Shrimp Buying Basics
Ensuring tender, briny-tasting shrimp starts at the seafood counter, where many of the rules that apply to buying fish don’t hold true for shrimp.
Go for White
Increasingly, seafood markets and gourmet shops sell a range of different shrimp species. We compared the three most commonly available types (pink, white, and black tiger) and found that white shrimp had the firmest flesh and the sweetest taste.
Don’t Be Fooled by “Fresh”
Just because shrimp is raw doesn’t mean it’s fresh. Since only 10 percent of the shrimp sold in this country comes from U.S. sources (in recent years, the majority has come from Thailand, followed by Indonesia and Ecuador), chances are the shrimp has been previously frozen. Unless you live near a coastal area, “fresh” shrimp likely means defrosted shrimp.
Don’t Buy Defrosted
Once shrimp are defrosted for the seafood case, the quality declines with each passing day. Unless you ask, there’s no telling how long they have been on display—and in our tests, defrosted shrimp tasted noticeably less fresh even after a day of storage. But if you must buy defrosted, look for unblemished and firm shrimp that fill the shell and smell of the sea.
Buy Individually Quick-Frozen
In general, IQF stands for “individually quick-frozen”: Shrimp are spread on a conveyor belt and frozen at sea, locking in quality and freshness. All bagged frozen shrimp fall into this category; however, it’s not always on the label. Shrimp are also sometimes frozen at sea with water in 5-pound blocks packed in boxes. We prefer bagged individually quick-frozen shrimp, as you can thaw exactly what you need.
Check the Ingredient List
“Shrimp” should be the only ingredient listed on the bag or box. In effort to prevent darkening or water loss during thawing, some manufacturers add salt or STPP (sodium tripolyphosphate). Our tasters found an unpleasant texture in salt-treated and STPP-enhanced shrimp; the latter also had a chemical taste.
We’ve found that wild shrimp have a sweeter flavor and firmer texture than farm-raised, making their higher price worth it. (In this country, 75 percent of the wild shrimp sold comes from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.) Unless you can purchase them right off the boat, only buy wild shrimp frozen. Because fresh wild shrimp are minimally processed, they are usually shipped with the heads on. The head contains digestive enzymes that break down muscle proteins rapidly after death, resulting in mushy meat. Freezing halts this activity.
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Magic Number: 21/25
Extra-large shrimp (21/25) are our go-to when we want a browned exterior. This count is the most widely available in stores, and the shrimp’s meaty size allows them to stay on the heat longer before turning rubbery.