Buying Shrimps

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The popularity of shrimp and restaurants serving it increased considerably with the 1994 movie Forrest Gump whose protagonist, played by multi-award winning actor Tom Hanks, operated a decrepit fishing vessel Bubba Gump that struggled with its initial catches but eventually reaped tons of shrimp making Forrest a millionaire.  The movie was a blockbuster hit and real seafood restaurants named after the boat opened throughout the United States and with international franchises following in different parts of the world.

One of the bestsellers of this restaurant chain is shrimp popcorn which surprisingly doesn’t contain any popped corn (though some of their dishes have corn on the cob as a siding).   Though the restaurant’s exact recipe is a company secret, it’s not difficult to make a similar version using large peeled and deveined shrimp dipped in egg; coated with Cajun spiced-breadcrumbs and deep fried until golden brown and crispy.

Shrimp and its close relative the prawn (though restaurants, markets and cookbooks interchange these two) both possess a delicately sweet flavor and high amounts of protein and calcium.  In some culinary circles, prawns are used to describe large shrimp.  Depending on the species, they can come from fresh or sea water sources and are colored pink, red, brown, white or speckled.  In general, shrimps turn a bright pink when cooked and the meat firms up considerable.  Overcooking should be avoided as they become tough.

Shrimp can be purchased pre-peeled and deveined fresh and frozen, making it a convenient ingredient for countless dishes, cuisines – from crusty Italian pizza, spicy Indian curry and aromatic Thai tom yum soup.  In some Asian countries, it is salted and fermented into a sauce or condiment with a very strong fishy smell that turns up the noses of those who aren’t used to it.

For recipes like grills and salads that highlight the fresh ocean catch quality of this delectable shellfish, it is best to buy fresh.  However, most “fresh” shrimp sold in have been shipped frozen and then thawed for the fish counter. That means that the shrimp you find in the freezer aisle is exactly the same as what’s presented as “fresh”—it just hasn’t been sitting around on a bed of ice all day. The size you should buy has everything to do with how you plan to cook the shrimp. Look for firm, sweet-smelling (not fishy) specimens with the heads firmly attached and shiny shells.  Shrimp, when raw, may have a greyish cast, or a grey-ish pink cast, or have whitish tones, or brownish tones, or pinkish tones, with many other shades also on the list of possibilities. If shrimp are starting to blacken–either around the edges, or in random spots (a condition shrimpers call melanosis)–it may be a sign of deterioration. Another bad color is yellow, which can mean that sodium bisulfite was used to make a deteriorating shrimp not look like it’s deteriorating. A sign that it has gone bad is if it has an ammonia odor and a slimy feel.  Develop a relationship with your seafood vendor who can alert you when a fresh catch has been delivered.

Frozen shrimp can surely be used for ocean stews, seafood lasagna and soups.  Avoid clumped up bags as this is an indication that the contents have been thawed and refrozen.

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