How to Peel and Devein Shrimp
With a mild, buttery taste and the medium firmness of tofu, no other ingredient is quite like the shrimp. It also has a hint of sweetness plus the subtle taste of fresh fish skin that can make any dish more worthwhile. But instead of getting de-shelled and de-veined shrimps, you’ll enjoy your dish better if you get more hands-on in peeling and deveining this crustacean. Here’s how:
Learn the Basic Anatomy of the Shrimp
Before you make any attempts at removing the shell and “vein” of your shell-on shrimp, it’s best to learn about its anatomy first.
A typical shrimp consists of two basic parts: the head and thorax and the abdomen. This is very easy to distinguish. The large cylindrical and elongated “upper” shell of the shrimp is the cephalothorax (it means head + thorax). This is where you can see the eyes and two pairs of antennas – one short and one long. Underneath the cephalothorax are 5 pairs of segmented legs known as pereiopods.
The second section of the shrimp is the long and narrow abdomen. This is where you have the flesh or meat that you use in your shrimp dish. Shrimps have 6 abdominal segments. Each of these segments has a shell that overlaps with the adjoining abdominal segment. On the underside of each of the first 5 abdominal segments are a pair of swimmerets or pleopods. We know these as the shrimp’s legs. Because the underside contains the “legs” of the shrimp, it does not have the protective covering of a shell.
Rounding up the external anatomy of the shrimp is the tail.
Two Ways to Remove a Shrimp’s Shell
There are two basic ways you can remove the shell of a shrimp.
- Manual, Hands-On Method
Based on what we have learned about the anatomy of a shrimp, the most convenient way to remove its shell is through its underside. This area does not have the hard shell or carapace that its topside has. Hence, it is the easiest part to remove with your bare hands. This is the very first way you can peel the shell off a shrimp.
Most people consider the task to be very tedious. Some may find it gross since you will have to feel for the hairy swimmerets of the shrimp. Everything depends on your personal preferences and whether you enjoy the feel of the soft tissue of the shrimp’s underside or not.
To remove the shell of the shrimp using your fingers, you only need to run your fingers along the underside of the shrimp. You can feel the edges of the individual overlapping abdominal shells. These connect to the fleshy underside by a very thin membrane.
Using your finger pads, dig in between the flesh and the edge of the shell. This will break the membrane. You should feel the shell “pop” right off. Do this for the rest of the abdominal segments.
Another way to do it is by removing the swimmerets or legs first. Once these are out of the way, it should be easier to peel the shell right off the shrimp’s abdomen.
An alternative will be to grab the base of the shrimp’s tail. Try to insert your thumb through the shell and run it towards the cephalothorax. This will peel off the shell.
- Using Kitchen Shears
The second method of removing the shell of a shrimp is by using kitchen shears. This method requires “cutting” the hard shell of the shrimp right in the center along where the shrimp’s spine would be (if it had a spine).
Start cutting at the junction between the shrimp’s cephalothorax and the first abdominal shell. Cut all the way towards the tail. This will split open the shell, allowing you to remove it with ease.
Depending on what the recipe requires, you can leave the tail off. This will also make the shrimp look more elegant. Some recipes may also call for the head of the shrimp to stay intact. In such cases, it would be wise to snip the front legs and the other appendages in the shrimp’s cephalothorax. Of course, you can leave them as is if it is what you wish.
Deveining the Shrimp
Contrary to what you may know, the thin elongated strip of yucky black thing we call “vein” is not a “vein” at all. This happens to be the shrimp’s digestive tract. As such, there will always be instances when the vein is very visible. This happens if the shrimps were caught soon after having their meal. This also gives the crustacean a somewhat gritty texture if you do not remove it.
Removing the so-called “veins” of the shrimp is a simple process. It is important to use a sharp knife so you do not mangle the shrimp and ruin your dish. Any type of knife will do. However, it is best to use a short and thin blade to make the finest and cleanest cut that you can.
To devein a shrimp, you need to peel the shell off first. This will give you access to the back of the shrimp. Lay the shrimp on its side on a flat surface and place two to three fingers on the shrimp’s topside. This will stabilize the shrimp as you start cutting its back.
Try to visualize where the veins are. Make a slit along the shrimp’s back to expose the veins. Insert the tip of the knife between the vein and the flesh. Try to “fish” out the vein. If you’re up to it, then you can dig right in.
There is a neat trick if you want to retain the shape of the shrimp. This does not involve any slicing or cutting. What you need is a toothpick. Insert the toothpick near the tail section of the crustacean along its back. Pull the toothpick up through the shrimp’s back. This will snag the vein and allow you to pull it out without damaging the shrimp.
Peeling and deveining shrimps are easy. It requires a little dexterity on your part plus the positive attitude to clean these amazing crustaceans.