Separate the myths from the truths about the seafood voted "most popular."

By Marge Perry
May 04, 2005
Jean Allsopp

"Wherever I put the shrimp, that's where the crowd is," saysStephen Lewandowski, executive chef of New York City's TribecaGrill. Stephen, who caters more than 500 parties a year in additionto his role as the restaurant's chef, says shrimp is the guaranteedcrowd-pleaser, both at parties and in the restaurant.

Shrimp accounts for about 25 percent of all seafood sold in theUnited States, making it the best-selling creature of the water.Per capita consumption keeps increasing, and it's easy to see why.Shrimp not only tastes great, but it's also waistlinefriendly―a 6-ounce portion has only 180 calories and 3 gramsof fat. Plus, it's versatile and easy to prepare. You don't have tobe a trained chef to get a wonderful shrimp dinner on the table in10 minutes.

Despite its popularity, though, a number of misconceptions stillsurround these tasty crustaceans.

MYTH: Shrimp is available either fresh orfrozen, and fresh tastes better.
TRUTH: Almost all shrimp you buy is frozen at sea or shortlythereafter. More than likely, "fresh" shrimp is actually thawed.Truly fresh shrimp appears more translucent than thawed shrimp, andits highly perishable nature makes it rarely available. The UnitedStates imports 80 to 90 percent of the shrimp its residentsconsume, so it stands to reason that the product is shippedfrozen.

When buying any seafood, use your nose. Shrimp should smellmildly of the sea, but not like iodine, ammonia, or low tide.

MYTH: All shrimp species are pretty muchthe same.
TRUTH: Hundreds of shrimp species swim in the seas, and somehave minute differences we would never notice on our plates. Thegreatest variation may exist between the broad categories ofwarm-water, cold-water, and freshwater shrimp. Warm-water shrimpgrow larger, but tend to taste less sweet than their cold-watercousins. Freshwater shrimp are usually farm-raised and prized fortheir size. Regardless of raw shrimp's color, which can range fromwhite to yellow to brown to striped, all shrimp turn pink whencooked.

MYTH: Jumbo shrimp are all the samesize.
TRUTH: The terms used to describe shrimp size―small,medium, large, jumbo, colossal―mean different things indifferent locations, and the jargon has no industry regulations.The more universal technique measures shrimp by the count, ornumber. If the shrimp are "16-20s," that means there are 16 to 20shrimp per pound, regardless of the label's large, extra-large, orjumbo designation.

MYTH: Shrimp must be deveined.
TRUTH: That depends on your preference and patience. Largeshrimp are fairly easy to devein. Simply slit the back with aparing knife and lift the vein out with the knife point. But don'tfeel you have to devein. If you can't see the vein when the shrimpis raw, chances are you won't when it's cooked. Similarly, smallershrimp have smaller veins, often not visible. Deveining comes downto aesthetics, not hygiene. If the veins don't show, don'tbother.

MYTH: Shrimp should be cooked until theycurl into a closed loop.
TRUTH: Shrimp cook quickly, which makes them easy toovercook. Prepare them just until they no longer look translucentand they will taste crisp and tender and moist. Keep an eye onthem; most shrimp cook fully in less than five minutes.

Experiment with shrimp steamed, boiled, sautéed, or fried.You can serve it shell and tail on, shell off and tail on, or shelland tail removed. When paired with a sauce, serve shrimp peeled andremove the tail. For finger food, leave the tail intact, as itmakes a convenient "handle."

Now that you're armed with the truth about everybody's favoriteseafood, the following recipes will show you some of the countlessways to make the most of shrimp's sweet, mild flavor and tendergoodness.