Although many people with heart disease and cholesterol issues have avoided shrimp to avoid dietary cholesterol, as it turns out, shrimp are good food! It's a good thing for the Low Sodium Queen, because shrimp are, and always have been, her favorite food of all time! The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has determined that eating shrimp does not raise bad cholesterols, which is great news!
The study showed that while there was some increase in bad cholesterol, there was a greater increase in good cholesterol, so overall cholesterol did not increase. Because shrimp are virtually fat-free and high in omega oils, they are actually an ideal addition to a heart healthy diet when prepared correctly!
This Cajun Queen grew up on shrimp, so she has a lot to share about this marvelous food!
The best shrimp, by far, are white shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico. They are the most flavorful of all, and are the most common shrimp sold by American fisheries. Wild caught shrimp feed on kelp, which gives them their iodine-rich smell and distinctive taste. They are the shrimp I grew up eating, and Louisiana fisheries provide them to fish markets and grocers across the United States. Many modern factory ships now freeze and package the shrimp directly from the water, providing the freshest, most flavorful delivery to every part of the country. Even the "fresh shrimp" in the case at your grocer have probably arrived frozen. When you buy American, not only are you supporting the Louisiana economy, you are getting the best tasting shrimp there is.
Be careful to check the package for country of origin if you buy packaged frozen shrimp. Much of the frozen shrimp sold in cost clubs and value marts in the US are farm-raised shrimp imported from Thailand, where they are fed powdered feeds. These shrimp have virtually no flavor, and provide little more than a rubbery nugget upon which to eat cocktail sauce! They are not acceptable for Cajun cooking.
When the Queen Momma made shrimp to feed 5 hungry boys, it took hours to peel them all, and one of my earliest kitchen tasks was to take my shift at the sink, peeling shrimp until my fingers were pruned! It's easy to poke and cut yourself when you peel shrimp, but I've done it for so long I've got it down pat!
There are as many shrimp peeling gadgets are there are small towns in Louisiana, but The Low Salt Queen has found that nothing works better than a serrated paring knife. Pinch the head off between your thumb and forefinger and throw it into your stockpot (more on that in a minute!) Hold the shrimp firmly between the thumb and forefinger of your left hand (near the neck) and hold the knife by the blade, sharp side up, close to the tip. I know this sounds precarious, but it's perfectly safe with a bit of practice! Insert the tip of the knife into the tip at a 45 degree angle with the right hand, and push the shrimp onto the blade with your left hand, slicing the shell about a quarter of the way. Release your left hand (the shrimp will hang on the blade) and regrip it about half an inch toward the tail. Push your hands together again to slice another quarter of the way and regrip again. The idea is to hold the flesh firmly at the point where the blade is passing through the shell. This way, you can slice the shell and remove the vein without cutting the body of the shrimp more than about 1/8 of an inch. Once you get the swing of it you can shell a pound of shrimp in about 5 minutes.
Try to buy shrimp with the heads on when available, and by all means save the shells and heads! Add a chopped onion and a quarted lemon, along with a couple of bay leaves, cover with water, bring to a boil, and then simmer 3-4 hours to create the seafood stock that will be the base for many of the recipes the Low Salt Queen will share. You can make the stock and then freeze it if you don't need it now, or you can freeze the shells and heads in a ziploc and make the stock later, but, please, don't throw them away raw!!
If you want to keep whole shrimp in your freezer, buy them already frozen. If the only place you see Gulf shrimp is thawed in the seafood case, ask the fishmonger to pull your order directly from the freezer. Then they can go directly to your freeze without thawing and refreezing.
If you have thawed shrimp that you want to refreeze, you'll need to peel them before you freeze them again. Pack them into containers, cover with water, and freeze. They will thaw quickly in a collander under running tap water, and will be ready in a flash to go into your recipes!