Choosing, cleaning and cooking shrimp (Shrimp Scampi recipe)

Choosing, cleaning and cooking shrimp can be as easy as one, two, three Photo: Mary Payne Moran

LOS ANGELES, April 21, 2012 – Choosing, cleaning and cooking shrimp can be as easy as one, two, three if you know some basic techniques.

After many years in the restaurant business and bushels of shrimp to prepare, a chef learns the basics and how to do this quickly and efficiently.

Shrimp is very prominent in the seafood section. And because shrimp are so popular and it’s the perfect time of year to serve and eat them, don’t let your lack of skills get in the way of enjoying this delicious shellfish.

Here are the basics of shrimp.

Choosing the perfect shrimp

At first glance and smell, a seafood counter should smell like the sea (seaweed), and not of heavy ammonia or an old fish smell.  Fresh shrimp will be firm to the touch, wet but not slimy, the shell is firmly attached to the meat of the shrimp and the shell will be slightly translucent.

Varieties- White shrimp (Most common is the white shrimp;) and the Tiger shrimp (large and more expensive)

The white shrimp ranges in size and is most commonly used in shrimp cocktails.  It has gray with pink flecks on the exterior while it’s raw and when it’s cooked it turns bright orangey pink.

The Tiger shrimp is slightly larger and more expensive. The tiger shrimp varies from 6-12 inches. It has dark stripes along its shell while it’s raw and when it’s cooked it turns into a pinky white color as well.


 Shrimp is bought by the pound and the number of shrimp per pound. For example, if the count is 16/20; there will be between 16 and 20 shrimp in the purchase. The lower the count the larger the individual shrimp it takes less of them to equal one pound.

Cleaning the shrimp

Rinse the shrimp in cold water before they are peeled to remove the residual film from the seafood store. It’s best to rinse them in a colander so the shrimp can drip dry while the rest are being peeled.


Decide whether the shrimp will be peeled before or after cooking in the planning stages of making the dish. If the shrimp is cooked with the peel on it will retain more flavor, but it’s not as easy to peel.  Peeling shrimp before  it is cooked is easier and it will allow the vein to be removed and maintain a good presentation.

Peel before cooking

Hold the legs and tail (be careful, there is a sharp point hidden within the tail) of the shrimp.

Take a small paring knife with your other hand and insert the tip of the knife where the head was and then run the blade along the back of the shrimp.

Stop before you get to the tail.

Use your finger to peel the skin off of the meat of the shrimp removing the legs as well as the shell.

Next, at the back of the shrimp spread the cut open and use your fingers to pull the vein out of the shrimp.

Flip the shrimp so the tail is facing you and use your fingers to gently pull the sharp point from the tail.

Peel after cooking

Hold the shrimp firmly in your hand.

With your other hand, use your thumb and pointer finger to grab hold of the legs and remove the legs and shell with a circular motion around the shrimp.

The vein should be left in for a cleaner presentation, but it can be removed with a small slit from the tail to the opposite end and using fingers to pull it from the meat of the shrimp.

Flip the shrimp so the tail is facing you and use your fingers to gently pull the sharp point from the tail.

Cook Techniques


Bring a large pot of water (stock) to a boil (you can add seasonings, herbs and other ingredients to the liquid). Next, add your shrimp to the liquid. The liquid should cover the shrimp by one-two inches. Bring the liquid back to a boil and turn it down to a simmer and start the clock for 4-6 minutes. *bigger or frozen shrimp may take longer.


 Add the vegetables, herbs, seasonings to the sauté pan and cook them until they are soft and remove.  

For steaming, cover the pottom of the pan with wine, stock, water or combination and add shrimp to the pan.

If steaming, bring the liquid to a high heat and cover the pan with a lid and cook the shrimp for four to six minutes, being careful to not allow the liquid 

If using butter to sautee, such as a Shrimp Sampi, you need to frequently gently toss the shrimp, being careful to not allow the butter and any onion, garlic, herbs or vegetables to burn.

Remember bigger or frozen shrimp may take longer. Watch for the color and the touch of the shrimp.  Cooked shrimp is pinkish on the outside, firm, white flesh.  Never mushy or translucent.

Simple Shrimp Scampi

If you are using frozen shrimp, defrost them quickly and safely by putting the shrimp in a large bowl of ice water. This is a quick cook dish.  Before you begin cooking the shrimp, make sure your rice or noodles are warm plated and ready to finish with the shrimp portions.


  • 1 pound large (16-20 count) shrimp tail-on for presentation if you want
  • Salt
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, slivered, or 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice

* Whether you prepare the shrimp shell on or off is really up to you. Cooking the shrimp with the shells still on will impart more flavor, but they are much messier to eat. Shelling the shrimp before cooking them will make the shrimp a lot easier to eat.

One trick I like to use is the slice the uncooked shrimp along the back, leaving the shell on but exposing the vein.  I slice the meat, and using a wooden skewer and gentle stream of water, I remove the vein, leaving the shells and tail on. If using this method, place prepared shrimp on a clean towel or paper towels and make sure they are dry before cooking.


1 Heat a sauté pan adding the olive oil and butter. Once the butter melts, foams up and subsides, add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Watch your butter, you do not want it to brown.

Sauté for a minute, or until you see the edges of some of the garlic just beginning to brown. Tip: Slicing the garlic very, very thin imparts maximum color and easier cooking. Butter burns at a low heat, so not having large chunks of garlic will add to your cooking success.

Sauteed shrimp

Sauteed shrimp

2 As soon as the garlic begins to brown, add the shrimp to the pan. Then add the white wine and stir to combine and coat the shrimp with the butter, oil, and wine. Spread the shrimp out in an even layer in the pan.

Increase the heat to the highest setting and let the shrimp cook for two-three minutes.  Do not over cook.  The shrimp is done when it is no longer translucent and the exterior has a warm pink orange color.  

If you over cook the shrimp, your garlic will become bitter and the shrimp chewy.  As soon as you see the shrimp changing to all white firm meat, take one shrimp, slice open lengthwise and make sure it is cooked through.

3 Deglaze the pan with a bit more wine (just a few tablespoons) and butter and reduce to make a yummy drizzle to place on the plate around a portion of shrimp and rice. 

Check out Chef Mary’s Shrimp and Walnut Glaze recipe.

Happy Cooking!

Chef Mary


For more great cooking tips, recipes and stories from Chef Mary, visit her blog. To learn more about Chef Mary, check out her Hail Mary’s, Inc. Web site. E-mail questions for Ask Chef Mary Fridays to or click the Ask Chef Mary link above. 


Check out Chef Mary on Facebook: Hail Mary’s Inc. and

Twitter :@chefmarymoran.

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The information provided is general information about healthy eating. It is not intended as a substitute for the advice or treatment that may have been prescribed by your physician or other health care provider. Always consult a physician before starting any new diet or regimen. 


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Mary Moran

Upon graduating from the California School of Culinary Arts in 2002, Chef Mary Payne Moran began her professional career shelling crabs at the world-renowned restaurant, Michael's in Santa Monica.  Simultaneously, she launched her own company, Hail Mary’s, founded upon the belief that good food nurtures the soul, and began catering weddings, parties and large corporate events.

In the fall of 2008, Mary began teaching her culinary skills to others.    Currently she can be found at Hollywood School House teaching her after school cooking class, and teaching her popular "Vegetables or Not Here I Come" assembly.

Most recently, Mary has launched another division in her company as well as a chef she is now also a Certified Nutritionist for high profile clients.  She helps her clients discover their healthy way of eating.  Mary has recently been published in the Los Angeles Magazine, & The New Jersey Star Ledger.

Daily she addresses cooking aficionados through her blog - Cooking with Chef Mary as well as her how-to webisodes on You Tube.

Contact Mary Moran


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