Shrimp is a tasty weeknight dinner, but cleaning them is far from fun. The process involves rinsing, de-shelling, and deveining the shrimp — which is tedious, especially if you’re cooking a large amount. Also, the shrimp shells need to be discarded right away to prevent fishy odors from smelling up your kitchen. The simple fix: Just don’t peel the shrimp and enjoy them with the shell on. While leaving the shell on shrimp might sound odd, it’ll save you a step in the cooking process. Some chefs actually swear by this trick, because it enhances the shrimp’s taste and crispiness once cooked. Here’s how to cook shrimp with the shell on, plus my own experience testing out this hack.
Why You Should Cook Unpeeled Shrimp
According to Rebecca Hays, deputy editor at Cook’s Illustrated, shrimp shells contain more flavor than you’d think. This is why she’s all for saving yourself some time by leaving the shells on. “Like the flesh, the shells contain healthy amounts of glutamates and nucleotides, compounds that dramatically enhance savory umami flavor when present together in food,” she writes on the magazine’s website. “These compounds also get transferred to the meat during cooking, amplifying the effect of the glutamates and nucleotides in the shrimp’s flesh.”
She notes that unpeeled shrimp are best eaten fried or roasted rather than boiled or steamed. Why? Dry, high-heat cooking methods dehydrate the shells and make them more edible, while wet cooking methods cause them to become rubbery. Hays recommends using smaller shrimp for this hack, since larger shrimp tend to have tougher shells.
The one challenge you may run into is deveining the shrimp without removing the shell. Taking out the shrimp’s vein is optional, but it’s ideal if you don’t want to consume its digestive tract. Luckily, the experts at Marx Foods demonstrate how to devein shell-on shrimp using these four steps:
- Working on shrimp at a time, hold the shellfish so that the tail is facing away from you.
- Take a pair of kitchen shears and snip through the back of the shell.
- Once you’ve reached the tail area, open the shrimp and remove the vein. Leave the tail on.
- Repeat with the remaining shrimp before cooking.
How To Cook Shrimp With the Shell On
When I tested this hack, I used Food Network’s recipe for Almost-Famous Spicy Fried Shrimp as a guide. The original recipe calls for peeling the shrimp, but I left them on. Also, I served the spicy mayo sauce on the side instead of tossing them in it, to keep the crispy exterior intact. Here’s how to make this recipe at home.
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Asian chili sauce (such as sambal oelek)
- 2 teaspoons honey
- Kosher salt
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 2 large eggs
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup cornstarch
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 ¼ pounds small shrimp, unpeeled or peeled and deveined
- Bibb lettuce leaves, for serving (optional)
- Thinly sliced scallions, for garnish (optional)
- Total time: 40 min
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings
- Make sauce: Mix mayonnaise, chili sauce, honey, ¼ teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon water in large bowl; set aside.
- Prepare shrimp: Heat about 2 inches of vegetable oil in heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat until deep-fry thermometer registers 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, whisk eggs in shallow bowl. Whisk flour, cornstarch, and 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper in another shallow bowl.
- Working in batches, dredge shrimp in flour mixture, shaking off excess, dip in beaten eggs, then return to flour mixture, turning to form thick crust. Fry shrimp in hot oil until lightly golden, 1 to 2 minutes, adjusting heat as needed to maintain oil temperature. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate with slotted spoon.
- Toss shrimp with prepared sauce. Arrange lettuce in shallow serving bowl or on individual plates. Top with shrimp and garnish with scallions. Enjoy!
My Taste Test
I was a little worried at first, because I used large shrimp to make this recipe; that resulted in a longer cooking time and a thicker shell to consume. However, it all worked out well: The shrimp had a more concentrated, sweeter flavor compared to when they’re fried without the shell, and the peel acted as a second crunchy layer underneath the breading, noticeable with every bite.
Thankfully, the shell was easy enough to chew and swallow. The spicy mayo sauce added a creaminess and kick to the shrimp, rounding out the overall taste. As weird as this cooking hack may seem, I’ll definitely use it again the next time I’m preparing smaller-sized shrimp. (Never thought I’d actually come to enjoy shrimp shells!)
Want more tips for reducing your time in the kitchen? Check out our stories on “Lazy” Lasagna, “Lazy” Enchiladas, or “Lazy” Lemon Linguine — they feature clever shortcuts for cooking dinner staples in a fraction of the time.
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