~ Purchase Shrimp by their "Count", not their "Size" ~
How does shrimp sizing work? In a shrimp shell -- it doesn't. There is no industry standard for it. One vendor's medium, may be another vendor's extra-large and vice versa. This explains why many new-to-shrimp buying cooks are confused by these five words: small, medium, large, extra-large and jumbo. When purchasing shrimp, the most important words to know aren't words, they are numbers. Using the photo at the top of this post, let's read the label together:
Wild American White Shrimp -- 16/20 E-Z Peel
Wild shrimp: All experts agree, wild shrimp are sweeter tasting and firmer textured than farm-raised shrimp, which, almost always makes their higher price worth it. While I buy wild most of the time, and always when I'm making shrimp cocktail or using it in a fresh salad, when I'm purchasing shrimp that will be batter-dipped and deep-fried or cooked in a bold-flavored creamy sauce, I don't find the more economical farm-raised shrimp to be too much of a compromise.
American white shrimp: Only 10% of the shrimp sold in this country come from U.S. waters, and, 75% of them come from the Gulf of Mexico. While I personally have no ax to grind with pink shrimp or black tiger shrimp, or any shrimp imported from places like Thailand, Indonesia or Ecuador, when shrimp is labeled American, I buy American shrimp. That said, once again, the experts seem to agree that white shrimp are sweeter and firmer than other species. Judge for yourself.
Fresh vs. flash-frozen shrimp: Ok -- so you live next door to a shrimp boat captain who docks his boat in your backyard. Your shrimp are fresh and they are better than mine. Now shut up. I live here in land-locked Central Pennsylvania and I always, ALWAYS, buy my shrimp flash-frozen. This means they were placed on a conveyor belt and frozen at sea, to lock in their freshness. What I never purchase in my grocery store is raw shrimp. Why? 99.9% of the raw shrimp in grocery stores today is flash-frozen shrimp that has been defrosted, and, since shrimp loses its freshness over several hours, or by the day, I prefer to defrost it myself and cook it the very same day.
16/20 (going by the numbers) & E-Z peel: In the case of this 2-pound bag of shrimp, "16/20" means there are sixteen to twenty shrimp in each pound, which means I can expect to find 32-40 shrimp in this bag. E-Z peel means the heads have been chopped off and the sand vein that runs down the back of each shrimp has been removed. Between you and I, I prefer my shrimp headless and I dislike removing the disagreeable sand veins from them too. Here is a rundown of the shrimp "sizes" and their counts:
"Small" -- 51/60 shrimp per pound
"Medium" -- 41/50 shrimp per pound
"Large" -- 26/30 shrimp per pound
"Extra-Large" -- 21/25 shrimp per pound
"Jumbo" -- 16/20 shrimp per pound
"Colossal" -- 10/15 shrimp per pound
A shrimp with the tail left on is a very pretty presentation, and, depending upon the dish being served, if there is a chance the diner can enjoy the shrimp whole, it serves as a convenient "handle" -- especially if there is a sauce it can be dipped into. There's more: As all shrimp connoisseurs know, the last bite of shrimp (located inside the tail), is the most succulent, tasty bite of shrimp. That said: Whether in the home kitchen or in a restaurant, peeling shrimp is labor intensive. Leaving the tail on is an indication that the cook or chef cares about you and is serving you the best quality shrimp possible.
The only reason to remove the tail is when the shrimp, usually smaller size ones, are inclusive in the dish, meaning: the diner needs a fork, spoon and/or knife to eat the dish.
"We are all in this shrimp world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)