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Shrimps not "smooth" after boiling (or poaching) for shrimp cocktail

Everytime I boil (or poach) shrimps for shrimp cocktail they wind up with a kind-of "residue"... hard to describe but almost like the shrimp are crumbling

I definitely do not overcook them... very careful. Was wondering if it had to do with the shrimp I am using. Most of the time they are from the seafood counter at my local Food Emporium. I know they quick defrost them and was wondering if that was possibly the reason

They taste fine and I am not making them for company but still find this annoying


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  1. A few questions come to mind? How long do you cook them. What size are they, and not medium or large, but the count, as in 10-15 per pound,16-20? Where do they come from, farm raised, Gulf, etc?

    2 Replies
    1. re: James Cristinian

      The ones today were U15s..... I got 8 from 1/2 pound. I poached them for 4 minutes. As far as origin... I can't be sure. They were "allegedly" wild. However, this happens to me everytime I do t his.. sometimes the shrimp are slightly larger and sometimes slightly smaller. Usually adjust cooking/poaching time

      The only constant is that I get them at a seafood counter in a supermarket... not a fishmonger per se

      1. re: JoanNYC

        Supermarket counters are not inherently evil, nor are fishmongers inherently good, so I wouldn't worry about that.

        Can you take a picture of this "residue" and post it?

    2. Is this where the legs are attached to the shrimp? I seem to remember this happening in the past, but not frequently. I like your choice of the big shrimp, as so many regard a cocktail shrimp as the puny ones. I've never poached shrimp, only boiled, but the last time I did 10-15's I boiled them for 3 minutes and let soak for 5 minutes. I live on the Texas Gulf Coast and am lucky enough to get Gulf shrimp at a local chain supermarket, but have no problem buying previously frozen. The only time I buy fresh is off the boats that come in daily off Galveston, to me fresh frozen is just as good. I'm not sure the of defrosting methods used at the store, I'll have to ask.

      1. In my experience, shrimp purchased frozen are almost of better quality than those defrosted at the counter. Have you tried those?

        Crumbling shrimp make me think "overcooked." I always do a single test shrimp before cooking a large number but I usually only cook them about two minutes.

        2 Replies
        1. re: JudiAU

          Mystery "residue" aside, I agree that "crumbling shrimp" = overcooked shrimp.

          1. re: Bacardi1

            Either that or "over-the-hill" shrimp. I've had that happen over the years. Three of the shrimp are good, one crumbles and tastes funky.

        2. Joan nYC, what ELSE goes into your simmer/boil pot you cook your shrimp in, and what is your actual cooking technique? DO you 'boil", or do you 'poach", etc.? Add bay leaves, lemon, anything to the water?

          Tell that, and I can probably trouble shoot for you....

          1 Reply
          1. re: gingershelley

            I poach... use lemon and old bay

            Even though I am careful I most likely overcooked them


          2. Here's a method that helps avoid overcooking: Bring your water to a boil (you can simmer your aromatic ingredients for a bit to infuse the water if you like). When water is boiling, toss in your shrimp, then cover the pot and immediately take it off the heat. Check the shrimp after a few minutes, and thereafter as needed; when they're thoroughly pink, they're done. It doesn't take long, and they have great texture.

            9 Replies
              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                I have computer problems so I am re-replying. In retrospect it is not EXACTLY how I do it. I let the water return to boil after adding shrimp... then turn off heat and cover. Thanks

                1. re: JoanNYC

                  I let the water return to boil after adding shrimp... then turn off heat and cover

                  Two thoughts about your problem

                  First, you do not need to return the water back to boil.....depending on the size of the shrimp, you only need to let them steep for 3-5 minutes until done ( no flame ). This is how many commercial kitchens cook Lobster Claws as well.

                  Second, Possibly, It sounds like to me somewhere along the line the shrimp have been allowed to sit out too long and the flesh has deteriorated. This is what is more commonly known as *soft shrimp*...This happens when sea foods and fish are left out in too warm a temperature for too long.....or in live shrimp and lobster, when the digestive tract is not removed soon enough and gases form and deteriorate the flesh.

                  1. re: fourunder

                    I cook them EXACTLY like your first thought :) Let the water return to boil, turn off flame, cover pot.. remove after 3 minutes into ice bath

                    I also believe your second point is right on target. I have used shrimp from this outlet before (not for shrimp cocktail) and find them mushy. I think it is not that the temperature they stay out is incorrect but that they are just sitting around too long

                    TODAY, however, I purchased some somewhere else and am going to try them later. I'll let you know. Thanks, j

                    1. re: JoanNYC

                      Just to clarify......when the water comes to boil........drop the shrimp and turn off the flame. Stir once or twice just to separate the shrimp if touching each other....the water is sufficiently hot and there is no need to bring back to boil......unless you are doing a second batch of other sea foods, e.g., Seafood Salad consisting of Calamari, Pulpo, Scallops, Mussels or Clams.

                      btw.....one of the best tips I read on Home Cooking was that you do not need a flame to boil dry pasta....Once water reaches boiling, just drop in and stir until the pasta is completely submerged and turn off the flame. Cover the pot and stir once or twice......the pasta will be cooked as suggested by package's instruction for cooking time......and the water is still very hot even after 12-13 minutes.

                      1. re: fourunder

                        Yesterday I let the water return to a boil after I put shrimp in. I will not tonight. I really think it was the shrimp itself. If I had overcooked them they would have been hard and rubbery which they were not

                        Your pasta tip goes against what every Italian chef has to say :) Also it really depends on the pasta. I will try it however. Thanks

                    2. re: fourunder

                      Wow, you just solved my mystery as well. Since, I know that my usual Harris Teeter fish counter just displays thawed frozen shrimp, I usually just buy frozen shrimp. However, this past Sunday I only had an hour until it was time to make dinner so I bought the "fresh" shrimp at the counter. When I ate them, they just tasted "off" with less flavor and a similar gritty texture. I did notice that when i was peeling them, they were very mushy although for some reason I assume it was just a different species or something. So the mushiness and grittiness are probably related? Is there any reason to mention this to the store as I've noticed this several times at this store but just assumed that the species they thawed and sold at the counter were "different"

                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                        I am not familiar with Harris Teeter BUT lots of time certain fish counters don't have the turnover. Therefore they sit in ice too long and somewhat deteriorate even though they are still considered fresh enough to sell

                        I knew this already about the counter I went to but decided to try "one more time". Was in the mood for cocktail shrimp and it was too hot out and I was too lazy to go to the store I preferred which is a worthwhile busride away. In fact I went there today.

                        All stores have to defrost shrimp and I am sure they do not do the "overnight" thing BUT if there is turnover and the store is more consciousnesses the shrimp should be fine

                      2. re: fourunder

                        Yeah, overcooking, it sounds like. And deterioration.

                  2. I'm thinking your initial instinct was correct, and that you're not overcooking them, and that the quick-defrost is the problem. Overcooking, I think, would make them tough and rubbery, not powdery and crumbly. At least that's been my experience. But I've always been told that things should be frozen quickly and thawed slowly, or texture suffers.

                    Can you get your shrimp frozen and try defrosting them slowly in the fridge and see if you get different results if you change nothing else?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: acgold7

                      I am now 100% convinced it was the way the shrimp were defrosted which was the problem. I rarely make shrimp this way. However, every time I do concede and buy shrimp at FE (when I don't have time or too lazy to go to fishmonger) am never happy no matter how I make them. Most of the time they are mushy and flavorless

                      The once in awhile when I do buy a package of frozen shrimp (they are not always available to me) I defrost them in refrigerator and they are great

                      I may try again today as I intend to guy to a much better resource for them.

                      Thanks so much

                    2. Every time I've had crumbly shrimp it's been because they were overcooked. Do you know the method use for the quick defrost? It's possible that is the problem.

                      Maybe try it with still frozen shrimp and defrost them yourself then cook them the same way and see what happens. You may also want to try broiling them with the shell on. That's usually how I cook large shrimp.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: BKK Brendan

                        Frozen shrimp are not always available to me. The only ones I can get these days come in 5 lb packages which are not always in my budget

                        This is the last time I buy shrimp at FE. I am never happy with the results. Actually I haven't gotten them there in a long time but was in the mood for this yesterday and couldn't make it to the store I would have preferred

                        1. re: BKK Brendan

                          I assume the FE puts the whole block of shrimp under running water and then they sit in the ice (and water) until they are not safe for sale anymore

                          Cannot get still frozen shrimp around here in the quantity I am interested in

                          Next time I'll do them shell on

                          1. re: JoanNYC

                            Cannot get still frozen shrimp around here in the quantity I am interested in


                            We are both in the same area. Most supermarkets sell two pound frozen bags of shrimp in a variety of sizes. Generally, they cost about $15 for the two pound bags. The shrimp are known as * IQF, or Individually Quick Frozen *. They come in Poly, Zip Lock style resealable bags. You take out however many you need and defrost them in a BOWL of water, which takes only a few minutes.....no need to waste running water. They come raw or cooked, shell on or shelled, already cleaned. They may not be the best , but definitely worth considering. I'll let others debate their country of Origin and whether they are farmed or wild.

                            One of the more popular brands is Contessa, but here is a bag of Cape Gourmet I recently purchased at my local ShopRite store with a $5 coupon from their weekly circular which brought the purchase down to $10, or $5 per pound. I purchased this exclusively for the purpose of satisfying my craving for Shrimp & Grits.

                            1. re: fourunder

                              The Dagostinos and Food Emporium around here only have 5 lb bags. They used to have 2 lbs bags which I used to get. I liked them very much. Also in my neighborhood there are very few sales. Whole Foods is allegedly opening this summer one block from where I live so I will definitely seek them out there.

                              When I did get the frozen ones I preferred the shelled on ones

                            2. re: JoanNYC

                              Costco and Trader Joes both have them, as well as every market I ever went to when we lived in Stamford.

                              1. re: acgold7

                                I am not near a Costco or Trader Joes and the Food Emp and Dagostino only have 5 lb bags now

                                A new Whole Foods is opening in my neighborhood and I am definitely going to get some there when they open

                          2. Do they have a strange texture before you cook them? I am wondering if there might be pieces with freezer burn as pictured here:

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: calliope_nh

                              The shrimp looked fine.... somewhat watery (as usual)

                            2. I clean the raw, in-shell shrimp by cutting through the back of the shell with manicure scissors and pulling out the vein with a crochet hook. I then boil the shrimp in the shell, cool and peel. Perfect every time. The shell protects the delicate meat and keeps it from getting that gnarly, shaggy look.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: pikawicca

                                I am going to do them shell on next time too. Funny that use use crochet hook! I have a shrimp peeler/deveiner that I got at William Sonoma years ago

                              2. Try brining the shrimp for 30 min or so before cooking. It can improve the texture of mediocre shrimp

                                1 Reply
                                1. I’ve discovered that brining shrimps, whether fresh or frozen, nearly always improves their texture. I first read this recommendation in one of my Chinese cookbooks (forgotten which one) and do it now all the time. I often buy frozen shrimps at Costco and thaw them in heavily salted water. But even if the shrimps have been thawed already, about 10 or 15 minutes worth of brining (1/4 cup of kosher salt in 1 cup of water with about 2 cups of ice) perks them up and gives them that bit of a bite or crunch that you want shrimps, especially in shrimp cocktail, to have.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: JoanN

                                    I'll try that next time I am forced to buy shrimp in the supermarket

                                    1. re: JoanNYC

                                      Even if you buy them from a source that is not the supermarket it's a good technique.

                                      Farmed shrimp benefit the most if you are forced to buy them

                                  2. I like the Alton Brown method with the big shrimp from Costco and a spicy pepper blend rather than Old Bay. I also thread them on 2 bamboo skewers to reduce curling.
                                    I and I'm sure he peels them before serving.