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Shrimp: to devein or not to devein

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I thought that devening shrimp was a must until I had the best meal of my life in Paris. We got unbelievable, whole shrimp, head and shells on. I had a hell of a time figuring out how to eat them delicately, especially since we were the only apparent English-speakers in the relatively fancy restaurant. Turns out it's like BBQ, just dig in and wipe your hands later.

But the shrimp had the veins in. I guess I had assumed the shells would be split up the back and cleaned, but no. Didn't get any grit in the process, but it was a first for me.

So do you always clean your shrimp?? Do guests get icked out???

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  1. Definitly devein!
    You don't have to cut open the shrimp to devein. You can use a toothpick, prink in the space between the body shell and the tail, poke the toothpick underneath the vein and pull up with your finger on the toothpick. It works on all sizes.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Wendy Lai

      This is what my mom taught me to do, except I use the tine of a fork. We bought them whole at the chinese market - heads, legs, and all - and this gets the vein out without cutting open the shell so you can cook them without losing any of the juices. Plus it's much faster than cutting down the back.

      1. re: Jujubee

        As far as I know, most of my Chinese releatives do it this way. Cutting down the back was mostly a restaurant thing, to make it pretty or something...

    2. Yes, I always devein. Shrimp vary but it can be a nasty surprise at the dinner table, especially since most people know what they are eating. Bleh.

      I have never been served shrimp that weren't cleaned at a restaurant.

      Exception: whole shrimp in the shell which I think gets you everything, nasty bits, eyeballs, and roe, succulent crevices. I wouldn't blink if those hadn't been cleaned. Buyer beware.

      Now that I think about it. Even whole shrimp are cleaned at Japanese restaurants.

      1. I think it depends upon the shrimp. Wild shrimp tends to have more grit in the intestinal tract. Farmed may be controlled. I heard once that some wise farmers either starve the shrimp, or feed them some innocuous food (like cornmeal to snails) so that the last food eaten is what you get...not black and gritty but soft and juicy.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Jim H.

          I have gotten some nasty mouthfuls of sand from shrimp caught close in to the shore. I always check; if no grit, I don't bother. I seldom find it.

        2. Unless I serve humongo-jumbo shrimp, I never bother with deveining. Most people are fine eating shrimp (and, of course, crawdads) this way, I find. The folks who aren't are always creeped out more by attached heads, legs, and roe, then by the vein.

          1. I always devein. I think not deveining gives you shrimp with a mushy texture, at least that has been my experience. I buy most of my shrimp from Fabian Seafoods. Steve tours the mid-west through out the good months with shrimp that has never been frozen. A lot of the shrimp which is quite fresh and from the Gulf of Mexico have a lot of fatty tissue around the vein. I remove that too. I do not like that texture. But, it is great shrimp.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Candy

              I'm from the Carolina lowcountry, and I've never deveined a shrimp in my life, nor do I know any true natives who have either. That would be right up there with not sucking the heads of boiled shrimp when you peel them.

              Deveining doesn't make the shrimp mushy; cooking it too long does. Also old shrimp frozen to try to keep them can give you mushy shrimp - use those for bait.

              1. re: Sandy

                I have never over cooked a shrimp intentionally in my life. When I did forget a bunch recently and let them come to a boil they got rubbery, not mushy. I usually bring the court bullion to a boil dum in thr shrimp and turn the heat off and let them steep until they turn pink and drain and cool. NOT OVER COOKED!

                1. re: Candy

                  Usually when I get mushy shrimp I have either overcooked them under the broiler on the the grill (not by boiling) OR they were of suspect quality to begin with. Deveining will not affect the texture of the shrimp in my experience.

                  Generally I devein very large shrimp and leave the rest alone.

                  1. re: danna

                    In our experience with catching fresh shrimp in South Carolina, mushiness is caused by not chilling the shrimp right away and has nothing to do with deveining. Generally, we don't devein.

              2. re: Candy

                I had some Gulf 10-15 count shrimp a few weeks ago (purchased at Whole Foods) and I deveined. A very noticeable vein, so I needed to remove, and they also had the fatty deposits around the vein as well. Also removed.

              3. My experience has been that deveining is an American thing. The European component of my family sneers at the very idea - along with the notion that we Americans get uptight about who our politicians are sleeping with. Personally - I don't bother (with either, deveining or politican's romantic exploits.)

                3 Replies
                1. re: Montrose

                  Chinese people devein shrimps too.

                  1. re: Montrose

                    My Chinese relatives all devein. If you ever get bored with the attitudes of your European relatives, you might want to point out to them that the Chinese think Westerners waste the rest of the shrimp when they don't suck out the contents of the head portion of the shrimp.

                    1. re: raytamsgv

                      And when taking in the whole shrimp, freshness is key.

                  2. I think the general nature of the responses to your question reveals that it depends on what your serving and who you are serving to. Cajuns and Vietnamese here in TX generally boil with the heads on, but your Aunt Agnes might sneer at what (to her) looks like excrement in her shrimp scampi.

                    1. I always devein.

                      After all, people that don't "mind" the vein aren't put off if it's gone. It's not like they PREFER to eat the sandy grit. So I remove it in order to be certain EVERYONE enjoys the meal, the "minders" and the "non-minders" alike.

                      I want my guests to know that they were more than worth the extra time and trouble it took to do it, and that I wasn't trying to cut corners with their enjoyment of the meal.

                      I often buy Gulf shrimp right off of the boat, and that vein is gritty. Not to mention that it just plain looks unpleasant and unappetizing.

                      Europeans may not "mind," but I rarely entertain Europeans. I usually entertain Americans, most of which, frankly, don't like eating shrimp shit.

                      And neither do I.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: ChrissieH


                        There are people that I know that think that it is an absolute sin to clean shrimp before boiling. To them, they should still have the heads on and everything, with the yellow fat in the head to give them a buttery flavor. As with crawfish, you want to suck the head to get the full flavor. Some people like to boil crabs without cleaning, too. I personally prefer shrimp de-veined in most cases. But I'm flexible enough to go either way, cause I'm not a snobby, purist type person, generally.

                        1. re: rudeboy

                          Well, that's right. There certainly are people that like to eat the whole thing, as I noticed when I lived in Hong Kong. And I guess when I'm chewing away on the tails, shells, shells, head and all, I don't notice a little grit.

                          But tossed into a salad, or eaten the way most Americans eat them, I believe that most Americans find it exceedingly unappetizing. And believe that the only reason the vein wasn't removed was a lack of effort.

                          1. re: ChrissieH

                            And, by the way, now that I reread your post, I see where you have referred to "cleaning the shimp BEFORE boiling." I never do that.

                            But AFTER boiling, and before tossing them into a nice butter or cream or wine sauce, or salad, and while I'm removing the shells to please my American guests I always devein.

                            1. re: ChrissieH

                              If I boil shrimp as I would crawfish, never devein before or after, and it's always head on.

                          2. re: rudeboy

                            You can clean a shrimp (remove vein) without loosing the head, or cutting it open. See my post below.

                            No flavor will be lost at all with the toothpick/fork tin method.

                            1. re: Wendy Lai

                              That's a good idea. I use a fork to clean shrimp, too, but I can't say that I've ever done it keeping the head on!

                              1. re: rudeboy

                                You go in from the tail end. Put a toothpick or tin of a fork underneath the shell and the vein, between the space between the last body shell and the tail, than you pull up while keeping finger on the toothpick, the whole thing will come out, and you don't cut open anything, thus not loosing any flavors.

                            2. re: rudeboy

                              Lately I've been working on my method of cooking shrimp on the grill. I'm a big fan of eating all the parts, aside from the G.I. tract which I feel should be removed. Hell, I'll eat shrimp heads whole if they're fried up right! What I did last night was buy some medium head-on shrimp, leave 'em whole but cut up along the back using a very small pair of scissors I have, and use tweezers to grab out the majority of the vein. Then I gave them a quick rinse down the cut to flush any remaining vein-goo, mix some cajun spices up with oil, and marinade them for awhile (making sure to get spice mix inside the cuts). Soak bamboo skewers in water for half an hour, then skewer the shrimp on TWO skewers with a good amount of space between shrimp. Skewering with two skewers keeps all shrimp on a skewer from flipping over at random when you want to flip them in sync.

                              Made shrimp tacos with crema and some jamaican hot sauce (w/ papaya and scotch bonnets).

                              Programming note: Save your shrimp shells and heads! They make amazing broth.

                          3. I have to admit that I prefer to eat shrimp that have not been deveind (or shelled for that matter). Eat the tail and suck out the head (it it's available).

                            The best shrimp I've ever had were bought in a Farmer's market in San Francisco. They were still alive when I cooked them that evening - in fact they jumped out of the pan and gave my wife quite a scare.

                            But oh so sweet. Nothing like the Tiger shrimp you normally get (from Thailand?). Shells were much sturdier then usual as well.


                            1. I'd love to know how Toronto Chinese restaurants remove any of the "dark" stuff in the shrimps without deveining in our dishes like hot pots and egg and shrimp.

                              1. I generally don't bother to devein unless I expect guests who might be fussy enough to care. Depends on the preparation, though. If it's very convenient to devein--not too many shrimp, plenty of time, etc.--then I will do so.

                                1. I don't care for the bland thumbnail-sized shrimp that you find canned, in shrimp salad, or in some Asian buffet shrimp offerings. I don't believe it's harmful to eat the vein, because surely nobody has deveined those little things before selling them to the public.

                                  1. I've looked at the gut contents of shrimp under a microscope. Not all grit is sand.

                                    I devein.

                                    1. I devein if I'm peeling them before serving, but not when I'm cooking them whole. I figure if someone is going to be grossed out by un-deveined shrimp, they probably aren't going to like the heads and feet, either.

                                      1. I devein, and am one of those people who is thoroughly grossed out by not deveining. Wouldnt consider myself a food snob (breakfast today: a buttertart and a Coke), but that's one thing that I just react with disgust to. And I am OK eating heads and other bits. Shrimp poo, tho? No.

                                        1. I devein if I'm peeling before cooking, mostly because I have a nifty shrimp peeling tool that also deveins. If I'm cooking in the shell, then the veins stay where they are. I've never experienced gritty texture or off flavor when eating boiled shrimp with veins intact.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: mpjmph

                                            Which tool do you use? The oxo one? I like it so far.

                                          2. Relative to the OP's experience, I always thought deveining in some way was standard, until I recall the first time I saw Jacque Pepin cooking a shrimp dish on one of his early series. Leaving it intact didn't bother him in the least, but he did mention that when he has company over, he considers who they are and deveins if he feels it necessary.

                                            1. that vein is the digestive tract of a shrimp so if you don't take it out you are eating shrimp s*** not Grit and that is not good eats

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: cjd2013

                                                I think it's more noticeable/disturbing to some. I rarely devein. I did it once and it wasn't worth it to me, but then again most of my meals are cooked for 1 or 2 who don't mind it even if we notice a slight gritty sensation.

                                              2. I don't bother deveining with medium/small shrimp, but do devein the jumbo sizes. With those I usually want the "butterfly" effect anyway.

                                                1. perhaps my favorite preparation of shrimp is live spot prawns, boiled shell on and then peeled and dipped into a mix of vinegar, soy and jalapeno. i've never deveined and have never even noticed. Maybe its because the shrimp are really fat and long, like a big thumb, so the meat to vein ratio is really low?

                                                  that being said, if i'm using shrimp for a pizza or pasta or stir fry, i always devein.

                                                  1. I believe what you are referring to is depooping the shrimp. I live on the east coast and over the past few weeks, the shrimping season has been really good to us. I actually caught a little over 8lbs today with my cast net. It took a few hours but it was totally worth it.

                                                    The vein on the shrimp is located on their underside and the poop shoot is located on the top of their bodies. The poop shoot is what contains the gritty nasty part that no one wants to it. I've heard that the vein on the bottom is what holds the mercury and what not, but, I've eaten more shrimp during my lifetime than I care to count and I'm just fine.

                                                    So to answer your question, I do depoop my shrimp. I'll either do this before freezing or after freezing.

                                                    Depooping Tip!
                                                    If you happen to have the ability to get fresh shrimp, give this a try. Now, I'm talking just caught, never frozen. A lot of seafood markets do receive theirs frozen.

                                                    After I catch my shrimp I stick them in the refrigerator for an hour or so to chill them down. I'm too much of a wimp to pop their heads off alive so any shrimp still living will quietly die off.

                                                    Grab the shrimp from the bottom of their heads where the legs meet the body, push your thumb nail through and remove the head. This pulls the cold poop shoot out of the shrimp in one go about 90% of the time. When you get the hang of it, it works 98% of the time.

                                                    Fried Shrimp Recipe:

                                                    Take the shells off and clean the shrimp
                                                    Coat the shrimp in corn starch
                                                    Fry the shrimp
                                                    The corn starch makes the shrimp nice and crispy

                                                    Dipping sauce for shrimp:

                                                    Asian Mayo (it's a little pricey, but worth it)
                                                    Sweet Chili Sauce (you can find this at the Asian store along with the Asian mayo)
                                                    Hot sauce

                                                    I do about 2 parts mayo to 1 part sweet chili sauce


                                                    1. I never new it was necessary until a few yrs ago and I. Am 56 yrs old. Doesn't bother me. I'm too damn lazy too. I would wager that if blindfolded most could not tell the difference. Builds character. Deveining is for neat people, if you know what I mean :) just kidding.