Cooking Shrimp: An Everyday Primer
A Short History of Cooking and Eating Shrimp
Shrimp has been a popular food for humans since the ancient times. Old texts reveal that cooking shrimp was enjoyed immensely by Greeks and Romans. Among all of the varieties of fish they gluttonously enjoyed, they had preference for shrimp. In fact, the culinary books of 4th and 5th century AD, including that of Apicius, contain methods adopted by the Greeks to cook large shrimp.
While the Greeks used to cook large shrimps after wrapping them in fig leaves, Romans either fried them or roasted them. They would pour a few drops of honey over the cooked shrimp before serving them.
Shrimp has also been a regular food item in almost all parts of the world including Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Australia and Central as well as South America and the Mediterranean.
In early days, people of America were getting shrimp mainly from the Southern waters. Canned shrimp later became very popular in America. By the year 1917, mechanical harvesting of shrimp was a regular practice. As a result fresh shrimp became available all over.
Cooking shrimp was set to become a mainstream American staple.
Shrimp in China and America
The combination of shrimp along with ketchup and horseradish was introduced as a dish of American cuisine by the year 1918. (In the early 1900’s, homemade ketchup and mayo were decorative components of almost every meal.) Today this delicacy is well-known as the Shrimp Cocktail.
Gradually shrimp became a popular food in America and today it is one among the most served seafood dishes today. The US has the maximum consumption of shrimp, and while we harvest no less than 650 million pounds of shrimps annually, every year more than 200 million pounds of shrimps are imported as well. According to statistics from 2014, more than 20 countries exported shrimps to the US. These included Canada, Mexico, Argentina, China, Philippines, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Thailand, Peru and Panama.
Ever since the seventh century, shrimp has been an essential part of our Chinese counterparts as well. Marco Polo had also mentioned in the year 1280 that shrimp was a popular item in Chinese markets. The dish mentioned –which is a combination of shrimp and grits– was introduced by people in the southern states of America. North as well as South Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia became addicted to the shrimp and grits dish. This dish is highly versatile and you can find it today in almost all Southern style cookbooks.
During 17th century, fishing of shrimps was carried out in the lakes of New Orleans using nets brought from France.
Harvesting and Preservation of Shrimp
Seafood harvesting as well as preservation was industrialized in Alabama in the early years of 1800s. The shrimp was preserved by keeping in ice and distributed all over the state by rail. In the 1900s, the canning method followed, and this ultimately became the most common method of seafood processing. Towards the end of the 19th century, about 150,000 people were employed by the seafood industry in Louisiana. In the year 1902, power boat was introduced in Florida for shrimp fishing. In the year 1913, the shrimpers in Florida started using the otter trawl. The Florida shrimpers had the distinction of pursuing shrimp in to offshore waters for the first time.
In 1890, Biloxi, Mississippi, known as the “Seafood Capital of the World” reported processing 614,000 pounds of shrimp in its canneries. By 1902, the number jumped to 424,000 pounds of shrimp. The South, and America, were in love with these small and flavorful crustaceans.
Nutritional Benefits of Shrimp
Shrimp is a rich source of a variety of nutrients like vitamin B12, vitamin B3, vitamin E, vitamin B6, vitamin A, selenium, protein, phosphorus, copper, choline, iodine, zinc, omega 3 fats and pantothenic acid. Shrimp is also one among the rare sources of carotenoid astaxanthin.
The presence of Vitamin A, Vitamin E and the B-complex vitamins like niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6) and pantothenic acid makes shrimp a highly nutritious food. Out of the Omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are present in almost equal amounts in shrimp. Mineral zinc is another valuable nutrient present in zinc. Shrimp has a rare concentration of copper.
Shrimp is the only fish variety having this unique concentration of copper.
Dietary cholesterol in shrimp
A serving of 4 ounces of shrimp contains 220 mgms of cholesterol. Those who want to substantially reduce the intake of dietary cholesterol are likely to think that they should avoid shrimp in their diet — but this has not been 100% agreed on by medical professionals.
If we consider the nutritional benefits of shrimp in a broader perspective, we find that the high cholesterol content in shrimp is not a major drawback. Shrimp has a highly impressive “good fats” profile. A serving of 4 ounces of shrimp also contains about 350 mgms of omega-3 fatty acids.
EPA and DHA are present in equal quantities in shrimp and these two omega-3 fatty acids are vital for cardiovascular health as well as feeding our nervous system’s health. In addition, omega-3 and omega-6 are present in shrimp in an unusual ration of 1:1 thereby reducing the risk of various diseases such as obesity, high BP and type 2 diabetes. This makes shrimp an ideal part of the regular diet.
Apart from cholesterol, sterol is present in shrimp in other forms also like cilinasterol and campesterol. These forms of sterol have anti-inflammatory characteristics and also they facilitate decreased levels of LDL-cholesterol. This is considered as a significant health benefit of shrimp.
A serving of 4 ounces of shrimp provides about 56 micrograms of selenium which is a powerful antioxidant.
About 85% of the selenium present in shrimp is absorbed by the body, which can considerably reduce the risk of heart failure, various other cardiac ailments, type 2 diabetes, poor cognitive function and depression. Regular shrimp in the diet can play a very important role in reducing the risks of various chronic and life-threatening diseases. Selenium plays a key role in immunity as well as thyroid function. As an antioxidant, selenium eliminates the free radicals which cause damage of the cell membrane as well as DNA ultimately leading to various diseases and premature ageing.
“Super” Antioxidant Astaxanthin and Proteins
Shrimp is also a great source of astaxanthin which is an antioxidant as well as anti-inflammatory carotenoid nutrient.
Astaxanthin acts as a powerful antioxidant for the nervous system as well as the muscular and skeletal systems. Also, astaxanthin reduces the risk of colon cancer and also various other problems that are related to diabetes.
In addition to various other nutrients and water, shrimp is a rich source of muscle-building proteins. 3 ounces of baked shrimp contain 20 gms of protein.
Cooking Shrimp: The Basics
There are many methods to cook shrimp, but often we find ourselves cooking shrimp for the first time for a large group or a family dinner. Many of the shrimp recipes on the internet are done in bulk, rather than for two people.
The way that you choose to cook shrimp will ultimately depend on your taste preferences.
When you buy shrimp for cooking, try to buy them frozen with their shells still on if you can. The shells will help to protect the meat of the shrimp as well as add flavor.
You can then either:
- Cook the shrimp with their shells off. OR
- Leave the shells on and remove them once you’ve cooked them
Easiest Way to Cook a Pound of Shrimp (or Less): The Boil
The easiest way to start with cooking shrimp is the classic shrimp boil. If you want to cook a little less than a pound, you can simply adjust the water levels a bit. Intuition will serve you well when cooking shrimp this way — it’s hard to muck it up, and you’ll be able to prep cooked shrimp fairly quickly for a few friends or guests.
- You’ll need 2 quarts of water for every pound of shrimp you want to boil. Salt the water lightly, and add lemon juice if you like your seafood a bit tangy.
- Bring a large pot to a hard boil, and then turn the burner off. Immediately add all of the shrimp to the water.
- Once in the water, let the shrimp steep for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Use a netted or slotted spoon to fish one of them out. Cut a shrimp in half to see if it is cooked all the way through. If it is opaque, then the shrimp are ready.
- When ready, pour into a large colander.
- Peel the shrimp and serve with the dish of your choice.
There are also other ways to cook shrimp, such as on the stove top. You can quickly boil or poach them, which is the most common method. You can also cook them up in a skillet, fry them, or steam them… Some people like to cook them on a barbeque, too.
Shrimp is good no matter how you cook it, as long as it’s not raw or overcooked. Remember that you must be careful with shellfish, especially when you’re cooking for pregnant women, children, or elderly guests. Take the time to check if the shriump are cooked all the way through.
Below are some Youtube Videos demonstrating different types of shrimp cooking methods.
Cooking Shrimp On The Stove Top
Stovetop shrimp is one of the most common types of cooking. It’s great because you can add in herbs or spices, as well as veggies.
Cooking Grilled Shrimp
Shrimp on the barbie are totally yum. They’re also pretty easy to cook.
How to Cook Shrimp Cocktail
Shrimp cocktails are considered a delicacy, but the truth is that they’re not so difficult to cook.
5 Star Shrimp Cookbook from Amazon
The Louisiana Seafood Bible: Shrimp
“It’s a cookbook that’s so much more than a cookbook.” – Todd Masson, Louisiana Sportsman
“Yes, read the cookbook cover to cover. It is about shrimp, shrimpers, and how to enjoy eating one of our Gulf’s treasures.” –Miriam Juban, owner of Juban’s Restaurant, Baton Rouge, Louisiana