How to cook shrimp and prawn - Including defrosting and various cooking methods.
Prawns and shrimps are delicious hot or cold, filling a sandwich or added to a mild curry sauce. They are very versatile and can brighten up and add an exotic flavour to any plain meal.
The smaller cold water species are more succulent and sweet and are an excellent choice for sandwiches or salads, whereas the larger warm water prawns are extremely flavoursome, adapt well to strong and spicy flavours and are popular in many oriental dishes.
There are many ways in which you can cook shrimp and prawns and it is really a matter of preference or specification of a particular recipe.
Prawns and shrimps can be boiled, steamed, grilled, sautéed, baked or deep-fried and can be cooked with or without the shell, with the vein or deveined.
If you have bought prawns or shrimp that have already been cooked, then they should be added a few minutes before the end of the specified cooking time, just to reheat them, as overcooking them will make them tough.
Defrosting prawns and shrimp
As most prawns and shrimp that you buy, whether they are raw or cooked, will be frozen, they must be defrosted completely before cooking.
In order to defrost frozen prawns or shrimp, remove the shellfish from their original packaging and place them in a bowl. Cover the bowl and then leave the shellfish to defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
For a more rapid method, wrap the prawns or shrimp tightly in waterproof packaging, for example cling film and place the package into a sink full of cold water. 1lb of frozen prawns or shrimp should defrost in about an hour using this method.
Never defrost any type of shellfish at room temperature and it is best not to defrost them in the microwave either.
Defrosting the prawns or shrimp will ensure a more even cooking and will prevent any contamination from harmful bacteria. The bacteria are destroyed through cooking so long as the shellfish has been properly defrosted beforehand.
Shelled or unshelled?
Prawns and shrimp can be cooked with the shell and head still on, which can both be removed after cooking, or the shell and head can be removed before cooking when still slightly frozen, as it is easier.
If possible try to cook the prawns or shrimp with the shell intact, as this will ensure a stronger and tastier flavour, with extra flavour and moisture added from the shell.
The heads and shells can be used to make a stock that can be used at a later date and can be stored in the freezer until then.
Fry the heads and shells in a little olive oil for a few minutes on a high heat. Add boiling water and boil the stock mixture for about 15 minutes until it reduces. Pour through a sieve and store in an airtight container. Make sure that the stock has completely cooled down before placing it in the freezer.
To remove the shell
Whether you remove the shell before or after cooking, this is a fairly straightforward task.
Simply twist the head to remove it and pull the legs off. Hold the tail and then lift the shell upwards and away from the body.
You could also use kitchen scissors by cutting through the middle of the shell and peeling it away from both sides.
The tail is usually kept on for decorative purposes although it can easily be removed by gently pulling it off.
Removing the intestinal vein
As with the shell and heads, the black vein that runs across the back of prawn and shrimp may be removed before or after cooking.
These veins are in fact edible but if eaten they can taste gritty and dirty, particularly with larger prawns or shrimp.
To remove the vein from a shelled prawn or shrimp, trace the line of the vein with the edge of a sharp thin knife or a cocktail stick and then rinse it under a running tap. The vein should wash away but if it does not, use the end of the knife or cocktail stick to draw the vein out.
It is possible to remove the black vein from the prawn or shrimp with the shell still on. This can be done, although it is quite tricky, by carefully drawing out the vein in one go from one end of the prawn or shrimp.
If this is not possible, cut the shell or part of the shell with a small knife or scissors and lift out the vein.
Boiling prawns and shrimp
This is probably the most common method of cooking prawns and shrimp, particularly the smaller types.
It is really important not to overcook the prawns, although they need to be properly cooked at the same time.
Depending on the size, prawns and shrimp should be cooked in a matter of minutes. Larger prawns will take a few more minutes.
You can tell when prawns and shrimp are cooked, as they will turn a pink colour.
As a guide, small - medium sized shrimp will take 3 - 4 minutes, large shrimp will take 5 - 8 minutes and jumbo shrimp or prawn will need 7 - 8 minutes cooking time.
To boil 1 lb of prawns or shrimp carry out the following steps:
- Fill a saucepan with 2 litres of water and add 2 tablespoons of sea salt.
- Bring the water to the boil and add the prawns or shrimp. You may leave them shelled and veined if you wish.
- Reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer the prawns or shrimp for 3 - 6 minutes, depending on the size. Start counting once the water has begun to boil again.
- The prawns or shrimp will be cooked when they float to the top and the flesh has turned white or opaque throughout. Cut one in half to check.
- Remove the prawns or shrimp from the heat immediately and run them under cold water for a few seconds to stop the cooking process.
- Once the prawns or shrimp have cooled they will be ready to peel and eat.
Grilling prawns or shrimp
Grilling is a popular method for larger prawns such as tiger or king prawns. Smaller prawns and shrimp can also be grilled but it is better to arrange them onto soaked wooden skewers first.
The prawns or shrimp can be marinated first for a few hours before placing them under a hot grill or on top of barbeque coals. They can also be cooked in the same way but by baking them in a hot oven (350°F / 175°C) but for a few minutes longer.
The following are simple instructions to grill raw prawns or shrimp using a plain recipe:
- Remove the shell from the prawns but leave the tail intact.
- Remove the black intestinal vein with a sharp knife and skewer several prawns onto a wooden skewer that has been soaked in warm water for at least 20 minutes.
- Place a layer of aluminium foil onto the rack inside the grill and preheat the grill to a high temperature.
- Once the grill is hot place the skewered prawns under the grill, leaving room between each skewer.
- Brush the prawns with a little olive oil and then sprinkle them with salt, pepper and garlic.
- Grill for 3 - 4 minutes or until the prawns have turned pink, turning the skewers once halfway through cooking time.
- Remove from the heat and serve.
Pan-frying prawns or shrimp
Pan-fried unshelled prawns are absolutely delicious and can be served as a starter or a main meal. This is a simple method of cooking prawns or shrimp but probably the tastiest.
To pan-fry unshelled raw prawns or shrimp:
- Rinse the prawns or shrimp under a cold running tap and then pat dry with a paper towel.
- Melt a little butter together with some olive oil in a large frying pan over a high heat.
- Add the prawns or shrimp together with a few cloves of chopped garlic.
- Season with salt and lots of black pepper and fry the prawns or shrimp, stirring frequently, for 3 - 5 minutes or longer for larger prawns, or until the shells have turned pink.
- Remove from the heat and serve immediately.
Deep fried prawns
Although this method is not as healthy as other methods, it is still an appetizing option, which you can treat yourself to from time to time.
- Fill a deep fryer or wok with a few inches of vegetable oil and heat to 375°F (190°C).
- Meanwhile, peel the shrimp or prawns, leaving the tail if you wish.
- Dip the prawns in milk and then dust with flour and place into the fryer or wok.
- Fry the prawns or shrimp for 2 - 3 minutes or until they have turned golden brown.
Prawns and shrimp that have already been cooked should be reheated on a gentle heat to prevent overcooking.
Cooked prawns or shrimp should really be eaten fresh, however if you cook the prawns before using them in a recipe, they may be stored in the refrigerator in a sealed bag until needed. You should use them within 2 - 3 days if possible.