One of the things we struggle with the most as home cooks is preparing shrimp without shrinkage, since we are always looking for our dishes to be as tasty as they are attractive. Today we will show you the most effective ways to prevent this from happening and to have better results when cooking these delicious seafood. Shrimp are joined by abdominal segments or strips that fold together and have a hardened layer. These strips cause the shrimp to shrink quickly when cooked, so it is advisable to defrost them properly beforehand, make deep cuts between these abdominal sections and adapt the cooking method according to the dish to be prepared.

  • Why do shrimp shrink?
  • What if I bought frozen shrimp?
  • Tips to avoid shrimp shrinkage
    • Make cuts in the lower part of the abdomen
    • Buy IQF shrimp
    • Thaw them properly
    • Do not overcook shrimp
    • Cook the shrimp with lemon
    • Related Recipes

Why do shrimp shrink?

The reason why this happens is because the lower part of each shrimp is connected by segments that divide its abdomen. These abdominal segments are muscular, jointed together, covered by a hardened layer and allow the shrimp to move. abdominal section of a Penaeus Indicus shrimp or white shrimp If you pick one up with your hand you will see these segments as small strips or strips that fold or bend into each other in the area of its abdomen. These strips cause the shrimp to shrink quickly during cooking. Some shrimp become smaller than others when you cook them; as a general rule, smaller shrimp tend to shrink more than larger ones.

What if I bought frozen shrimp?

If you bought frozen shrimp, keep in mind that the ones sitting on top of a pile of ice at the seafood store are not really fresh. These shrimp are frozen and thawed for who knows how long. Buying live shrimp fresh from the sea, river or pond will ensure that they are really fresh and much better than frozen. However, this is not very often the case!

Tips to avoid shrimp shrinkage

To give you a guide to help you prepare your meals better we will give you the most important tips to prevent shrimp from getting smaller before and after cooking.

Make cuts in the lower part of the abdomen

Since shrimp have these abdominal segments that hold them together, you will need to make deep cuts on the underside of each shrimp. These cuts will break these joints which will make them less likely to curl or shrink when cooked. Another option is to cut them in a butterfly shape, a special cut for preparing grilled or broiled shrimp.

Buy IQF shrimp

These shrimp are the best for defrosting as they have undergone the special IQF (Individual Quick Freezing) process. Buy them in the shells and thaw them yourself.

Thaw them properly

One of the best ways to thaw shrimp is to place them in a colander in the refrigerator or you can also thaw them at room temperature. Another is to put the shrimp in a sealed bag or Ziploc bag regardless of whether air accumulates inside, then run tap water over the bag at room temperature. Don’t use warm water and make sure the bag is tightly sealed to prevent water from entering.

Do not overcook shrimp

Whether grilled, broiled or baked, keep in mind that the shrimp should be cooked for no more than 3 minutes on each side. Keep in mind that the larger the shrimp are, the longer you should cook them, and make sure that the shrimp are firm enough. If you boil the shrimp, the ideal is that they are previously thawed, put them in boiling water and let them cook for 3 minutes, then put them in ice water to prevent them from continuing to cook and shrink.

Cook the shrimp with lemon

If you have already defrosted the shrimp correctly as we showed you in previous steps, the best thing to do is to cook them in lime or lemon juice, do it for 20 minutes and you will see the results.

Related Recipes

The line between perfectly cooked and messed-up shrimp is really thin, which can make cooking the things feel intimidating. But we’re here to tell you that you don’t have to be afraid—we’re all about building confidence over here at Basically. Let’s learn how to tell when shrimp are cooked through, how to get them tender and juicy every time. Let’s lift your crustacean confidence to new heights. Shrimp cook really quickly, which is partially why they are so often over or undercooked. There’s less of a margin for error when something is only in the skillet for three or four minutes, which is how long we usually cook shrimp. You can cook shrimp on a lower heat for a longer period of time, but for the best result, we like to sear or sauté shrimp on high heat. It gives them the best texture, juicy and tender, without any stringy chewiness. To start, make sure your shrimp are deveined. You can either do this yourself, or ask the person at your seafood counter or fish market to devein them. We like deveined shrimp because…well, there’s less poop. (That’s what that dark line is, people.) But also because the doneness of a shrimp will always be easier to judge when they’ve been cut along the back, exposing more surface area. Consistency is a big part of tasty shrimp. You want to make sure all of your shrimp are the same size (no mixing jumbo and medium shrimp) and enter the pan at the same time. There shouldn’t be any shrimp lying on top of one another. The only way to cook the shrimp evenly is to spread them out in one layer, across the bottom of the pan, so they’re all exposed to the heated surface of the pan. So we place all of our thawed, deveined shrimp in a single layer on a hot skillet. And we don’t touch them. We let them sear with some butter or olive oil, hard and fast, for about 1-2 minutes. The shrimp will initially stick to the pan, but once the exterior has seared they’ll release from the pan naturally. Once you can move the shrimp around easily, flip them all over onto the opposite side. You’ll notice the flipped side is white and orange, a sign that the exterior has cooked. The side you just flipped onto the pan will be turning the same color in a minute or two, but since we do not possess the technology for x-ray vision just yet, we can’t see inside the shrimp to tell if it’s white. So what do we do? How can we tell that the shrimp are finished cooking? This is the trick: You want to keep an eye on the crevice in the back of the shrimp where the vein was removed. Stay locked onto the thickest part of the shrimp (the opposite end as the tail), and when the flesh at the base of that crevice turns from translucent to opaque, the shrimp is done. It’s cooked through. We promise. Don’t go thinking, “Oh, an extra minute…just to be sure.” The only thing that will surely do is overcook them. Remove them from the heat immediately. Even when you turn the heat off, the pan the shrimp cooked in is still hot. That means the shrimp will continue to cook if they’re still in the skillet. Transfer them to pasta, greens, polenta, a salad, or just a big ol’ platter for serving. The lesson here is that you can’t ignore your shrimp. You need to pay attention to them. Listen, watch, and understand what they’re going through. Be there for them. If you are, you’ll have perfectly cooked shrimp every time. Okay. This is starting to sound like relationship advice. It’s not. It’s about juicy crustaceans.

Shrimp like to hang out on top of grits. Just FYI.

Image may contain Food Dish Meal Bowl Animal Seafood Sea Life and Shrimp Brunch, lunch, or dinner, we’re never not excited about sweet, garlicky shrimp and cheesy grits. View Recipe

  • The SpruceSure, if you’re buying live shrimp from a tank or off a boat, then those are indeed fresh and better than frozen. But the shrimp sitting atop a pile of ice in the seafood case are not, in fact, truly fresh. They’ve been previously frozen and have now been thawed for who knows how long. For best results, buy IQF (individually quick frozen) shrimp in the shell and defrost them yourself. This goes double for whole shrimp (i.e. with heads still attached). The heads contain an enzyme that can quickly turn the flesh mushy if not separated from the body immediately after harvesting.
  • ​The SpruceYou should never use a microwave for defrosting shrimp, nor leave them to thaw on the kitchen counter at room temperature. The best way to defrost frozen shrimp is in a colander in the refrigerator overnight. The next best way is to seal them tightly in a Ziploc bag with all the air pressed out and then run cold water over the bag for five to 10 minutes. Don’t use warm or hot water, and don’t run water over them without the bag, or the shrimp will soak up water and turn soggy. That’s also why we recommend a colander in the preferred method—so the shrimp don’t end up waterlogged.
  • ​The Spruce Eats / Julia HartbeckBecause shrimp cooks quickly with high heat, grilling is a terrific way to cook the seafood. But because of their quick cook time, two minutes per side is generally about right. That means you don’t want to waste time flipping them one at a time. By the time you get to the last ones, they’re already overcooked. Skewering the shrimp makes it easier to turn them and makes it harder for one or two to fall through the grate while helping them keep their shape. But take note: a single skewer may not be enough. Try flipping a row of shrimp on a single skewer and they’ll likely just spin around. A double skewer will prevent that and makes flipping shrimp a snap.
  • ​The SpruceWhen recipes call for deveining shrimp, its actually telling you to remove the digestive tract. And while it sounds unsavory, there’s nothing intrinsically bad about eating a shrimp digestive tract. But the shrimp gut can contain sand and mud, and while you might not taste it, the gritty texture is none too pleasant. The easiest way to devein shrimp is with a pair of kitchen shears or a sharp paring knife. Simply snip or cut a shallow ridge along the top of the shrimp from the wide end toward the tail and scrape out the little black strip. The beauty of this method is that you can also peel the shells off right then (or leave them on, depending on how you’re using them). Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • The Spruce Eats / Nita WestIn many parts of the world shrimp are enjoyed eating with the shells on—they’re crunchy and flavorful. But it’s it’s a preference and personal decision on whether to remove the shells. Will you remove the shells before cooking? Or after? Or will you serve them with shells on and leave the task of removing to your guests? Most people find it messy and a hassle to peel every shrimp before eating it—especially if they’re being served as hors d’oeuvres at a cocktail party. Or in a pasta dish or stew, where you have to pick the shrimp up and get sauce all over your fingers.
  • The SpruceNotwithstanding everything you just read above, one time when it is not only acceptable but also preferable to leave the shells on your shrimp is when quick cooking, like grilling. That’s because the shells protect them from the intense, dry heat, so you’re less likely to overcook them and they’ll still be juicy when you bite into them. It also helps them keep their shape instead of curling up as they’re prone to do.
  • The SpruceIf you peeled your shrimp before cooking or serving, don’t just throw the shells in the trash. The shells of crustaceans (that means shrimp as well as lobster, crayfish, and crab) are loaded with flavor. They’re the key to making a flavorful bisque or seafood stock. Store the shrimp shells in a zip-top bag in the freezer until you’re ready to use them.
  • The SpruceLike meat and poultry, the muscles in seafood are made up of bundles of fiberlike protein cells. In fish and seafood, however, the bundles are much shorter, and the connective tissue that holds them together is much thinner. Thus, fish and seafood cook much faster than meat and poultry. Shimp are also small, so it doesn’t take much time for heat to penetrate them. Unlike meat, which is cooked through at around 160 F, shrimp are fully cooked when their little interiors reach 120 F. They’ll go from a translucent bluish-green (depending on what type of shrimp you’re cooking) to an opaque pink. If they curl up into tight little O’s, they’re overcooked.

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