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In order to devein shrimp, you will need to remove the head and either cut or remove the shell. Then, a sharp knife is used to take out the digestive tract. Deveining shrimp should be done prior to cooking, and the shellfish should be kept very cold during the process.
To begin, use your fingers to remove the head of the shrimp; this typically comes off relatively easily. If there is a large amount of shrimp that requires cleaning, it can be slightly quicker to chop the head off. When cutting the head, make sure not to cut too much off, or you’ll risk losing a portion of the edible part of the shrimp.
If you plan on cooking your shrimp without the shell on, or only leaving a little bit of the tail, you can remove the shell at this point. This can be done by grabbing a portion of the shell near where you removed the head and simply pulling it off. Typically, the tail will stay on during this process, especially with very fresh shrimp; to make sure that it does, hold the tail end with one hand while removing the rest of the shell with the other. If you want the tail removed, you can pull it off with your fingers. In most cases, especially with larger shrimp, it is customary to leave the tail on.
Some people prefer to leave the entire shell on for the cooking process, as this tends to give the food a little more flavor. It can also make it easier to remove the shell, as the cooking process loosens it. If you want to leave the shell on, use a pair of sharp kitchen shears to cut along the back of the shrimp to expose the meat; this will make it possible for you to devein shrimp with the shell on. You may also want to remove the feet, which look like tentacles, on the underside of the shrimp. These tend to pull off easily while still keeping the shell intact.
Next, take a sharp paring knife and gently slit the top of the shrimp where the vein is located, from the tail to the top. The vein is on the top of the shrimp at the opposite side of where the feet were. Once you’ve made your slit, gently pull out the digestive tract with either your fingers or your knife. Holding the shrimp under cold, running water while doing this can make it easier to devein shrimp, and can also help to keep your hands clean during the process.
You should always devein shrimp before cooking if you want the digestive tract removed. While this portion of the shellfish is not necessarily harmful, it can give the shrimp an undesirable texture. As you devein shrimp, keep both the fresh shrimp and deveined shrimp separate and cold. In most cases, it is best to keep two bowls of ice water on hand while you work; keep the shellfish in one bowl and, as you devein the shrimp, move them to the second bowl. This will help to keep the shrimp clean and cold, protecting its flavor and texture.