Little but big on taste and nutrition, shrimp (Caridea, swimming decapod crustaceans, as opposed to their crawling cousins the lobster and crayfish) are America’s favorite seafood, accounting for 30% of the seafood sold in the US. Shrimp can be found throughout the world but many countries farm raise their shrimp as opposed to them being wild caught. The majority of wild caught shrimp come from the US, South and Central America. White, brown and pink are the three main commercial types of shrimp. Shrimp have been around for as long as man, and most likely well before as fossil remains have been found of shrimp dating back 360 million years ago.
Wild caught vs farmed:
While many types of fish and shellfish are farmed, nothing raises a bigger health issue than farmed raised shrimp. Where and how make the difference in good or bad. Farming can be done in the ocean in contained areas or in tanks and enclosed ponds. Chemicals, feed and regulation also play a large part in the quality of the end product.
Due to the high demand, only about 10% of the shrimp eaten in the US comes from US waters. According to a report from the University of Florida Extension Service, the US imports shrimp from 125 countries globally, with 6 dominating the market: Thailand, Indonesia, Ecuador, Vietnam, China and Mexico. More than 30% comes from Thailand alone. Many of the shrimp farms in Southeast Asia have problems with overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions making bacteria and viruses a problem in the shrimp pools. To try and combat this problem, the waters are treated with antibiotics and chemicals. Some of these chemicals are banned in the US and some of the antibiotics used are made to treat a wide variety of illnesses which can create antibiotic resistant bacteria.
In 2005, the USDA passed laws that require manufacturers to label their products with the country of origin and whether the food is farm-raised or wild caught, but if the product has been processed in any way from its natural state (breaded, cooked, canned, fried), no labeling is required. Therefore, most shrimp sellers, including restaurants, are not required to label how it was raised. The FDA is responsible for inspecting shrimp coming in from other countries, but they don’t have the manpower for thorough oversight, so only about 1-2% actually gets inspected.
The moral of the story: buy local and wild caught when it comes to shrimp. Approximately 80% of US wild caught shrimp comes from the Gulf and South Atlantic regions, which includes white, pink, brown, rock, North Florida Hoppers and Royal Red types.
Shrimp are excellent sources of tryptophan, selenium, omega 3 fatty acids, low-fat protein and Vitamins D and B12. Many research studies have linked higher shrimp consumption with reduced risks of cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heart beats), heart attacks, high blood pressure, certain cancers (particularly colon and blood), Alzheimer’s, age-related dementia and depression. These health benefits are primarily due to the high selenium and omega 3 quantities in shrimp . A 4 oz (113 grams) serving of shrimp supplies 47% of a day’s worth of protein, 64% of selenium and 103% of tryptophan, all for 112 calories.
Selection and Storage:
As with any fish or shellfish, freshness is the key point. Fresh shrimp should have firm bodies with shells intact, with a slight saltwater smell. Avoid buying fresh shrimp that is “packaged” as you want to be able to smell the shrimp. If they have an “off” aroma, do not buy them. Fresh shrimp should be kept cold until ready to cook, preferably the same day as you buy them, but no later than the next. If you are not going straight home, carry a cooler in your car with some ice to keep them cold. Store them in the coldest part of the refrigerator (bottom), preferably wrapped and placed in a baking dish filled with ice.
Frozen shrimp offer the longest shelf life of several weeks. Look for ones that have the shell on (retains moisture) and individually frozen so you can use just the quantity that you want. Defrost the shrimp in a bowl of cold water or in the refrigerator.
Shrimp can be prepared with the shell on or off, or just leaving the tail shell in place for
handling. The shrimp can be “deveined” by removing the line of intestines that run along the back. This can be done with either the shell intact or removed. Run a sharp knife along the back from head to tail under cool running water.
If removing the shells prior to cooking, place clean shells in a freezer bag, label and store. You can use these to make excellent fish stock.
Once cleaned, the shrimp can be boiled, steamed, sautéed, fried, grilled, etc. The most important part about cooking shrimp is not to overcook them. Most shrimp need only 3-5 minutes of cooking depending on the size. Shrimp will continue to cook in most hot dishes once removed from the heat, so when they turn barely pink, they are done.
When boiling shrimp, it is best to leave the shell intact. Place in a rolling boil of lightly salted water and remove from the heat. Once they float to the top, place immediately in an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Serve or store in the refrigerator.