How to Clean, Devein and Prep Shrimp

Sure you can buy your shrimp cleaned, deveined and prepped, but it'll cost you. Here's how to prep your seafood the right way.

Shutterstock/Kitawit Jitaton

We’ve got our favorite shrimp recipes, and we’re sure you do, too. But have you noticed, with the rare exception (for example, this recipe for Stuffed Butterflied Shrimp), they all call for shrimp that’s already been peeled and deveined? That means you’ll either have to learn how to clean shrimp yourself, or you’ll have to buy it that way.

The problem with pre-prepped shrimp is that it can be not only more expensive but also not as flavorful (those shrimp shells hold the flavor and tenderness in). How to avoid that problem? Try a little “shrimp DIY.” We explain how:

Tip 1: Fresh vs. frozen

It may seem counter-intuitive, but trust us: unless you’re certain that the “fresh” shrimp at your market has never been frozen, then frozen shrimp is a better, safer and tastier option. If you have access to fresh shrimp that you’re totally sure has never been thawed, be sure to cook it the same day you bring it home.

Tip 2: Rinse the shrimp and have a look-see (and a whiff)

When you’re ready to prep your shrimp, rinse them under cool water. If they’re frozen, let the cool water run over the shrimp until thawed (it will take just a few minutes). Now take a look. Your shrimp should be translucent and shiny (but not slimy!), with no detectable odor. Discard any that don’t seem “right.”

Tip 3: Remove the shell

If the head is on, hold the body firmly with one hand, and pinch and twist the head with your other hand’s index finger and thumb. You can save the heads (along with the legs and the rest of the shell) to make seafood stock. To remove the legs, hold the arc of the shrimp in one hand, and grasp the legs in the fingertips of your other hand and pull them free. To remove the shell, start where you removed the legs, peeling the shell back along the sides of the shrimp. Alternately, you can start where the head was, pulling the shell off down the back ridge of the shrimp.

Tip 4: How to devein

You’ll notice the vein as a dark ridge along the back of the shrimp. It’s the shrimp’s intestinal tract, and it’s actually edible, but most recipes call for deveined shrimp, and the larger the shrimp (think jumbo shrimp and prawns like those used in this recipe for Grilled Jumbo Shrimp), the more it can interfere with the taste (imparting its own briny, sometimes gritty flavor).

So, to devein—using a paring knife, cut into the shrimp along the ridge, just deep enough to tease the vein out with the tip of your knife. At that point, grab the vein with your fingers, and pull it back toward the tail of the shrimp. It should come off easily.

Tip 5: Rinse your peeled, deveined shrimp in cold water and get cooking!

Here’s a wonderful recipe for Spanish-Style Paella that includes shrimp, and a fabulous ceviche-style recipe for Lime-Marinated Shrimp Salad. Eat up!

Try our top 10 shrimp recipes.
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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly in The Huffington Post as well as a variety of other publications since 2008 on such topics as life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. She is also a writer of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.