Anyone with an appetite for shrimp would have come across the ungracious process of peeling and failing to peel them. Although it is often straightforward to prepare, a single mistake can cause the unfortunate blunder of making shrimp hard to peel.
So, What makes shrimp hard to peel?
Shrimp is hard to peel because their shells are very thin and delicate. Your shrimp can easily get damaged when trying to peel their shells improperly. Additionally, when you overcook and boil them for too long, their shells adhere to the shrimp, making them harder to peel.
The shell is part and parcel of shrimp, and so are the hardships of peeling it off. Although pre-peeled shrimp is available, many shrimp recipes call for unpeeled shrimp as the shell contributes as much flavor to the dish as the meat. So, there’s no getting away with hard-to-peel shells.
In each step of preparing and cooking shrimp, you can make a mistake that ends up with the same result of having our shrimp notoriously tricky to peel. However, most of these mistakes are easy to fix and remediate, and getting each step right is easier than you’d expect.
Cooking Mistakes that Can Make Shrimp Hard to Peel
Before Cooking Shrimp
The kind of shrimp you’re getting already determines whether you’re going to have a hard time peeling them!
If you opted for frozen shrimp, defrosting them the wrong way can make your shrimp harder to peel. In a situation we all know too well, being in a hurry only leaves us with very little prep time. So what we end up doing is pulling out the shrimp from the fridge and leaving it out to thaw at room temperature.
Freezing waters make the shrimp meat extra tender, and exposing them immediately to a higher temperature makes it even more tender. The shells become adherent to the meat, leaving you with either more time needed to take them off or some damaged shrimp.
This is also the same reason why defrosting frozen shrimp in a microwave or using hot water is a bad idea. Aside from the fact that they’re subjected to a higher temperature from being frozen, cooking them afterward already makes them overcooked, which does not make it any easier for you.
If you bought fresh shrimp (or at least you were told they were fresh), there’s a high chance that they were frozen before. Of course, as they were frozen, the same things mentioned before will apply: putting them into high heat right away is a no-go.
However, if you truly got across fresh, ocean-to-market shrimp, then they are no good either. There’s a good reason why “fresh” shrimp is frozen beforehand: freshly caught shrimp have their shells naturally hard to peel from the meat. Freezing fresh shrimp allows the meat to separate from the shell more elegantly than ripping them off yourself.
Learn More: Can You Eat Shrimp Tails
While Cooking Shrimp
Phew! You got past the grueling task of picking the right shrimp. However, there are far more ways you can ruin your perfectly prepared shrimp into a mess at this point.
Perhaps the easiest one is overcooking them. As mentioned before, defrosting shrimp in hot water or the microwave makes the shell hard to peel off. However, they also make the shrimp prone to overcooking.
Shrimp meat, like most seafood, has thinner tissues compared to meat and poultry. Where meat easily takes hours over the fire, shrimp is done and ready within 5 minutes. Go past this time, and your shrimp will curl into a tight O. As you guessed, peeling these shrimp will not be easy.
If you prefer to boil the shrimp instead, you’re also under the same deadline. Shrimp is already good to go after around 1-2 minutes in boiling water. Going past 5 minutes will make the meat extra tender, making it hard to peel away from the shell.
Other ways of cooking shrimp, such as steaming and grilling, are also under the same restrictions. Steaming for over 2 minutes makes the shrimp incredibly soft, which sticks too hard to the shell. Grilling for over 2 minutes on each side will make the meat rubbery, and rubbery means it will also stubbornly stick to the shells.
Learn More: What Does Shrimp Taste Like
Five Tricks to Make Shrimp Peeling Easy
Now that we know what not to do when preparing shrimp, let’s get around certain tricks to avoid a messy shrimp meal!
Get IQF Shrimp
IQF is short for individually quick frozen, and IQF shrimp means that each shrimp is frozen separately, instead of being frozen into blocks of ice. Aside from retaining the flavor and freshness of the shrimp, IQF shrimp are easy to work with, especially in defrosting them.
Immerse in Cold Water
Since shrimp is sensitive to high temperatures, defrosting them is more of a process of letting the ice melt while keeping them at about the same temperature. By immersing them in ice-cold water, the shell elegantly separates itself from the meat.
If you have overcooked shrimp, you can also immerse them in cold water to help ease the shell off the meat. However, this may not work every time, as some overcooked shrimp will inevitably be beyond peeling.
Use the Colander Technique
The colander technique is the recommended technique for defrosting shrimp. Place your shrimp in a colander, then place your colander in a bowl. Refrigerate them overnight. The ice will melt, the shell will unstick itself, and your shrimp will be ready for cooking when tomorrow comes.
With that said, the colander technique does take more time, and the circumstances may leave you with less than 12 hours to work on your shrimp. However, the colander technique will guarantee that your shrimp will not be hard to peel no matter the dish.
Some people swear by adding a spoonful of vinegar while boiling shrimp to make it easier to peel. Although vinegar does facilitate the separation of meat and shell, it’s not a guaranteed solution. Plus, you can only use vinegar when boiling shrimp. Other methods of cooking shrimp don’t work well with vinegar.
Make Hard-to-Peel Shrimp Easier to Work With!
Shrimp is a popular delicacy with minimal prep time and is generally easy to cook. However, a blunder here and there can make a mess with having their shells hard to peel. However, now that you know what makes shrimp hard to peel, your next shrimp meal should be hearty and delicious, and more importantly, shell-free.