Friday, March 19, 2010

How to Butterfly Shrimp

How to Butterfly Shrimp

How to Butterfly Shrimp

To clean a shrimp, you will most often, remove the head and peel away the shell, though for purposes of grilling a shrimp, the shell can also be left intact as a cover to protect the shrimp from drying out too easily. You can still devein the shrimp and leave the shell intact.

You simply use a sharp paring knife or small, sharp scissors to very carefully cut along the back and extract the vein, but leaving the shell on. Also when butterflying shrimp for frying and stuffing, while you do peel them, leaving the tail on is common, because it makes a nice presentation and also provides a built-in "handle" for the shrimp.

There are two prominent veins in the shrimp. The larger one along the back of the shrimp is actually the digestive track, and while you'll see arguments on both sides, and you can get away with leaving it for smaller shrimp, for anything medium and up, I absolutely vote for removing it. Sometimes it can present as, well, gritty otherwise, and removing it just makes for a guaranteed fresher experience. Any grit in a shrimp is off-putting to me and ruins the entire experience. 

The underside vein of the shrimp is the nerve cord and while it is more difficult and time consuming to remove, I prefer to remove it also, especially on larger shrimp.

You can butterfly shrimp one of two ways.

Butterflying along the back is the easiest way, since it simply further opens up the back in the same swoop you use for removing the vein anyway.  To devein smaller shrimp, I use a shrimp deveining tool, which extracts the shell and the vein in one motion, but for jumbo shrimp, I generally like to use a paring knife. Hold the shrimp between your thumb and forefinger, set the paring knife right at the tip of the head and then drag it down lightly and carefully along the back side of the shrimp, from the head to the tail.  As it opens up, you'll see a black vein appear. That's the digestive track - remove it. I keep a paper towel on my work station and simply wipe the veins off on the paper towels. This is a basic devein.

To butterfly the back, you just simply cut into the shrimp back further, right along the same cut, cutting deep into the shrimp, but not all the way through, so that it opens up wide. The shrimp is split from the head all the way to the tail. You can, of course, do this all in one step as soon as you get the feel for the cutting.

Once butterflied along the back, it will look something like this. Place each shrimp into a colander and once you finish butterflying them all, you'll give them a good rinse.

Another method of butterflying that makes a pretty presentation, is done from the underside of the shrimp.  It is, also, unfortunately, a more time consuming approach to devein the underside, because it's a bit more difficult to pull out than the intestinal vein along the back, that you'll still need to do.

This time, since you are butterflying from underneath the shrimp, while you still want to devein the back, you don't want to split the entire back of the shrimp open from the head. Instead, insert the paring knife right just a bit under the head, leaving the very top flesh connected. Then continue running the knife along the back as before, but just very lightly along the surface and only enough to extract the vein. You don't want to split the back open much since you are butterflying from the underside this time.

Flip the shrimp over and carefully cut out the vein along the underside, removing it and cutting futher into the shrimp. This area doesn't cut as easily as along the back, so it takes a bit longer.

Continue cutting into the shrimp as before, cutting deep without cutting through.

As you see, I did a mixture of both butterflied shrimp. Now they're ready for frying or stuffing, or ... both!

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Posted by on March 19, 2010
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