In her biweekly column, Kitchen Basics, Susan Pachikara of Cardamom Kitchen demystifies essential cooking skills with step-by-step instructions and her own handsome photos. Whether she's showing us how much brown sugar we're meant to "pack"(or is it cram?) into measuring cups or how to detect when our onions are properly caramelized, Susan is the nonna we never had -- until now. Now, go on and get cozy under her wing.
This week, Susan demonstrates how to select, clean, and butterfly shrimp.
Chicago is miles away from the ocean. Although I love the city’s magnificent architecture and fun-loving folk, sometimes I long for the briny breath of the sea. On occasion, I travel to one of the coasts or go abroad to reach its salty waters, but more often, I look for ways to bring its catch into the kitchen.
I will eat any type of seafood: crab, scallops, lobster, squid, or clams. But in my corner of the world, shrimp is easiest to find. I love to sauté it with cayenne, black pepper, and chunks of coconut, but it’s just as easy to stir-fry, boil, or barbecue the quick-cooking crustacean.
How to Select Shrimp
When you smell fresh shrimp, it should remind you of a trip to the sea. If it jabs you with the scent of ammonia, walk away. Look for shrimp with clean, shiny shells that are free of spots. Although frozen shrimp can be purchased peeled and deveined (more on this below), whole shrimp generally offer better taste and texture. They're fairly simple to prep.
How to Peel Shrimp
Shrimp is most often sold with the head removed. The shell and, in most cases, legs, are left intact. Although there are many ways to peel shrimp, I like to noodle my fingers just underneath the opening of the shell and carefully pull it away from the flesh as if I’m removing a tight-fitting life jacket.
I also run my finger under the tail shell and gently lift it off to keep the flesh just beneath intact.
How to Devein Shrimp
A shrimp's intestine looks like a vein tracking the curve of its stomach, which runs along its back. Since the intestine can have a gritty texture and an off-putting flavor, it’s best to remove it by deveining the shrimp.
Place the shrimp on a cutting board with the tail closest to you. With a paring knife, make a shallow slit along the curve of the shrimp’s stomach.
Pull out the intestine with the tip of the knife and discard.
How to Butterfly Shrimp
Place the peeled shrimp (with the tail shell intact) on a cutting board with the tail closest to you.
With a paring knife, make a deep cut along the curve of the shrimp’s stomach, nearly dividing it in two.
Remove the intestine with your fingers or the tip of the knife. Gently pull the shrimp open so the flesh lays flat.
In a coconut curry over rice and peas is just one of the ways Susan enjoys serving shrimp
I’d love to see your tips for prepping shrimp! Share them with your fellow cooks in the comments section below.
Are you new to cooking? Tell me what skills you'd like to learn and your idea could be featured in an upcoming post!
Want more basic tips from Susan? Check out her previous post: Kitchen Basics: Avocado.
All photos by Susan Pachikara.
Susan writes the blog Cardamom Kitchen to share her culinary experiences as an Indian-American rooted in the Midwest.