Shrimps do not stand long cooking. It is very easy to tell when shrimps are cooked. They turn pink or red. Use it with or without shells. Use it whole, roughly chopped, minced into paste, made into different shapes, or use as stuffing.
Shrimps can be from the ocean (saltwater) or river (freshwater). River shrimps tend to be smaller and prone to have a muddy, grassy flavour. Saltwater shrimps are more common in Singapore. They are bigger in size with firmer flesh.
How to buy shrimp?
When I was young, my family always buy fresh shrimps from the wet market. Granny taught me how to choose fresh shrimps:
Look for firmness in the flesh. The body is curved, not limp and flat.
The head and tail are firmly attached to the body. They are not droopy.
The shell is shiny with a nice gloss. The colour should be uniform throughout. Heads, tails and legs should not be black.
It is now quite common to see frozen shrimps in the supermarkets. Some people claim that frozen shrimps are not fresh, this is not always true. Shrimps spoil quickly so they are flash-frozen right on the fishing boats to preserve its freshness.
Since you cannot feel or shake the frozen shrimps, the only way to tell whether they are fresh is by colour. Choose those with uniform colour. Avoid those with blackish heads or tails.
How to clean shrimp?
One of the most important preparation step is to remove the gut (the dark vein running down the back / spine of the shrimp before cooking) of the fresh shrimps.
My granny taught me to pull the gut out by poking one of the teeth of a fork into the third or fourth section of the shrimp underneath the gut line and lift it gently out. A deft hand can remove it in a single "lift". If a fork is too clunky for you, try a toothpick or satay stick. As long as it is something thin and sharp. See how it is done with a toothpick in the video below.
Another way is to simply pull it out. Remove the head, grab the vein and pull slowly. I expect this to be easier with bigger sized shrimps. My main problem with this method is the vein tend to break after way out.
The last and most common method is to slit the back and rinse it off. Many people use a knife to cut the slit but using a pair of kitchen scissor is safer. The video below shows you how.
Whichever way you remove the gut, it must be done.
If you intend to cook with the shells on, the shells still need to be trimmed. Use a pair of kitchen scissors, snip off the top part of the head especially the sharp bits. Snip off the "whiskers" and the legs. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry. The video above shows how it is done too.
How to defrost shrimp?
Frozen shrimps can come with shell or without. They can be pre-cooked or raw.
I find frozen cooked shrimps quite salty. To reduce the saltiness, do rinse after thawing.
I used to take frozen shrimps out of the freezer and throw them directly into my soup. This seems to affect the texture. It is better to thaw and wash them properly before cooking them. I repent.
The proper way to thaw them is to let them warm up in room temperature soak in water. I find it easier to move them from the freezer to the refrigerator first. When you are ready to cook, bring it out from the fridge to complete the thaw.
What is the difference between a shrimp and prawn?
In Singapore, we use the term prawns more often, like Hokkien prawn noodles. I heard that the term shrimp is more common in North America.
Genetically they are different, but to the layperson, the difference is very small. So, I think it is quite safe to use them interchangeably.
How to freeze shrimp?
Shrimps can be easily frozen. To freeze with the shell on, pack them into an air-tight container. Place them in the freezer for about 4 hours. Take the container out and add water before returning to the freezer.
To freeze shelled prawns, clean them first. Marinate with a little rice wine, pat dry, pack into a container, and place in the freezer.
Shrimp heads and shells can also be frozen for making shrimp stock. No one buys a lot of shrimps just to make stock. Most people accumulate the heads and shells by freezing them and accumulating until there are enough to make stock.
Shrimp Soup Recipes
Recipe 1. Shrimp soup recipe with Chinese yam
Depending on the size of the shrimps, use it whole or chop into chunks.
200g fresh Chinese yam 淮山 (shan yao)
4 fresh tiger shrimps
4 konbu pieces
1 small bunch of snow pea shoots
Pinch of salt and cornstarch
1 tbsp dashi powder
Peel the Chinese yam and cut into cubes. Be careful when peeling as it can be slippery.
Wash the shrimps, remove the shells except the tails. Score the back and remove the gut
Rub the shrimps gently with salt and dust with cornstarch
Remove the gut from the shrimp heads
Place the shrimp heads, shells, konbu and Chinese yam and water into a soup pot
Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes
Remove the shells and heads
Add the dashi powder for flavor
Add in the peashoots and cook for about 1 minute
Add to the soup and cook quickly
Remove from heat once the shrimps changes colour
Recipe 2. Easy shrimp soup recipe with napa cabbage and egg
This is a hearty rustic soup. The napa cabbage is really sweet when it is well cooked and goes well with the ocean sweetness of the shrimps. If you are unfamiliar with using cornstarch to thicken soup, read this article on thickening soup first.
150g fresh shrimps
50g napa cabbage leaves
1 stalk of cilantro
6 cups of soup stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp sugar
2 tablespoon cornstarch mixture
1 tablespoon black vinegar
Wash, remove the shells and clean the shrimps
Cut the shrimps into chunks if they are big
Wash the cabbage leaves and shred. Use the food processor with a shredding blade or a mandolin
Beat the eggs lightly
Wash the cilantro leaves and chop finely
Bring the soup stock to a boil in a pot
Add the shredded cabbage and cooked until they are soft
Add the shrimps
Add the cornstarch solution to thicken the soup
Stir in the egg mixture and give the soup a few quick stirs
Add the black vinegar and chopped cilantro before serving
Recipe 3. Shrimp soup recipe with cellophane noodle
This is a hearty and appetite-stimulating soup dish. It relieves work stress and fatigue, and strengthens the body.
12 fresh shrimps
2 bunches cellophane noodle / glass noodle
1/3 stalk leek
2 1-inch pieces ginger
1 red chilli
1 stalk spring onion
3 sections garlic
1 litre soup stock
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp cooking wine
Salt and pepper
Clean and remove the shells of the shrimps
Make slits on the back and remove the gut
Julienne the leek and soak in water
Roughly chop the spring onion and red chilli
Peel the garlic and chop roughly
Peel the ginger and slice thinly
Soak the cellophane noodle in room temperature water till they are soft
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pot (preferably a claypot)
Fry the spring onion, ginger, garlic and red chilli
Add the soup stock and seasonings and bring to a boil
Add the cellophane noodle and the shrimps
Cook till both are done
Garnish with the leek and serve
Recipe 4. Shrimp ball soup recipe with straw mushrooms
This shrimp ball soup with straw mushrooms is interesting to make. I get to mince up fresh shrimps and make shrimp balls. The balls look like apples with the celery sticks sticking out.
You can add more than one type of mushrooms.
I was taught since young that when boiling dumplings, fish balls or meat balls, that they are cooked when they float to the surface of the water.
600g fresh shrimps
40g straw mushrooms
250ml soup stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Seasoning for shrimp balls
2 tbsp soy sauce
Dash of sesame seed oil
1 egg white
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
Remove the shells and guts of the shrimp
Mince the shrimps by processing them in a food processor. If you do not have a food processor, you can use a knife but it would be a lot more work
Add the seasoning for the shrimp balls to the minced shrimps. Mix them up till the mixture is slightly sticky
Wash the straw mushrooms and cut in half
Wash the celery and cut into thin strips. The length depends on the size of the shrimp balls
Shape the shrimp mixture into round balls with hands and place on a plate
Insert one strip of celery in the centre of each shrimp ball. Make sure that one end of the celery strip is sticking out of the shrimp ball
Bring soup stock to a boil, lower the heat and add the shrimp balls into the soup. Cook for about 8 minutes or until the shrimp balls float to the surface
Add the straw mushrooms
Bring the entire pot to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer till the vegetables are cooked
Add salt and pepper to taste
Shrimp Wonton Recipes
Fresh shrimps is a popular ingredient in Cantonese wontons. Most Northern Chinese wontons do not contain shrimps.
Not all shrimps wontons are the same. Some are all shrimps, some are mixture of shrimp and pork, And some have fish too.
The 3 filling recipes below ask for a packet of wonton wrappers. You may or may not finish the entire packet, depending on the amount of filling you use for each wrapper. Check out these ideas for using up leftover wrappers.
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