How to prepare shrimp to be grilled in the shell?
August 13, 2007 5:47 PM   Subscribe

How should I prepare shrimp to be grilled in the shell?

Last night we grilled some shrimp. I made a marinade and the meat was moist and flavorful. Delicious, but a total pain in the ass to eat. In my ignorance I neglected some crucial steps in preparation. I know I've had grilled shrimp cooked in the shell before, and the meat pulled out of the shell easily. I would like to replicate that experience.

How can I prepare the shrimp next time to ensure easy consumption? I know a lot of people just shell them before cooking them, but to me that's kind of like using fresh lemon juice without the zest.

Prior to last night my only experience preparing shrimp was buying a bag of preshelled ready to eat cocktail shrimp, so if there are essential shrimp tricks I should know, please feel free to enlighten me.
posted by polyhedron to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A few questions for you - exactly why was it a pain in the ass to eat - did the flesh stick to the shell? In what and for how long did you marinate it? Did you buy it fresh or was it frozen?

I have some ideas about how to help you but I need more information.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 6:03 PM on August 13, 2007

Response by poster: The flesh stuck to the shell, yes. I marinated the shrimp for about two and a half hours in a solution of lemon juice, zest, garlic cloves, and vegetable oil. Maybe 2 parts juice to 3 parts oil -- I did not measure (I never do). Previously frozen shrimp, head off.
posted by polyhedron at 6:09 PM on August 13, 2007

Best answer: Hmmm, okay. A couple of initial thoughts:

- The lemon juice in your marinade and the length of time you marinated your shrimp may have effectively "cooked" them before you grilled them, and also softened the flesh to the point where it adhered to the inside of your shrimp shells.

- Most shrimp you find, even if it's presented in your market as "fresh", has been frozen and thawed. If it's thawed slowly, generally the flesh holds up well to cooking. However, if it's been quickly thawed in, say, water or the microwave, the flesh tends to breakdown and turn to mush. This, too, causes them to adhere to the shells after steaming, boiling or grilling.

Here's what I'd suggest for next time - Don't marinate before hand, or eliminate the lemon juice altogether. Instead, add alot of lemon zest, garlic, herbs, etc., and minimal oil to your marinade and only allow your shrimp to sit in it for about half an hour at the most. (Also, avoid salt in your marinade - that also tends to draw moisture out of protein and cause the opposite problem - your shrimp may turn rubbery.) Add salt and lemon juice just before grilling and add a bit more after your shrimp is fully cooked for maximum flavor.

You might also consider grilling your shrimp on skewers - run the skewer up along the back of the shrimp underneath the shell until it protrudes from shell just before you hit that particularly hard bit of shell above the tail. This will pull the flesh away from the shell a bit and allow any butter or oil you baste your shrimp with during grilling to work its way down inside the shell.

You might also remove most of the shell with the exception of the tail, skewer them through the center, grill them and then toss them in a really flavorful mixture of garlic, herbs, lemon zest, cayenne, etc. after cooking. The less oil you use, the more flavorful your shrimp will ultimately be.

Also, only grill your shrimp for until just pink all the way through - usually only a couple of minutes per side. Overcooking might have also been a problem.

Good luck and hope this helps.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 6:36 PM on August 13, 2007 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: So the message I'm getting is cook them less? It's not really a marinade without an acid component is it?

They definitely stayed on the grill for a fair amount of time. The coals were cooling down and we weren't really sure when to pull them.

Would slicing the shell down the back help induce proper separation? I was planning on trying that next time. I just skewered the shrimp through the belly and out the back this time.

Thanks for the advice, it's appreciated.
posted by polyhedron at 6:54 PM on August 13, 2007

Yes, cook them less. Shrimp cook very quickly.

You can marinate without the acid component, though, yes, an acid component is often used to tenderize protein. The problem is that citrus is very hard on shrimp, which are already quite delicate and tender to begin with. The acid - yogurt, vinegar, citrus, etc. - is there to break down the protein, which, in your case, turned your lovely shrimp into mush. I also suspect the acid in your marinade broke the shells down a bit, as well. Here's a link on marinades that may be helpful.

You can slice the shells down the back, though they'll release alot of their moisture during the cooking process, and it's time consuming. I wouldn't go to the trouble; instead, I'd just leave out the lemon juice.

Marinating can also be used just to add intense flavor to foods you don't want to cook very long - that's why I suggest a higher garlic, zest, seasoning to oil ratio. Less oil makes the other flavors pop. And don't be afraid to be very generous with your garlic and herbs in your marinade - those flavors tend to mute during cooking anyway, so adding more at the beginning will minimize that. Also, put a bit of marinade aside before adding your shrimp to it - you can use that for basting during cooking, and for a little added splash of flavor after cooking.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 7:11 PM on August 13, 2007

yeah, always undercook shrimp. if they are at room temperature, a couple of minutes should do it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:23 PM on August 13, 2007

Absolutely cut the shrimp down the back. It will let you get rid of an gross black vein if there is one and make it much easier to peel.
posted by mostlymartha at 8:11 PM on August 13, 2007

Response by poster: Next time I'm going to experiment with cutting open the backs/vs. not. There may have been a couple veins in the shrimp I purchased, but I think they were supposed to be deveined somehow. Maybe not. I ate most of them and didn't find anything offensive.

I'll take a completely different approach on the marinade. Way less lemon juice, just a smidge. You have to have a little acid, right? Overcooking the shrimp in the marinade makes sense, so I'll be careful not to overdo it.

And I'll man the grill. My neighbor likes to overcook food. I try to err on the other side of the spectrum, and usually with delicious results.

Mmm, thanks for the pointers guys.
posted by polyhedron at 9:13 PM on August 13, 2007

Best answer: technically, it's not a vein, it's an intestine.

also, I've had success marinating shrimp in drink-based marinades, like a "mojito" shrimp with rum/lime/mint and "sunrise" with tequila/orange/chili (need some heat, otherwise it gets too sugary for my liking.)
posted by heeeraldo at 10:34 PM on August 13, 2007

Absolutely cut the shrimp down the back. It will let you get rid of an gross black vein if there is one and make it much easier to peel.

It gets rid of the black thing, but I find it makes them more difficult to peel if you cut along the back. If you don't do the back incision, you can hook your bottom teeth under the ledge of the back carapace and lift the whole thing off; if you slice, then you have to do the same thing from both sides.
posted by juv3nal at 11:33 PM on August 13, 2007

I wouldn't use lemon, just oil, garlic and chili.

However I'm going to me more controversial and say so what if they stick in there shells? Just eat the shells! I've never had a problem with them sticking but sometimes if they are too hot to peel instantly or I just feel like it I will tear off the head and then eat the rest, except the base of the tail where there is no flesh.
posted by ninebelow at 2:32 AM on August 14, 2007

If you're cutting the back, you may as well shell them before cooking. Very easy to do if you squeeze the tail first.
posted by randomstriker at 3:05 AM on August 14, 2007

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