Under most circumstances these days
, I would find it abhorrent
to post a "response" writeup, but in this case
I feel it is necessary. With all due respect to lailoken
, the method she describes in her writeup is rather complicated
. This is because she wants to keep the tail
attached to the shrimp, presumably for decorative purposes. I'm sure it's an effective
method, and if the amount of time you are willing to spend preparing shrimp in this way is unlimited, or if the quantity of shrimp you have to prep is relatively small, go for it.
But what if you're not worried about saving the tail? What if you have to peel and devein 30 pounds of shrimp? Or maybe you're feeding 300 people, and have 150 pounds to prepare (that's a lot of shrimp). What if the ice is melting, and you need to peel these shrimp in a hurry?
I grew up on the Gulf Coast of Florida, and enjoyed the bounty of fresh seafood that the Gulf of Mexico and its numerous bays, sloughs and tributaries had to offer. My father spent his leisure time fishing and netting, gigging for oysters, scallops and flounder, and taught me how to do all of these things at an early age. I've been peeling and deveining shrimp since I was a little boy, and let me assure you: There is an easier way.
The thing to keep in mind when dealing with whole shrimp, including prawns, is that there is really nothing holding them inside their tiny exoskeletons. The meaty bit you're after is more or less just resting inside the shell, like a knight in a suit of armor. In almost every case, the shrimp can be extracted with just a few pinches.
- If the shrimp is whole, the first pinch you make will be to remove the head. This is easy, as the shell is segmented where the head joins the body. Find the spot where the segments join, and pinch with your fingers. Just rip that sucker right off. The shrimp is already dead - it won't care.
- The next pinch you make is to remove the shrimp's legs. I've never seen a shrimp walk, so I'm not sure why they have legs to begin with, but they are easy to remove. Just grab them all between your thumb and forefinger, pinch down and pull.
- The last pinch is the clever one. The only thing holding the meat inside the shell at this point is the fact that it's attached to the tail. So pinch, at the spot where the tail segment joins the body - but don't rip! Pinch so that the meat separates from the tail, and push it out of the shell where the head used to be. Damn, this is easy!
Of course, this process is best suited for regular shrimp, up to the jumbo
variety. If you've got prawns as big as your hand (or larger), you're going to need some seriously strong, muscular fingers. Using scissors or knives is probably an easier option in such a case.
There are three quick approaches to the issue of removing the shrimp's black "vein" (actually part of the crustacean's digestive system).
- The first is, don't bother. If you're going to boil or fry the shrimp, it won't really matter if you leave the vein in - eating it won't kill you or make you sick, once the shimp's been cooked. But if the vein grosses you out, it's not that difficult to deal with.
- The second is rather nasty, but is the fastest, provided that you have fingernails that are grown out enough to do the job. Using your thumbnail, make a slice down the shrimp's back, and pull the vein out with your fingers. If it's stubborn, you can dig it out with your nails. I've seen people who can completely peel and devein a shrimp this way in about five seconds.
- The third is to use a special tool known as a "Shrimp Deveiner." If you find yourself performing this peel-and-devein process with any regularity, you may find it worth your while to pick up one or more of these implements. At $1.79 each, it's not going to impact your food budget. I've used them before, and while they take a little getting used to, they make the deveining process simple, cleaner than the thumbnail method, and much safer than using a sharp knife. There is also a slightly more sophisticated utensil known as a "Shrimp Cleaner" that, for a few dollars more, will allegedly take care of the peeling part as well, in one fell swoop. Caveat emptor, kids.
So to summarize, if you're preparing shrimp for broil
ing or to be included in a fancy dish where their tails add to the aesthetic
of the presentation, lailoken's method seems reasonable. But if you're more interested in just getting the little suckers out of their shells and in to the pot in short order, now you have an easier way. Enjoy! And save some of that gumbo