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How do you keep shrimp from curling up?

It seems that whenever I see a shrimp cocktail served in a restaurant, the shrimp are always plump and gently curved, yet, whenever I cook up a batch of shrimp they always get tightly curled. I defrost them first, then put them into boiling water, let the water return to a boil and cook them a minute or two longer. Then, when they're finished cooking, I drain them into a collander and run cold water over them. Is there something I can do differently to have them retain more of their original shape? Thanks!

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  1. Do you leave the shells on? They generally curve less if the shells are left on.

    Also, whenever I boil shrimp, I don't really.... I bring salt water with a spritz of lemon to a boil, toss in the shrimp, and immediately take the pot off the burner. The shrimp stay in there maybe 2 minutes tops. Then off they go into an icy water bath.

    I think you may be overcooking them if you put em in boiling water AND letting the water return to a boil AND cooking them after that.

    5 Replies
    1. re: linguafood

      +1 on the overcooking and the shrimp boiling process. This is a great method! :)

      1. re: linguafood

        ditto, ditto, and ditto.

        Cindy, if you ever choose to grill, broil, or saute them instead, watch them as they cook. they're done *as soon* as the color changes to opaque/pink, and at that point they'll still be relatively open. if they curl up, they've gone too far. (for what it's worth, if you want to you can also run a skewer through them to help maintain the shape.)

        1. re: linguafood

          When I boil shrimp, I always leave the shells on.

          I like your suggestion, linguafood. But let me ask a question about your method. If I am cooking 2 pounds of shrimp, will there be enough heat in the water to cook the shrimp if I take the pot off the burner? I usually use an 8-quart pasta pot because it holds so much water, but even that amount of water will cool considerably once the shrimp are added.

          1. re: CindyJ

            While 2 lbs. of shrimp is a lot more than I have made at once, I think if the water is at a rolling boil when you toss them in, the remaining heat should be enough (especially if the shrimp are totally thawed). It's more of a poach than a boil, I guess.

            Also, since it really doesn't take long, you can check after a couple minutes and see what they look like. The C & O thing further down is a good indicator, as is the color.

            I also find I'd much rather have ever-so-slightly undercooked shrimp than overcooked. If you're worried about them being underdone, skip the ice bath, and they'll continue to cook.

            1. re: linguafood

              I break the group up, two batches cooked rather than one. I don't use that large of pot either.

        2. shell-on.

          add them to court bouillon. at medium heat, bring to a boil and then shrimp are done. drain and plunge shrimp in a bowl of ice water.

          1 Reply
          1. re: hotoynoodle

            Couldn't agree more that this is the way to go...court bouillon, shell-on, ice bath afterwards

          2. put a skewer through them lengthwise

            1. The last time I made shrimp cocktail I used Ina Garten's method of oven roasting them. Not only did they shrink less but they barely curled at all & were delicous. Much firmer as they weren't waterlogged. Basically just took peeled shrimp, tossed w/ evoo & salt & pepper & spread out on a sheet pan. It's the only way I do shrimp now.

              1 Reply
              1. Mainly, as everyone says, leave the shell on.

                3 Replies
                1. re: coll

                  but then she'd have to peel them after. roasting leaves minimal curling. or I agree with putting a skewer through them

                  1. re: sparkareno

                    I always peel them after. They have more flavor cooked shell on.

                    1. re: coll

                      Roasted with shells is the BEST, they have so much more flavor with the shells! I don't mind peeling them; it's easy as long as they are deveined ahead of time.

                2. I can't remember where I heard it but with regards to cooking shrimp, if they look like a 'C' they are cooked, if the look like an 'O' they are overcooked.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      I've wondered if steaming would make a difference. For how long?

                      1. re: CindyJ

                        Depends on size; generally, steam until pink.

                    2. I always clean shrimp completely before cooking, partly because I find removing the shell is easier when raw, but mainly because, no matter how carefully the manufacturer preps them, there's always remnants of veins that need to be removed, something that's much easier to do when raw than when cooked.

                      In order to clean my shrimp, I always thaw them. Even if you don't shell your shrimp prior to cooking, I still highly recommend thawing them completely before cooking as they will cook a lot more evenly.

                      It depends how much shrimp I have, their size, and the size of the pot, but generally, I heat the water about 20 degrees higher than the target temp for the shrimp (190ish), pour my thawed shrimp in quickly while stirring vigorously (the slower you add the shrimp, the more the first ones you put in cook), heat the pot, as necessary to hit my target temp (170ish), remove the pot from the heat and set aside a couple of minutes. Once I'm reasonably certain the entire shrimp is my target temp (usually done by eye), I soak them in very cold water, replacing the water twice.

                      Now, one thing to keep in mind regarding shrimp. The American public has been completely hoodwinked when it comes to cooked shrimp. It's a lot like the complete travesty of almost raw short order Chinese vegetables and, like most evil trends, boils down to money. The more you cook shrimp, the more water you lose, the less they weigh. So, in order to make a few more bucks, fish departments have been cooking shrimp considerably less in recent years and passing off this undercooked shrimp as being 'superior'/more tender. It's complete and under BS, and, unfortunately, a lot of lazy chefs have jumped on the bandwagon and joined this undercooking contingent.

                      Health issues aside, shrimp should be cooked. Period. Not undercooked. Not overcooked. Cooked. It shouldn't be translucent. It should be white fleshed and opaque. I have found that in order to achieve proper cooking, a little curling is unavoidable. Between the combination of working with completely thawed shrimp and never exposing them to temps anywhere near boiling, I end up with perfectly cooked end product with very little curling.

                      1. Curling is natural - it occurs as the protein shrinks up.. but the skewer approach works, as does placing a 3 small cuts on the underside of the shrimp...

                        I wouldn't force the water back to a boil.. let them sit in the water at a simmer until they color up.. depending on your application, you can even shock them after removing them from the water to prevent overrun..

                        1. Thank you all for your great advice. There's so much consistency in your replies, and I now understand that I've probably been overheating/overcooking my shrimp. I'll let you know how my next attempt goes.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: CindyJ

                            Cook's Illustrated had an article that recommended making two small cuts in the
                            under-belly of each cleaned shrimp ( where the legs would have been). I tried this
                            and it did work to a degree. Not a single one curled to an "O" shape and they were
                            nicely curved to fit on the rim of the martini glasses used for the presentation. Ive not
                            tried the "baking" method, but that will be my next way when "shrimp" are on the menu.
                            BTY, what are folks paying for 16-20's now? My H.E.B. in Texas has them for about
                            $7/per, but maybe they are more or less expensive elsewhere.

                            1. re: amazinc

                              I'm paying $5.50, but they're black tigers.