How To Cook Shrimp And Mistakes To Avoid (PHOTOS)

Let's never wrestle with an overcooked, rubbery one again, okay?

The thing about cooking shrimp is that we're all probably doing it for too long. Anyone who's ever wrestled with a tough, rubbery, depressing shrimp will understand what we mean. We love shrimp for its versatility, sweetness and speed of preparation. It's one of the quickest-cooking proteins we can think of, but also still feels totally luxurious once you're eating it. But just because shrimp cooks quickly, doesn't mean you can't screw it up.

When it comes to how to cook shrimp, most of our advice tends to reside in the buying, cleaning and prepping stages. Because we all love great shrimp, we wanted to talk about some of the shrimp mistakes you might be making, and how to avoid them. So we can all eat great shrimp. Because we all deserve to.

Using Shrimp That Are Past Their Prime
Fresh shrimp are extremely perishable. You should try your absolute best to cook them within 24 hours of purchasing them. If the only fresh shrimp available at the market were farmed in a far-flung location (like Thailand), they were probably previously frozen anyway. In that case, buy frozen, preferably with the shells on, preferably wild-caught, as close to home as possible. Whatever you do, if your shrimp smell like ammonia, take the hit and throw them out -- they're too old.
Not Defrosting Frozen Shrimp Before Cooking
Flickr: stu_spivack
Plunking still-frozen shrimp into poaching water (or worse, into a sauté pan or onto the grill) will lower the temperature of your cooking environment and cause the shrimp to cook un-evenly. There is a dead simple way to defrost shrimp: put them in a bowl of cold water in the sink, with the water running very lightly continuously. They'll defrost in just a few minutes.
Mangling Your Shrimp While Deveining
Using a dull knife to devein shrimp will leave you with mushy, mangled shrimp. Shrimp are delicate, so the less you handle them, them better. Try this awesome trick from SAVEUR with kitchen shears, which gives you the option of shelling the shrimp, or cooking with the shells on, while still cleaning the gross stuff out.
Not Saving The Shells/Heads
Shrimp heads and shells are like treasure chests of shrimp flavor. That's why shrimp taste better when you cook them in their shells. Whatever you do, save your shrimp heads and shells in a freezer bag. Later, sauté them in a little butter to make instant shrimp butter, or simmer them with herbs, salt and a few veggies for instant shrimp stock. You're on your way to the best bouillabaisse of all time.
Not Seasoning Your Shrimp
Flickr: Kjunstorm
The best shrimp is sweet, tender and full of oceany flavor -- but they're also incredibly mild and they always require salt. In fact, they can stand up to quite a bit of seasoning, as demonstrated by dishes like shrimp etouffee and classic Old Bay shrimp boils. Season them, they like it.
Overcooking Your Shrimp
Here is your general rule: straight shrimp are undercooked, shrimp that have just curled into a C-shape are perfectly cooked and shrimp that have twisted into an O-shape are terribly, irreparably overcooked. Overcooked shrimp are rubbery and sad. We hope you never have to eat one for your whole life.
Buying Pre-Packed Shrimp Cocktail
Flickr: Erik Starck
There are all kinds of benefits to making your own shrimp cocktail, like controlling the flavor and seasoning of the shrimp, deveining them properly, etc. But the best reason? You know whether they're fresh or not. Pre-cooked shrimp could very well have been cooked in the store to salvage nearly expired uncooked shrimp.
Buying Pre-Cooked, Frozen Salad Shrimp
Flickr: jeffreyw
Yeah, no. Just say no to salad shrimp. These are meant to be freeze-dried and put into ramen noodle cups.

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