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Tell me how to cook frozen shrimp

I volunteered to take shrimp and dip to a casual party. I have two bags of Costco's large size frozen shrimp with tails on, but otherwise peeled. The dip is handled: DH's favorite consisting of Heinz chili sauce with added horseradish and lemon or lime juice. The cooking is my problem. I want them to be sort of straight. Do I insert a toothpick in each one before cooking and then remove it? Is it better to steam them or to barely simmer? Do I put flavorings in the water and if so, what? I have cooked shrimp in many ways, but they always come out curled up. In the prepared party trays I see, the shrimp are straighter and I want that look. Can you help me?

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  1. Shrimp are not straight when they're cooked, so don't bother trying to make them do something that they won't do. It's okay -- people expect shrimp to be curled.

    I'd let them defrost, then steam them over water until just pink.

    If you want to get fancy, steam 'em over beer or wine.

    6 Replies
    1. re: sunshine842

      Hey, sunshine :)

      I'd also defrost. I bring water to a boil, add shrimp, cover, remove from heat. Generally in about four minutes, they've turned pink and are done. I strain and then dump in ice water to stop any more cooking. Agree that shrimp aren't straight - even alive :)

      1. re: c oliver

        I'd be suspicious of straight shrimp; I don't want surimi that just looks like shrimp with a stick up their...

        1. re: c oliver

          I am the OP. Thank you for the "no boil" technique. That is what did. Thawed the shrimp, salted them liberally, and they sat while the water came to a boil in my largest pot. I added salt to the water along with some lemon juice. When the water was boiling again, I turned off the gas, dumped in the shrimp, covered the pot. Done in less than two minutes. Fished them out with a big scooper (because I was using the same water for the second bag of shrimp) and dumped them into ice and
          water. Perfect!!! They were curled, but not too tightly. The tail was easily accessible for use as a handle. Several people came up to tell me how good the shrimp were.

          Now my question is: what happened to Heinz Chili Sauce in the last 10 years when I wasn't looking? It is so sweet -- way too sweet. That was a shocker. It used to be a good product.

          1. re: jmnewel

            Glad that worked for you. Re cocktail sauce I haven't tasted that stuff in at least twenty years. I use ketchup, horseradish, Worchestershire sauce and lemon juice. Just keep adding ingredients and stirring til it tastes how I want it.

            1. re: c oliver

              Thank you for this. I shall do the same in the future.

      2. You can use a pair of skewers and stick the raw shrimp onto them as though they were the uprights of a ladder and the shrimp were the rungs. if you don't have a large enough pot to simmer or steam the "ladders", preheat an oven to at least 350F, boil water, put the ladders into a roasting or lasagna pan, add boiling water to cover, and put into the oven for a few minutes.

        Look up "court bouillon" if you want to flavor the water in which you cook the shrimp.
        If you go that route, save the liquid for future use in soup or sauces. To save freezer space, you can boil it down to half the volume.

        4 Replies
        1. re: greygarious

          Thank you all for your prompt replies. I guess my shrimp will be curled.

          What is "crab boil" and does one cook shrimp in it?

          1. re: jmnewel

            If someone is bringing a "cocktail sauce," I'd just keep it plain water. Yeah, you can use one but I don't cause I really like the taste of crab and shrimp and don't want to tinker with it.

            1. re: jmnewel

              You can cook shrimp in crab boil, but I wouldn't for cocktail. Let your husband's sauce carry the heat.

              Commercial crab boil ingredients: Mustard Seed, Coriander Seed, Cayenne Pepper, Bay Leaves, Dill Seed, Allspice.

              1. re: jmnewel

                Commercial crab boil comes in many forms. You can buy powdered, bagged and liquid. I use it to boil shrimp for shrimp cocktail all the time. It is delicious. In fact, I don't know anyone who does not do this. Maybe all my friends and family are strange. This would not surprise me. ;)

            2. It sounds like shrimp cocktail is the plan of the day, judging from the sauce/dip you mention. If you've never cooked shrimp before you have to know this ahead of time: First off, they cook VERY fast, and if overcooked they get hard, rubbery, and everyone will hate you! '-)

              Here's how I cook frozen shrimp for shrimp cocktails:
              Place a fair sized colander in a large bowl, put the shrimp in the colander and place the bowl holding the nested colander in the sink under cold running tap water. Adjust the tap so the water is a gentle steady stream, but not so strong it will force the shrimp out of the colander and overboard. Allow them to "swim" until FULLY thawed! As in limp! A parially frozen shrimp will not cook evenly.

              While that is happening, bring a large pot of sea or kosher salted water to a rolling boil.

              When shrimp are fully limp, lift colander from bowl of water and drain in the colander. Now get everything "mis en place" BEFORE yyou oil the shrimp!

              Throw out the water in the large bowl y ou thawed the shrimp in, rinse and fill with lots of crushed ice and cold water until nearly full. Set near stove. Have a kitchen timer or a stop watch at the ready. If you hae a Chinese "spider" for lifting things out of a fryer, it's a very handy tool, or if your colander is metal, you can also just lower it fully into the pot of boiling water with all of the shrimp having room to move around. Either way will work fine IF the colander will fit in the pan without crowding the shrimp while they cook.

              Ready? Okay...

              Put the shrimp in the pot of boiling water for 3 mintues. ONLY three minutes! Take them all out of the water as quickly as possible and immediately submerge in the ice water! When they're completely chilled, drain and put them in a zip lock bag and refrigerate until serving time.

              For shrimp cocktails on the fancy side, I put some shrimp sauce in a martini glass, then drape the shrimp around the rim, tails outside and pointing down, then garnish with a sprig of parsley and a thin slice of lemon.

              However you serve the shrimp, they will be tender and delicious! Have fun! And I hope this reaches you in time!!!

              5 Replies
              1. re: Caroline1

                I haven't used boiling water for the actual cooking in many, many years. As I posted above, I bring the water to a boil, add the shrimp, cover, remove from heat. Other than that I generally find them overcooked. And, OF COURSE, all these suggestions have to be adjusted by the size of the shrimp.

                1. re: c oliver

                  To each her own! This is the method I use for colossal (u15, or about 14 shrimp per pound). I figure as long as it works well for me, why fix it? But then I do tend to do things the old fashioned way.

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    Seems like it was Julia Child who 'taught me' this but I could be wrong about that. It's been many, many years. And I've never used colossals for shrimp cocktail but then the ones I get are more like U6 or U8.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      Catherine, if it works for you, by all means, carry on, Julia or no Julia. The problem with your method is that it is not an end all for all sizes and shapes of shrimp. Different strokes and all that jazz.

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        Hate to repeat myself but..."And, OF COURSE, all these suggestions have to be adjusted by the size of the shrimp."

                        When you use colossals for shrimp cocktail, how do you serve them? Hardly seems like fingerfood weighing in at two or three ounces each. Oh, wait, the ones you get are half the size of what I get.

              2. I'd either just boil those bad boys (and dump into ice water immediately after boiling to stop the cooking) or else broil them, or, even better, grill them.

                I like simple flavorings - salt and maybe a little garlic. For the boiled ones, I'd just salt the water. But...for cold shrimp cocktail, the shrimp tend to be naked, flavor-wise.

                2 Replies
                1. re: jbsiegel

                  Could you give some times please for the various techniques? TIA.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    For boiling, I just go by sight. When they look pink, I pull them quickly and dump them in the ice.

                    For grilling and broiling, it's usually 1.5-2 minutes per side. Again, sight is a good indicator. I prefer the grilling because it's "dryer" and the shrimp don't sit in their juice...if that makes any sense. Either skewer them or use a grill basket.

                2. About straight (uncurled) shrimp.... I don't know if it would work well for boiled shrimp... I'll give it a shot next time! But for tempura shrimp, I follow the Japanese tradition of doing several slashes across the inside of tfhe shrimp's body (where the "legs" were) and that keeps them from curling and no need for toothpicks or whatever. You just slash deep enough to keep them from curling... never more than half way through. It's probably not done for shrimp cocktails because without all that crunchy delicious tempura batter surrounding them they would probably look ridiculousl! You could give it a try with one shrimp first and see what you think.

                  Aha! Google is my friend too...! Here's a video of someone preparing shrimp for tempura....

                  1. "The cooking is my problem. I want them to be sort of straight."
                    Why? I am not sure I understand. The chefs at work cut the belly of shrimp before frying them.with slices kind of like if you were easing a collar wile sewing. But I work at a Japanese style place.. I dont know why you would want a flaccid floppy shrimp for dipping Maybe I am not getting what you want???

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: girloftheworld

                      Cooked shrimp are neither flaccid nor floppy. I suspect that the OP has been experiencing shrimp that are curled into a tight circle once they are (over)cooked, and that is not an optimal shape for dipping. Better to be able to hold them by the tail and dip without getting any on your fingers.

                      1. re: greygarious

                        LOL i guess I was picturing pre cooked all floopy after having been cut..of course neither raw shrimp would be good dipping... if ya think about it...

                        1. re: greygarious

                          You are exactly right. I want the shrimp to maintain their arched shape for easier dipping.

                      2. There's a couple of things you can do to flatten/straighten out the shrimp.

                        You could try cutting one or two scores across the shrimp either before or after cooking - just be careful not to cut all the way through.

                        For the "flat" butterflied shrimp you often see when it's fried, you just push down on it real hard and it will split in the middle and butterfly on its own.

                        Just thaw them, make sure they are de-veined and gently poach them in simmering water that's been flavored with a little lemon juice. As soon as they are opaque and firm, transfer them to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Atomic76

                          That's pretty much how I cook prawns/large shrimp.
                          I get the water to JUST 200F not above.
                          They will only take a couple of minutes to barely cook. Carryover does the rest if they are covered after being removed from the lemon juice/water. Try adding a few drops of ginger juice to the water. Otherwise it's tempera batter, egg whites only no yolks.

                        2. I used to boil shrimp but now I roast it. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in a 400 oven for about 8 minutes depending on the size of the shrimp. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice. So much more flavorful than boiling/steaming.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: whitepicketfence

                            This is good to know. Too hot here for the oven, but I will try this technique when the weather is cooler.

                          2. If you cook shelled shrimp, they will curl. Nothing much will prevent it. I always cook them shell on; not saying they will be perfectly straight, that would be unnatural looking, but definitely a relaxed half moon. Plus I like to think the shells add a bit of flavor.

                            18 Replies
                            1. re: coll

                              I've never heard of boiling shrimp WITHOUT their shells.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                if you buy them in bulk unshelled and cleaned at the local HEB

                                1. re: girloftheworld

                                  Did you mean "shelled"? And what's a HEB?

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    H.E.B is our local grocer who/which actually does say " unshelled" on the hand written sign in the case " cleaned and unshelled" gulf shrimp

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      Someplace where literacy is in short supply, apparently.

                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        Hey... don't be mean to my H.E.B. fish guys. The pun of your screen name is becoming ironic with every post I am noticing.

                                        1. re: girloftheworld

                                          Frozen shrimp comes Shell On and Shell Off, not to mention Tail on and Tail Off; I've never found any to be more popular than the other. Unshelled sounds like a perfect alternate description to me. If you get a decent brand yes they might cut down the backbone and clean it out for you too. "Deveined" is the industry term.

                                        2. re: greygarious

                                          Wll shoot, greygarious, we don't talk right down here in Texas. I'm mostly illeterate myselfs, but I wasn't the least bit cornfused about what girl was saying. Maybe we're all stupid on the same level down here ;-)

                                          I grew up shrimping, and the shrimp curl way before cooking. If they are straight, that only means they were dead in the net. If I approach a table of shrimp, I avoid any shrimp that are straight, unless there's an obvious skewer (like in asian preparations with heads and shell on). HEB, a wonderful regional market here, is offering deveined shell on shrimp right now (headless) for $5.97 per pound, frozen or thawed.

                                          Except for circus carneys, there's nothing I cannot stand more than unsalted boiled shrimp. Even with a hopped up cocktail sauce, the lack of salt is incongruent with the sauce and drains the palate.

                                          A bowl of frozen shrimp thaws in just a few minutes under cold running water. Then they can be dried off, peeled, and sauteed. If boiling for cocktail shrimp, at least put some salt in the water.....

                                          1. re: rudeboy

                                            $6 a pound? Are they TX shrimp?

                                            I'd pass out from overconsumption if they are. They're definitely not that cheap in Florida.

                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                              No, these are farm raised in thailand. Gulf shrimp would be more expensive. On occasion, we can get fresh, never frozen gulf shrimp for $7 something a pound. Maybe once a year.....now that my beloved Sea of Cortez shrimp are not going to be available for a while, I expect more farmed shrimp in my future.

                                              1. re: rudeboy

                                                I paid $14/lb for 16-20s about 2 weeks ago.


                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                  These are more like U30s or so - I'm lucky in that I like smaller shrimp. The price at Central Market and Whole Foods are dramatically higher based on size and source. So don't feel too bad!

                                                  1. re: rudeboy

                                                    Okay...that's about the price charged for the same size farmed shrimp here, too.

                                                    But I was a little anxious for a minute.

                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                      sunshine, I did go to the market tonight and "16-25s" were $9.90 per pound. Could not fins out the source!

                                  2. re: coll

                                    You are right, of course. But I am trying to save myself a little work. These shrimp come with heads and shells off, but the tails are still on in order to be used, in my case, as the handle for dipping. The above suggestions of scoring the inner part makes real sense. I'll try that.

                                    1. re: jmnewel

                                      Try boiling them in beer instead of water. Add mustard seeds, a few bay leafs, lemon juice, and a good hit of cayenne powder.

                                      1. re: jmnewel

                                        I find that people are happy to be served shrimp no matter the appearance. I wouldn't sweat it, probably will be the best thing there!

                                        1. re: coll

                                          Agree with this. I made skewered shrimp for a iron chef thing and everyone grabbed all the shrimp once everything opened up for spectators. Had four shrimp per skewer, which was a mistake. I remember this one guy with 16 shrimp and a solo cup full of sake. Kids at the end didn't get any!

                                    2. Brine your shrimp before cooking in a salt/sugar brine.

                                      Use the brine to boil your shrimp.

                                      12 Replies
                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Cooks Illustrated recommends it. If memory serves, it's to minimize shrinkage and protect it from getting tough so easily.

                                          1. re: greygarious

                                            Since mine only sit in hot water for three or four minutes, I've not found that to be an issue but I suppose if one is actually boiling them then perhaps.

                                            1. re: greygarious

                                              I remember reading about a sugar and water brine (but is it a brine without sugar?) in one of Alton Brown's books where it was mentioned as a restaurant method to "plump" up shrimp.

                                              1. re: cleobeach

                                                I'd ask - is it brine if without salt?

                                            2. re: c oliver

                                              The sugar "brings out" the sweetness of the shrimp. And the salt...well that makes everything taste better. :)

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                Farmed shrimp tend to be a bit mushy. Brining with salt water similar to the salinity of the sea will firm them up and give them the snap of fresher shrimp

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    I don't do the sugar thing but don't have an aversion to sugar. Brown sugar goes in my other brines for meats and fish like salmon for lox and for corning meats. Mostly for color as I can never taste any sweetness in the final product

                                              2. re: joonjoon

                                                please, please don't put sugar in my shrimp.

                                                It doesn't belong there.

                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                  Yeah, when people say "bring out the sweetness" I've never really known what that means.

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    I've been known to add a sprinkle of sugar if I had to keep the corn in the fridge a day longer than I wanted (a teaspoon in a stock pot full of water) or to fruit that's not as sweet as it should e, but yecch. not in my shrimp.

                                                    They're sweet just like they are if they've been cooked properly when they're really fresh.

                                              3. It won't be totally straight but you can skewer it through the middle lengthwise so its pretty straight then grill it quickly until done. The grilling gives it a nice smoky flavor I prefer to steaming.