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Shrimp Size

I find that 21-25 shrimp seem to usually be ideal for most uses as the combination of taste and texture is well balanced. The huge U10 prawns seem best suited for grilling in their shell brushed with some garlic butter. In landlocked Vermont we are certainly not getting the best the World's waters have to offer but I'm curious as to what the rest of you hounds think about the best shrimp size/type. Also, I disagree with any recipe that advises peeling shrimp before boiling (for cocktail). I always boil shell on with some peppercorns, lemon, parsley, and Old Bay. If there is a better way, let me know !

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  1. You can use pickling spices in you water.

    1. steam/boil them in about 1/2-3/4 in. of beer!

      1 Reply
      1. re: Procrastibaker

        Ah, yes - an American version of Asian drunken prawns!

      2. Though I certainly appreciate your feelings about 21-25's, I have had the modest 26-30's foisted upon my conscience as an excellent size for inclusion in shrimp cocktails and pastas & sautes. I find they are large enough for two polite mouthfulls when served on their own, and you need not have knives on the table if serving them in a pasta.
        I may be a big guy, but I do not have an unhinged jaw!
        I like your shellfish boil, but usually throw in a bay leaf and or fennel fronds if I have them.

        1. Recently, I'm seeing a more consistent, tastier 16-20 shrimp from Mexico.

          I use the specialized pointy plastic "shrimp zipper" tool to evicerate the shrimp. I get my frozen 16-20s without heads. The tool goes in where the head was--I guide it out above the tail. This is that fastest way to lose the shell and open the digestive tract. I then do a rinse under the tap to finish removing the digestive tract. The tail makes a nice handle.

          I can't allow my guests to be removing their own shells. I serve the shrimp cocktail as soon as they walk in the door.

          In addition to the standard "bloody mary" cocktail sauce, I do a low fat sour cream and horseradish (Newport Cocktail sauce, we call it).

          1. 21-25s are great for general purpose stuff where the whole shrimp is the star, but I prefer much smaller shrimp for gumbos & jambalaya (60-70, head-on count).

            If you can get it, try Zatarain's Crab Boil as an alternative to Old Bay in your boiling water. I do agree that shell-on is the way to go for boiled shrimp.

            And here's a plea: eat domestic seafood, esp shrimp. Ask in restaurants if the shrimp served is imported or domestic. Cheap, pond-raised shrimp are a serious trade threat to American shrimpers, whose wild-caught product is far superior in taste & texture. To read about trade issues, get recipes, and for way more seafood info than you ever wanted to know, see www.louisianaseafood.com. Many shrimp trawlers are independent, self-employed small businessmen, not guys working on fleet boats for someone else. Trawlers in the northern central Gulf of Mexico were hard-hit by Katrina & Rita in '05, and many are struggling to survive in the face of global trade, rising fuel prices, and the double-barrelled task of rebuilding their boats/docks/icehouses & other business infrastructure while also rebuilding their homes.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Hungry Celeste

              Great point about supporting our domestic shrimp trade (and all other domestic products when possible). There is nothing wrong with a global market but let's forget our own bounty and the food it puts on our fellow American's tables. I'll look for the Zatarain's and give it a try (maybe with a bottle of Anchor Steam). I agree that the shell should be removed before serving but not until after the shrimp are cooked. Those precooked cocktail shrimp at the stores are like eating styrofoam.

              1. re: Hungry Celeste

                Here in Canada ( Maritimes) it is hard to find US shrimp . I am thinking mainly of the shrimp caught along the eastern seaboard and caught by shrimp trawlers. In our grocery stores the farm raised freshwater shrimp from the Far East are mostly the only ones available. When we were visiting Toronto during the summer we were able to buy fresh "wild" shrimp. What a difference in taste and texture.

              2. A bit of a deviation from the subject... Make sure we (all of us) aren't interchanging the name "prawn" and "shrimp". They are different things completely. In the most basic sense, prawns are a crustacean that look similar to shrimp but they have arms with pincers. Shrimp do not. Prawns usually have a much harder shell than shrimp. There are different kinds of prawns just like there are different kinds of shrimp. Most of us in America do not have easy access to prawns unless you buy them via mail/internet order or have a local farmer's market that stocks them.

                ...And just because a grocery store calls some large shrimp sitting in the seafood case "prawns" doesn't mean that they are correct. A shrimp is a shrimp no matter what size it is.

                2 Replies
                1. re: HaagenDazs

                  Your defination is something similar to wikipedia: just opinions or regional uses.

                  I googled, "Shrimp with pincers" and found many references to shrimp having pincers.

                  According to a 1970s edition of the Encyclopedia of Fishes, prawns were fresh water, shrimp were salt water. But, a local restaurant called "them" prawns because it sounded more elegant, manager told me "they" were shrimp, he went on to explain "calamari", they couldn't sell squid, but did very well with "calamari".

                  Prawns (from aqua farms) are very easy to find in my area, shrimp (wild from the ocean) are less common.

                  1. re: Alan408

                    Well, Wikipedia also says that prawns are a completely different sub-order of animal, which is in conjunction with my original thought actually. "Order" is higher up the taxonomical ladder, so to speak, compared to species.


                2. Is there a taste difference ? The only time I see "prawns" is on Oriental menus. Thanks for the education.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: TonyO

                    Yes, there is a difference in taste but it depends on what you get. There are fresh water and salt water varieties, big ones, small ones, blue ones, pink ones, etc.! Most of what I wrote above is an "Americanized" opinion. What I mean by that is, there are different names for different things all across the world. What we call shrimp, the British usually call prawns. Same goes for the Oriental menus, as you have seen! I'm in Georgia, and from your post, you said that you're in Vermont, so I know we're both in the US. My complaint of sorts, and reason for the post above, is a result of frustration, really. Grocers often label their large shrimp as "prawns" or their head-on shrimp as "prawns" just because the name sounds prestigious and fancy. In other words, they charge more because they're called prawns. In my opinion, that's not cool. So without rambling on more, just watch what you buy and don't be fooled by fancy names!

                  2. It does sound better than shrimp especially Jumbo Prawns. I'll just eat them all and base purchases on price and quality !

                    1. A few years back, some enterprising shrimp packager figured out that if he/she cooked the shrimp less, they'd lose less water/weigh more and, in turn, the packager could make more money. Thus ushered in the era of severely undercooked 'cooked' shrimp.

                      I always have to cook 'cooked' shrimp longer. Because of this, unless the cooked shrimp are a huge bargain, I almost always buy raw shrimp.

                      Not only are 'cooked shrimp' not very cooked, 'cleaned shrimp' are not very clean. Easy peel shrimp are a good deal, but the tail segment is always untouched/needing to be deveined. There's nothing nastier than biting into a sandy piece of shrimp feces.

                      Because I spend a great deal of time finishing the cleaning job that the packager should have done, I buy the largest shrimp possible- the fewer the shrimp, the quicker they are to clean. Easy peel 35-40 drive me up the wall, but a lb. of U12s is not too bad. Unfortunately U12s are double the price.

                      Lately I've been considering buying the smaller shrimp and not eating the tail. I really hate throwing out food (especially expensive food), but it may work out cheaper to buy the smaller shrimp and toss the tails.

                      Needless to say, I don't buy shrimp much. I tend to go a few months, forget how much I hate cleaning them, buy them, go through the ordeal, swear off them, and then repeat the process all over again.

                      As far as cooking goes, I find larger shrimp tend to favor slower cooking. Since the heat takes longer to penetrate them, the outer flesh tends to get overcooked before the inside. For the really large U12s, I add them to boiling water, heat until the water hits about 175 and then remove from the heat and let sit for a while. This gives me an very evenly cooked huge shrimp.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: scott123

                        As a CHer, I say shame on you for even contemplating buying pre-cooked shrimp! They are horribly inferior to anything you can do yourself.

                        1. re: HaagenDazs

                          Amen, Daaz. Precooked shrimp are uniformly terrible.

                      2. I hear ya brothers and sisters ! Precooked shrimp should lead to being banned as a CH. And God forbid one of us are caught with a SAUSEA shrimp ring (or remember those awful prepacked glasses with "cocktail sauce" and "shrimp" ?? I will likely have nightmares tonight.

                        1. Agreed, Cooked & Cleaned (C&C, as we used to call them in the market) should be left for the tourist trade.

                          My boiling technique is similar to Scott123. I favor 12-16s so I keep a bowl of icy water nearby to try to stop the cooking immediately. Once I see the last bit of translucent, I strain them and give the cold dunk.