Don’t be shellfish: share crustaceans on National Shrimp Day

Catharine L. Kaufman
Catharine L. Kaufman

Americans love their shrimp, chowing down 1.7 billion pounds a year. We’re paying homage to this beloved, multi-tasking crustacean that can be dressed up in cocktail sauce at a black tie event or skewered California casual style on the Barbie, by celebrating National Shrimp Day on May 10th. Here’s a primer to help you navigate through the shoals of the shrimp world to get the most out of this remarkable seafood.

The World is your Oyster

Shrimp are low cal (about 14 calories apiece, unless you opt for the battered, deep-fried route), packed with lean protein, bone-boosting Vitamin D, stress- busting B-12, heart-healthy omega-3’s, selenium, calcium and phosphorous. Although high in cholesterol, they are virtually free of saturated fats, so go ahead and shrimp-up. Do an Asian stir fry with jumbo shrimp and asparagus in a spicy chili paste, a Spanish paella, an Italian frittata blending shrimp with broccoli rabe, some southern hospitality with shrimp and grits, Big Easy Cajun with jambalaya and gumbo, a shrimp bisque paired with kale and quinoa or a Thai satay with peanut sauce. Toss grilled shrimp in your favorite pasta or salad or munch them au naturel with some sassy horseradish sauce.

Walk on the Wild Side

Although trawling for shrimp (wild-caught) is not a perfect practice as it can damage the ocean floor and snag innocent marine bystanders (bycatch), it still trumps farm-raised by a long shot. Unsustainable, industrial shrimp farms not only wreak havoc on communities and the environment, but create a potential health hazard to crustaceanphiles. As farms are crowded and unsanitary, the shrimps become contaminated with antibiotics to pesticides, passing along these toxins to the consumer.

Buyer’s Guide

Where possible, buy wild-caught (or sustainably farmed) domestic and always from a reputable fishmonger. Read labels, and avoid questionable countries of origin.

As shrimp are extremely perishable, choose wisely. Raw shrimp should be firm with an opaque appearance, and you should detect only a mild smell. A pungent ammonia aroma means it is past its “best when used by” date.

Flash frozen beats “fresh” defrosted, and can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months, cooked only 2 months. When storing in the fridge, shrimp should be consumed within 2 days.

In for the Count

Shrimp by the pound is designated by the “count” to determine the size. The lower the count, the larger the shrimp.  And in a shrimp lover’s world, the bigger the better, especially for grilling. Under 10 per pound is labeled “Extra Colossal,” under 12 is “Super Colossal,” under 15 is “Colossal,” 16 to 20 is “Extra Jumbo,” 21 to 25 “Jumbo,” 26 to 30 “Extra Large,” 31 to 35 is “Large,” 41 to 50 is “Medium,” and 51 to 60 is “Small” (microscopic).

Shrimp Tid Bits

Shrimp accounts for 30% of seafood sales in the U.S.

The most popular shrimp species (1,900 in all) are the white, pink, brown, blue and striped Tiger.

About 75% of farmed shrimp are produced in Asia.

Prawns and shrimps are not created equal—the former having a more streamlined abdomen and longer legs with a texture and taste comparable to lobster.

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