ARTICLE TITLE " How to Peel Shrimp"
excerpted from New Orleans Seafood Cookbook Copyright © 1999 by by Andrew Jaeger. All rights reserved.
Peeling shrimp is probably the easiest thing in the bag of tricks required to eat New Orleans seafood, perhaps because so many people have peeled at least one shrimp sometime in their lives. So, let's start here.
Boiled or raw, shrimp require only the most basic flirtation to get them out of their clothes. We respect that attitude here in New Orleans. The standard method for peeling shrimp involves holding the shrimp in one hand and using the other hand to twist off the head and all of the various whiskers. This leaves the body with a whole bunch of little legs holding the shell together at the bottom. Remove these legs and the shell enclosing the body like a horse's blanket is ready to come off. Once the shell is removed, the tail can easily be twisted off. But don't let too much of the tail meat get away.
As we describe in our look at a New Orleans seafood boil (pages 26-27 and 29), the primary advantage of peeling shrimp once they're boiled is that it leaves all but your fingers free to enjoy the important things in life: family, music, and beer. Practice can really improve your speed so that you will have a definite Darwinian advantage in any newspaper-lined New Orleans feeding frenzy.
Peeling raw shrimp will strike most first-timers as both harder and messier than peeling boiled shrimp, but it's not. Use the same method as for peeling boiled shrimp. The only difference is the shrimp meat will be greenish brown rather than a lovely reddish orange, and the various juices are less appetizing. But hey, you're not peeling raw shrimp for good looks, you're peeling them for good food.
Finally, there are traditions surrounding what to discard and when to discard it. I know cookbooks all over America devein all shrimp as a matter of course. In New Orleans we see nothing wrong with the dark little line that runs along the back of a shrimp and generally don't bother deveining much of anything. The only real exceptions to this rule are jumbo shrimp, which cook best butterflied anyway.
The other discardable part of a shrimp is the head, but generations of cooks have warned us not to be hasty. The head of a shrimp (like the head of a crawfish) carries an immense amount of flavor, probably more than any other part of the creature. If you're boiling shrimp and can get your hands on whole ones, don't get rid of the heads until after the boil—the boiling water will become a spicy, shrimpy treasure! And if you're making anything resembling our New Orleans Barbecued Shrimp (page 40), do sauté these babies with the heads on. Once again, the fat will infuse the buttery sauce with goodness you can never get from a shrimp that has lost its head.