How to Head and Devein Fresh, Local Shrimp
Before I came to the South Carolina Lowcountry, I’d eaten plenty of shrimp. Or so I’d thought.
It wasn’t until I tasted the shrimp harvested right here in these temperate waters that I’d realized what I’d been missing. These aren’t your standard imported farm-raised shrimp; South Carolina shrimp have real flavor, and a substantial texture that’s satisfying as good steak. They taste like shrimp ought to taste, and maybe did before we became inundated and then placated by cheap, watery imports. In my opinion, these beautiful shrimp could be the official mascot of the locavore movement.
Like any high-quality local ingredient, capturing their flavor means using or processing them right away. Shrimp are iced down on the boats and are kept cold all through the cleaning, grading, and other processes that take place before they’re sold. Most shrimp are sold head-off, but the closer you get to the source, the more likely it is that you’ll have to head the shrimp yourself. It’s not a particularly neat process, but it’s not at all difficult (although years ago I tried to head shrimp without any idea of how it was properly done and turned it into a legendary fiasco.
(The piece I wrote about the experience, The Never-Ending Jumbo Shrimp Death March, will be posted here in the near future.)
Here's a link to a video I made recently that will show you how to easily head and devein fresh shrimp, which you can see by clicking the below photo:
A few of things to remember about head-on shrimp:
- You’ll find them at surprisingly low prices, but that’s because 35-40% of the weight of the shrimp is in the head. To be on the safe side, buy 40% more than you need.
- On the plus side, if you buy fresh head-on shrimp, you’ll find that they aren’t waterlogged and will give you more real ‘meat’ for your money.
- Heading shrimp can be a messy business until you get the hang of it. You might want to wear vinyl gloves if it’s your first time.
Most of us have been stuck at one time or another by the sharp, pointy bit (the telson) at the tail-end of the shrimp. Head-on shrimp have another pointy bit at the front (the rostrum) which is easy to see and thus avoid. Just be careful not to grab a handful of them the way you would head-off shrimp – or you’ll learn a valuable lesson!
Unlike head-off shrimp, you’ll have to deal with long antennae, googly eyes, and lots of legs. Expect that it will take some getting used to, start with small amounts (not ten pounds, like I did!), and take a break if it gets to be too much.
Just remember: when we make the (sometimes difficult) effort to process our foodstuffs from their most elemental form, it shows true respect to the source of our nourishment.
--Doug DuCap/ HuggingtheCoast.Com