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The Ultimate Guide to Buying Shrimp

The Ultimate Guide to Buying Shrimp

Follow these guidelines when buying shrimp

Find out how to get the highest-quality shrimp

Shrimp may be small, but they should be big on flavor. I love the dense but tender texture and subtle sweetness of this healthy protein. Great for everything from summer grilling to holiday entertaining, shrimp are a fantastic year-round seafood choice. Whether you’re buying MSC-certified wild shrimp or options from Responsibly Farmed sources, here’s how to find the highest-quality shrimp and how to prepare them at home.

It’s important to buy shrimp from sources with good water quality. Certifications or ratings on the packaging should help identify shrimp raised responsibly, so look for a seal from organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council, or green and yellow ratings from the Monterey Bay Aquarium or Blue Ocean Institute. Environmental stewardship is especially important when it comes to farmed shrimp. Your seafood counter should be able to tell you exactly where their shrimp comes from.

Shrimp’s light, fresh flavor will shine when it is not chemically treated and contains no added phosphates, sulfates, or preservatives. And make sure your frozen shrimp is flash-frozen within hours of harvest to maintain the best flavor.

Here are some other helpful tips for choosing and cooking shrimp:

  • Shrimp size is measured by the count per pound. Weight is affected not just by length and girth, but also by whether or not shrimp is peeled or has the heads and tails on.
  • Fresh shrimp should be kept refrigerated and cooked within two days; frozen shrimp can be kept in a sealed bag in the freezer for up to 60 days.
  • Boil shrimp for approximately four to six minutes (depending on size) until they turn pink and opaque. Do not overcook; they will become tough.
  • Grill shrimp for three or four minutes just until they turn pink. Smaller shrimp should be skewered so they don’t fall through grill grates.

Now, savor your new shrimp know-how with these creative, easy recipes:

Spicy Shrimp: The marinade balances fiery Sriracha with a little sugar and aromatic garlic to create a caramelized kick

Pineapple Shrimp in Endive Leaves: This light, fresh, no-cook appetizer can also be served in small romaine leaves or lettuce cups.

Thai Shrimp and Carrot Salad: The flavorful, refreshing, and crisp salad tops a bed of rice noodles for a great mix of textures and tastes.

David Pilat, global seafood buyer for Whole Foods Market

There are over 300 species of shrimp and prawns, but the majority will be hard to find except in specific areas.

If you live on the coast, or are visiting a coastal area, try to find some local shrimp!

And, because nothing can be easy in the seafood labeling business, keep in mind that shrimp species are not always marked clearly (or at all) on packaging.

But sometimes they are, and I can help you know what to look for!

Here are some types of American shrimp (domestic shrimp) you might find in a grocery store or market:

  • Pink Shrimp: Often from Florida, Large and meaty, Sweet
  • White Shrimp: Often from Atlantic or Gulf, Also imported, Can be hard to find, Sweet
  • Brown Shrimp: Often from the Gulf of Mexico, Relatively easy to find, Typically small, Mild
  • Spot Prawns: Seasonal West Coast shrimp, Large, Expensive and hard to find
  • Maine Shrimp: Cold water East Coast shrimp, Small, Hard to find
  • Oregon Shrimp: West Coast shrimp, Small or Large, Relatively easy to find
  • Royal Red: Often from the Gulf of Mexico, Large, Can be hard to find, Sweet like lobster

If you’re buying imported shrimp, be on alert– check for traceability, certifications, and chemical additives. Here are a couple of kinds you might find:

  • Whiteleg Shrimp: Common shrimp, Generally imported, Easy to find, Generally not clearly labeled
  • Tiger Shrimp: Farmed shrimp, Signature striped shell, Can be expensive and hard to find

Recently, there has been a marketing campaign trying to push Argentine Red Shrimp. This shrimp is not considered sustainable.

Try a pink shrimp recipe: Check out this buffalo shrimp + blue cheese grits from Taste and See.

The Ultimate Guide to Buying Shrimp - Recipes

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Shrimp Salad

Cut the peeled and deveined shrimp into 2 or 3 pieces, depending on the size of the shrimp. Place in a large bowl. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, eggs, capers.

13 of the Best Mexican Recipes to Grill This Summer

With coronavirus making travel a tricky and even potentially dangerous prospect this year, we’re embracing the summer staycation. All week (and all summer) long, we’ll bring you transportive flavors and travel-inspired ideas from around the world, so you can take your tastebuds on a trip and give your mind a mini vacation while you’re still at home. Here, our best Mexican BBQ recipes when burgers are getting boring.

With grilling season in full swing, you may be getting tired of hot dogs and hamburgers. Enter: Grilled Mexican food—especially perfect if your local taqueria is still closed right now. You can obviously make your own margaritas too.

While not all of the below dishes are what you’d call authentic, they are all delicious, and meant to capture the experience of an evening stroll through a town in Mexico, where the smell of meat cooking over charcoal is one of the primary sensory pleasures. So, yes, we have carne asada, but a few hearty vegetarian options too—and even a couple cocktails made with grilled fruit. Buen provecho!

No grill? We’ve got a few alternative suggestions:

Or, just get to the grilling!

1. Grilled Shrimp Tacos

Grilled shrimp are a lighter alternative to meat for tacos. Toss them quickly in spicy chipotle powder, cumin, and lime juice, then grill to develop a flavorful char. Stuff into warm corn tortillas and top with fresh avocado-corn salsa. Get our Grilled Shrimp Tacos recipe.

2. Mexican BBQ Chicken

A recipe inspired by Mexico’s pollo al carbon, chickens marinated and cooked on huge charcoal grills, this is easier to pull off on your Weber. The marinade contains achiote paste, chopped cilantro, jalapeños, garlic, lime, and orange juice. Get our Mexican BBQ Chicken recipe.

El Yucateco Achiote Paste, $6.40 from Amazon

Annatto seeds lend flavor and vibrant orange color to this seasoning paste.

3. Grilled Chile Salmon with Lime Crema

Salmon fillets marinate quickly in chili powder, garlic, lime, and olive oil. After grilling, the salmon is served with a sauce of Mexican crema or sour cream, lime, cilantro, and green onions. Get our Grilled Chile Salmon with Lime Crema recipe.

4. Carne Asada

Flank steak marinated with beer, lime and lemon juice, garlic, red onion, salt, and a bit of sugar gets grilled, sliced, and slipped into tacos. Get our Carne Asada recipe.

5. Grilled Veggie Fajitas

Meaty fajitas may be more common, but marinated, grilled veggies make an equally satisfying filling, especially paired up with pinto beans, tomatillo salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and melty cheese. Get our Grilled Veggie Fajita recipe.

6. Guacamole Turkey Burgers

Turkey burgers can be dry and tasteless, but not these. Dark-meat turkey lends juiciness and flavor, while additions of chili powder, lime zest, and cilantro lend character. A topping of tangy guacamole finishes things off in vivid style. Get our Guacamole Turkey Burgers recipe.

7. Mexican Grilled Steak Salad

For this healthy Mexican grilled flank steak recipe, medium-rare slices of beer-marinated beef mingle with romaine lettuce, canned black beans, cherry tomatoes, avocado, queso fresco, and cilantro in an avocado-yogurt dressing. Get our Mexican Grilled Steak Salad recipe.

8. Grilled Tofu Torta

Mexican sandwiches are often meaty—and this one is too, even though it’s entirely plant-based. Grill marinated tofu, then top it with smashed black beans, salty crumbles of cotija cheese, pickled jalapeños, creamy avocado, and shredded lettuce, all inside a soft bun. Get our Grilled Tofu Torta recipe.

9. Grilled Rib-Eyes with Chile-Lime-Tequila Butter

Steaks on the grill are the iconic summertime meal. We top ours with a Mexican-style compound butter spiked with chiles, black pepper, lime juice, and tequila. Get our Grilled Rib-Eyes with Chile-Lime-Tequila Butter recipe.

10. Pork and Chorizo Chile Burger

Top these burgers of ground pork and spicy Mexican chorizo with grilled chiles and a grilled avocado mash (clearly paving the way for grilled guac on the side!), and wash it all down with a refreshing beer cocktail—or a straight-up bottle of cerveza. Get our Pork and Chorizo Chile Burger recipe.

11. Grilled Corn with Cayenne, Lime, and Cotija

Grilled corn is a beautiful thing, but even better when dressed Mexican-street-food-style, slathered in cayenne-spiked mayo, rolled in cotija cheese, and spritzed with lime juice. Add a sprinkle of cilantro and/or a few cracks of black pepper if you like. It also has a built-in handle since you grill it in the husk—pure perfection. Get our Grilled Corn with Cayenne, Lime, and Cotija recipe.

12. Grilled Sangría

Sangria is technically Spanish (its Mexican cousin is clerico), but it’s perfect with Mexican food too—and more interesting than yet another margarita. Adding grilled fruit gives it a bit of smoky flavor that complements the red wine and brandy, but also mellows out the booziness. Get our Grilled Sangría recipe.

13. Grilled Pineapple Cocktail

A daiquiri is not Mexican either, but this version shares some delicious similarities with a margarita, namely: fresh lime juice and an orange-flavored liqueur. Swap in tequila for the rum and you have something closer to a marg, with the smoky-sweet flavor of grilled pineapple mixing things up. Rim the glass with tajín for a nod to Mexico’s chile-and-lime-spiked fresh fruit snacks. Get our Grilled Pineapple Cocktail recipe.

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How to Buy Shrimp

Make sure the shrimp you’re buying is as fresh as possible. Find a fishmonger you trust and choose domestic or wild-caught shrimp (like Gulf shrimp) if available. If you aren’t going straight home afterwards, ask to have your shrimp packed on ice.

If you can't find fresh shrimp, frozen shrimp are perfectly fine to buy—and in some cases are preferable. The reason being, all shrimp are frozen at sea after they're caught, and it's hard to know exactly how long the "fresh" shrimp sitting behind the seafood counter have been thawed. Buying frozen shrimp gives you greater control over the defrosting process, since you can cook them immediately afterwards.

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Here's how to make your evaluation and treatment smoother

Few things are as scary as having to go to the emergency room. Perhaps, walking down the aisle (kidding!)? In truth, the E.R. is there to either save your life or to help you feel better. The important thing is that you utilize emergency services when you need to, and not allow fear of having a bad experience dissuade you from going. Interesting fact: according to the most updated CDC website, in 2016, the mean wait time to see a medical provider was 24 minutes in less busy emergency rooms and 48 minutes in the busier ones. Expectedly, people with more concerning symptoms such as chest pain are seen quicker than those with the complaint of a stubbed toe (I really did think I had broken it).

For those of you who are off to the emergency room, here are some (hopefully) helpful tips for making your evaluation and treatment smoother. Of course, depending on your symptoms and on whether you are being brought to the emergency room by an ambulance, you may not have the time or capacity to follow these tips (it's difficult to pack an overnight bag when you are unconscious).

Bring Another Set of Eyes and Ears

Whether it be a friend, family member or a work colleague. Having someone there to help advocate for you (asking the charge nurse why you haven't been seen in six hours) and to also listen to what the nurses and doctors tell you is extremely helpful. Additionally, s/he can act as a liaison and keep your other friends and family members informed of how you are doing.

Be Prepared

This step can be done months earlier in anticipation. You should keep an updated list of your current medications along with dosages (including vitamins and herbal supplements) as well as a record of your medication allergies. A great place to store this information is under notes if you use a smartphone. Otherwise, the old-fashioned method of keeping these details on a piece of paper tucked away in your wallet will also suffice. Other particulars you should keep handy are your insurance information, your doctor's name and phone number, a brief summary of your medical history, such as previous diagnoses such as asthma or kidney problems, and a list of your prior surgeries. For those of you with a history of heart disease or who are presenting to the emergency room with chest pain, shortness of breath or dizziness, having a copy of your most recent electrocardiogram (EKG), which is an image of your heart's electrical activity and can signify signs of heart disease, can be extremely helpful. In fact, you should consider keeping a copy of your most recent EKG under pictures if you use a smartphone, or in your wallet, if you are a technophobe.

Try to Be as Nice and Understanding as You Can Be

Clearly, you are likely very nervous and not yourself, as being in pain and not feeling well can bring out the worst in us. However, it is important to remember that the professionals in the emergency room are likely working their hardest and have the best of intentions, and you are likely not their only patient. Try to envision how you would respond if you had to deal with your worst self (frankly, I would probably call security and have myself thrown out).

Cooking Methods for Scallops and Shrimps

It doesn’t matter if you are cooking scallops for the first time or if you are a seasoned line cook, there is a huge sense of satisfaction when you go to flip the scallop and there is a deep golden brown crust waiting for you. The key difference in the way that we approach cooking shrimp vs. scallops are the times and temperatures. Even when cooking shrimp we have shell on shrimp vs. shell off or peeled shrimp. Let’s address cooking scallops first. For the step by step recipe, refer to our How to Pan Sear Scallops and How to Pan Sear Shrimp.

Cooking Time & Temperature for Pan Seared Scallops

First we start off by preheating the pan to 450°F (232°C). We want the pan to be hot enough to cause evaporation of any surface moisture on the scallop and begin the browning process.

After adding the scallops to the pan, it is crucial to not poke, prod, or move the scallops around until it is time to flip.

Once the scallop has developed a dark crust (3 minutes), it is time to give them a flip. At this point we want to dramatically decrease the temperature to 350°F(176°C).

We don’t want to sear the second side of the scallops, but instead gently cook the scallops until they are opaque in color. While the scallops finish cooking, feel free to add some garlic and thyme (or your favorite aromatics) to the pan.

Spooning the aromatic oil over the scallops adds a depth of flavor and helps to finishing cooking. The second side of the scallop should only cook for about 40 seconds.

As a side note, if you are trying to impress a special someone or you are having friends over for dinner, pan seared scallops paired with our Beurre Blanc sauce will not only taste delicious, but will automatically upgrade you to gourmand status amongst your peers.

Cooking Time & Temperature for Pan Seared Shrimp

When it comes to shrimp, pan searing is about as straightforward as it gets. There is a slight difference in time and temperature as we move from shell on shrimp to peeled shrimp. In both occasions we will only be cooking at one temperature.

For searing shell on shrimp, we are going to cook at a slightly lower temperature of 400°F (204°C). Cooking at a lower temp allows the shrimp to slightly steam in the shell, resulting in a very tender and sweet piece of shrimp.

Once you have added the shrimp to the pan, all you have to do is cook for the same amount of time on both sides at the same temperature.

Pan searing peeled shrimp follows the same process, but at a higher temperature of 425°F (218°C) for 1 minute and 15 seconds per side. Using this technique allows for multiple textures to develop within the shrimp. The outside should have a slight crunch or firmness, while the interior should be supple and tender.

We strongly recommend giving both techniques a try. And we always suggest deveining your shrimp by removing the digestive tract from the back of the shrimp. It can impart a bitter flavor and grittiness to your shrimp.

Shrimp Sizing Chart

Shrimp Label Shrimp Per Pound
Small 51 or greater
Medium 36 to 50
Large 26 to 40
Jumbo 16 to 25
Colossal Fewer than 15

Check for Freshness

Shrimp are highly perishable, so it's important to know how to pick out the freshest shrimp available, not just for taste and texture but also for safety. First off, you don't want any shrimp that smell like ammonia—this is a telltale sign of spoilage, and it's worth asking your fishmonger if you can take a sniff before buying. You'll also want to avoid shrimp that are limp, slimy, or falling apart, all of which are signs of decay.

A more advanced sign if you're buying head-on fresh shrimp: look for black spots on the head first, then the body. "That's a pretty good indicator that it's not at peak freshness," says Davis Herron, the retail director at The Lobster Place, one of New York's best seafood markets. The black spots are called melanosis it's the result of the same oxidation process that turns your apples and avocados brown. In other words, they don't definitively mean that your shrimp is bad, but they do indicate that the shrimp could be fresher.

In most cases, you're better off buying frozen shrimp, even when "fresh" shrimp are available. Read on to see why.

Frozen or Fresh

The vast majority of shrimp sold in the supermarket or at the fishmonger were deep frozen at sea and delivered to the retailer in that state. That display of "fresh" shrimp you see at the counter? Those are the same bags of frozen shrimp you find in the freezer that have simply been allowed to thaw out in the store before going on display. There's no way to know how long they've been there defrosted, so you're better off buying the frozen shrimp and defrosting them yourself at home where you have more control over the process and can guarantee that your shrimp don't spend too long out of the freezer before being cooked.

The one exception to the always-buy-frozen rule is when you have access to live shrimp, either fresh from the ocean, or stored in tanks at the shop. In those cases, cook the shrimp as soon as possible after purchasing for best flavor and texture.

Block or IQF?

Shrimp tend to be frozen either in large five pound blocks or by using the IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) method. We recommend opting for the second. IQF shrimp tend to show less damage during freezing. They also make it easy to thaw only the shrimp you need for a single meal at a time.

If you're buying from a grocery store freezer, take a peek in the little transparent plastic window at the shrimp within. Any freezer burn? Move on to the next bag. Freezer burn indicates that the shrimp have either partially thawed before being refrozen, or have been poorly handled during their freeze, both of which are bad for texture and flavor.

How to Thaw Frozen Shrimp

Frozen shrimp should always be thawed before cooking. To thaw frozen shrimp take them out of their bag and place them in a bowl under cold (not warm) running water. They'll be good to go in just a few minutes. If you don't want to let the water run, place them in a bowl of cold water and let them rest until defrosted (it'll take about twice as long using this method). For most recipes, it's a good idea to thoroughly dry your shrimp on paper towels before proceeding.

Heads and Shells

For super-fresh or live shrimp, "I like the head on because it gives you a few more options," says Herron. "A lot of people will grill them head-on, then take the heads off, and there's this great sort of bitter juice that comes out of the head once it's been cooked—it's not for everybody, but it's great in stocks and sauces." We even like the heads all fried up.

That said, shrimp heads can also have negative effects on quality. As Kenji notes, "Shrimp heads contain powerful enzymes that start to break down shrimp flesh as soon as they die. Within hours, head-on shrimp will become noticeably mushier. Headless shrimp, on the other hand, have their heads removed before shipping, which means that their bodies retain their fresh, briny crunch. Unless you can get your shrimp live (a possibility if you live near a good Asian market), you're better off going with the headless version."

Assuming you're buying headless shrimp, you're encountering either shell-on, EZ-peel, or entirely peeled shrimp.

  • Shell-on shrimp are what we recommend. Shelled shrimp are often mangled and unappetizing. Shell-on shrimp also tend to be much cheaper. Finally, those shells pack a sweet, flavorful punch, whether you grill the shrimp directly in the shell, or use the shells to add flavor to the final dish like in this Spanish-style shrimp.
  • EZ-peel shrimp are already split and deveined—you'll be able to hold onto those flavorful shells and they'll make your job that much easier. That said, they come with a price bump and a little less control over your final product—the machines used to split and devein the shrimp tend to create a deeper gouge than you'd make working carefully at home. If you're making something where the shrimp's appearance doesn't matter—dumplings, for instance—go for it. But if you want a good looking array for something like shrimp cocktail, you'll probably want to peel 'em yourself. In either case, be sure to hold onto your shells: they can be simmered with aromatics to make a flavorful seafood stock, sauce, or oil.
  • Pre-peeled shrimp are at the top of the ladder in terms of ease of preparation, but also in price. Moreover, they tend to be overhandled and mangled, making them unsuitable for most recipes. We don't recommend buying them.

To Devein or Not to Devein

The "vein" of a shrimp is actually its digestive tract, typically a thin, dark tube of, well, shrimp poop. It's not necessarily risky to eat it, but it's also not something we'd recommend, as it could contain sand (which has an unpleasant texture) or could taste bitter, and it's easy enough to get rid of it. There are a few methods to devein a shrimp. The first and easiest is to just ask your fishmonger to do it. No tools are required for this method.

But it's pretty easy to do it yourself, as well. You can, with a paring knife, make a shallow incision right through the shell on the shrimp's back, from its head to its tail, and then pick out the vein. Or you can do what Herron recommends and grab a shrimp deveiner, a curved plastic tool that costs fewer than five dollars on Amazon and will both peel and devein for you in the blink of an eye.

On Pre-Cooked Shrimp

Just don't. "Pre-cooked" shrimp should almost universally be labeled "overcooked" shrimp. They're usually rubbery and bland, and since they're already cooked, offer no room for flavor improvement and will end up dry when added to dishes. Leave them be.


Shrimp are occasionally treated with chemical additives designed to increase their thawed shelf life or to get them to suck up and retain excess moisture so that they can be sold as larger shrimp. Check your label and make sure that it lists only "Shrimp" before purchasing.

Seafood markets will offer a lot of variety and fresh options, and depending on where you live, farmers’ markets might also be good choices for fresh seafood.

But you don’t have to trek to a specialty market to buy your seafood. It’s perfectly fine to buy fish and shellfish at your local grocery store or national chains like Costco, Walmart, Target or Trader Joe’s. “They have all the American classics — salmon, trout, cod, shrimp — that sort of thing,” Harris-Uyidi says. Those kinds of stores generally have good quality and decent prices, but a limited selection.

Recipe Ingredients on Hand

Right now, you may not be able to find all the ingredients to try out a specific recipe and we’re here to offer some easy swaps for some popular ingredients. Some general tips:

  • Fruits and vegetables can swap in recipes. For example, if you want to make this Smoked Salmon and Kale Frittata recipe that calls for kale, try spinach or even frozen spinach, just make sure you wring out excess liquid. Keep in mind for baking, the liquid in a recipe can throw off the end texture or the baking time.
  • Acidic liquid ingredients such as lemon juice and vinegar can be swapped, just keep in mind the end flavor profile. It’s a great time to use those random bottles of vinegar at the back of your pantry!
  • We always recommend using a lot of herbs and spices for flavoring, and only add salt if needed. Experiment with different flavor combos using those dried herbs you bought for a specific recipe months ago. We’ve been playing around with different spices in our tuna and salmon salads and found curry is amazing paired in this stample! ( Try this recipe .)

Here are some tips to use ingredients you have on hand for cooking fish dishes:

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