Shrimp is one of the most popular seafood types that people eat. It is also easy to find at the grocery store. But how do you know if you are really getting good shrimp or not? You won't know for sure until you taste it, of course, but you can make smart selections at the store that will help to guarantee that you're buying the tastiest shrimp available.
Follow these ten tips for choosing shrimp at the grocery store:
1. Know what type of shrimp you want. The most important part of getting the best shrimp at the grocery store is to know about the different types of shrimp that there are. You want to get the right type for the recipe that you are making. Some of your options include:
- Cold water shrimp. This is a type of small, sweet shrimp that is pre-cooked and sold to you ready to go at the store. If you are interested in buying good shrimp to put on top of a cold dish like a salad then this can be a good selection. It's one of the few times that you'll want to buy pre-cooked shrimp.
- Tiger shrimp or tiger prawns. These are striped shrimp (which makes sense because of their name). They look really large when you get them at the store. However, they shrink a lot when you cook them. They're a great choice for a mild tasting shrimp and a popular option for many recipes. Pastas with shrimp often use tiger shrimp.
- Rock shrimp. This type of shrimp usually comes from the Florida area. When it's cooked it will turn red and white (instead of pure pink like other types of shrimp). They are a chewier type of shrimp than what you may be used to if you don't normally eat rock shrimp. It may also have a sweeter taste.
- White shrimp, brown shrimp and pink shrimp. You can identify these based on their color. They are all rather similar. Brown shrimp tends to be more "fishy" in flavor than the other two or to have what is described as a stronger taste. You may choose any of these types of shrimp to make on their own. Brown shrimp is a good choice for frying since it retains its flavor.
- Freshwater shrimp. The shrimp that you find in the store is almost always going to be saltwater shrimp. However, there is such a thing as freshwater shrimp which you can sometimes get at specialty stores. It is shipped live to the store (like lobsters are) and is one of the most flavorful types of shrimp available. Great to try if you can find it in your area.
2. Don't get precooked shrimp. Unless you are choosing one of the cold water shrimp varieties for a cold shrimp dish as described above, you don't want to get precooked shrimp. Shrimp is much more flavorful if it is cooked for the first time when you make it for your meal.
3. Choose shrimp that still has the shell on. One of the many options that you have when you buy shrimp from the grocery store is to get it with the shells already removed for you. Many people like to do this because it's so convenient for you when you're cooking. However, you're not getting the best-tasting shrimp if you make this choice. Cooking the shrimp inside of its shell gives it a lot more flavor and you don't have that option if the shell has already been removed. Look at the shrimp and make sure that the full shell is still on it and none has been removed or damaged.
4. Choose shrimp that isn't in the freezer section. It's more expensive to buy the fresh shrimp from the meat section of your grocery store but you're going to get much better shrimp this way.
5. But the shrimp should be on ice. You don't want shrimp that's frozen and packaged but you do want your shrimp to be on ice. It needs to be at a temperature just slightly above freezing, around 34 degrees, to stay fresh enough to retain its flavor. If you're looking into a display case and you see shrimp that's refrigerated but not on ice, skip over it because it's probably warmer than it should be.
6. Make sure that the shrimp is the right color. Your shrimp should be white. It can be greyish if it is white shrimp and can be brownish if it is brown shrimp. In general, though, it should have white meat and a pink shell. It shouldn't have any black spots (unless it is a variety of tiger shrimp that is supposed to have those; ask your grocer). And the meat itself shouldn't be too pink. The shell should not have any yellow spots; this indicates that the shrimp was bleached which takes away from its flavor.
7. Ask to touch one of the pieces of shrimp. What you're looking for is a firm shell that isn't slimy. If there is any sign of sliminess, don't buy the shrimp. It's not going to taste good if it's slimy.
8. Pay attention to how shiny the shell is. As you begin to purchase more and more shrimp, you will begin to notice that sometimes the shells are shinier than other times. You will probably also notice that the shrimp with the shiniest shells are the ones that taste the best. Choose shrimp that has a shiny shell over shrimp with a dull shell.
9. Get shrimp with the heads still on. A lot of people don't want to deal with shrimp heads when cooking. However, you get the best flavor if you buy the full shrimp and cut the heads off yourself. Plus, looking at the heads of shrimp before you buy it will tell you whether or not the shrimp was frozen and then thawed; mushy shrimp heads indicate this. You don't want pre-frozen and already-thawed shrimp so look for this.
10. Smell the shrimp. Ask for a sample piece to smell. It should smell salty and remind you of the ocean. It should not, however, smell fishy. If it smells fishy (or like a dirty ocean) then it's going bad.
suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on March 02, 2011:
I manage a seafood market and your shrimp-buying tips are very wise. But where fresh shrimp is not always available (like here in the mountains) many frozen shrimp selections are quite delicious providing they are thawed out correctly. Great Hub.
India Arnold from Northern, California on June 05, 2010:
Great hub and so informative! Who knew? A shrimpin' I will go!
Sandra Mireles from Texas on June 05, 2010:
Thank you so much for these tips about buying shrimp. I live on the gulf coast and love shrimp but since my husband does not like shrimp I never learned how to cook it. Lately, I have wanted to give it a try. You have helped me and I thank you.
fetty from South Jersey on June 04, 2010:
Very fine hub with a lot of useful information about shrimp. My husband could eat this everyday if I let him.
samboiam from Texas on June 04, 2010:
Thanks for these tips. I seldom buy shrimp but it is good to know this in case I do.