Originally posted September 3, 2014. Revised and updated March 18, 2017.
If you have ever eaten shrimp, you probably have come across all styles: butterfly cut, popcorn (breaded), shell on, and those without the shells.
You may not realize this, but something is missing when they arrive on your dinner plate – an unattractive dark line down the spine.
- Wash the shrimp thoroughly.
- If they are frozen, transfer them in a colander and place it under cool running water to defrost slightly.
- Remove the heads, using a sharp paring knife.
- Peel them. If it’s appropriate for the recipe that you’re making, leave the tails on for a nicer presentation.
- Use your paring knife to make a shallow incision down the back of the shrimp, to expose the digestive tract.
- Use the tip of your knife to slowly lift up the “dirt” to remove it, and then throw it away.
Some people don’t mind the digestive tract – which some mistake for a vein – and others, especially Americans, insist that it be removed.
“Deveining,” or removing the guts, is also beneficial as they often have a gritty texture.
If you want to remove the digestive tract but don’t know how, this is the perfect how-to article for you!
Once you get over the anxiety of facing the deveining process, you’ll see how easy it is. With this step-by-step guide, you’ll be comfortable with this simple kitchen procedure in no time.
The first thing you want to do is grab a clean dish towel or a good supply of paper towels, because your hands are going to get pretty messy.
I also like to keep a small disposable bag handy, for easy disposal when I’m done. Unless you’re taking it out to the garbage can right away, you’re not going to want to put any shells or shrimp waste in your kitchen trash because it will smell, and may draw flies.
Note that some people like to preserve the shells to make a broth.
Next, you will want to remove the crustaceans from their package and wash them thoroughly.
If they are frozen, transfer them to a colander and place it under cool running water until slightly defrosted.
The heads will usually be removed already if you purchase your shrimp from the grocery store.
But if you visit your local fishmonger or seafood specialty store, they may still have the heads on. You can remove these or leave them attached, depending on your preference and the presentation you are trying to achieve with your specific dish. They make a great addition to a homemade seafood stock as well.
When you are finished washing, place them on a plate or in a bowl.
Your next step is to decide whether or not you want to leave the tails on.
Since you are going to be peeling off the shells, you may opt to remove the tails as well.
For a nicer presentation, I suggest keeping the tails on.
It really doesn’t matter where your starting point is for peeling. But if you are new at this process, I recommend starting at the top, or the head end.
Remove the shell and the legs up until the point where you reach the tail. Stop, or continue peeling. You get to decide.
On to the actual deveining process!
Once the shells are removed, make an incision straight down the back using a small sharp knife, such as a paring knife.
I would say “spine” instead of “back,” but I know one of you wiseacres will probably call me out, letting me know that invertebrates don’t have spines… Ha!
You want to make the cut deep enough to expose the digestive tract.
Take the tip of your knife and slowly lift it. Secure the tract with your thumb, and pull downward until it is completely removed.
Repeat this process until all of the shrimp are clean, wiping off the shrimp and your hands as needed, or rinsing under cool water.
Now that I’ve explained the traditional way, I’ll recommend a product that makes this process a WHOLE lot easier. This tool is theOXO Good Grips Shrimp Cleaner.
Rather than fooling around with peeling and then slicing each crustacean with a knife, and then hoping that you don’t break through the black intestine, this OXO Good Grips device allows you to peel and devein in one swift stroke. Simply insert the sharpened teeth into top of the shrimp and pull.
I find that it allows me to process and prep my seafood about three times as quickly as I could if I was using the traditional method – and that’s saying a lot if you’re making pounds of shrimp cocktail, or gumbo for a party!
The OXO Shrimp Cleaner’s handle is made of a rubber that absorbs pressure and is much less painful on your hands than other similar devices. The rubber also provides a very nonslip grip. Read customer reviews of the OXO Cleaner at Amazon now.
Done Deveining? Let’s Cook!
Once all the shrimp have been correctly deveined using our tutorial, cook according to your recipe’s instructions.
Do you prefer buying fresh shrimp and deveining it yourself? Or do you prefer to use frozen? Let us know in the comments below!
With additional writing by Felicia Lim and Allison Sidhu. Photos by Felicia Lim, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details.
About Lynne Jaques
Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!