors settle in bays and river mouths. After about five to seven months of rapid growth, the shrimp begin a two-month trip back to deeper water. They breed in deep water, and each female lays 500,000 to 1,000,000 eggs. Scientists believe that most of the adults die soon after the eggs are laid.
Members of another important group of shrimp, the pandalids, all begin life as males. At about 2 years of age, they change to females.
Fishing crews use pouch-shaped nets called trawls to catch shrimp. Boats drag the trawls across the bottom of the sea of river mouth. The catch is frozen or canned quickly because fresh shrimp spoil easily.
The United States leads the world in shrimp production. Alaska, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas rank as the leading shrimp-producing states. Other countries with large shrimp catches include China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Vietnam, and Thailand. About half the world’s catch comes from Asia.
People in Japan sometimes raise shrimp in large tanks and ponds. Such shrimp “farming” has been attempted in the United States, but it has not been profitable.