How To Peel & Devein Shrimp

Face your fears by peeling and deveining them at home

Shrimp are small, unassuming creatures but can be intimidating to handle. While most shrimp purchased these days is frozen and already cleaned, you might be adventurous in the kitchen and want to buy fresh shrimp and prep them yourself. If you go that route, you just might be surprised by how easy they are to clean.

First, let's get the lay of the land or, er, the sea. A shrimp has a very hard outer shell that covers a soft underbelly where its legs are, and its tail can be removed or kept intact, depending on the dish. Another similar but equally intimidating seafood item is the prawn. The terms shrimp and prawn are often used interchangeably; however, a prawn is slightly larger and has more legs. Prawns are also typically harvested from fresh water and shrimp from salt water, but there is no big difference in taste.

Now that you've got your shrimp-ucation, you're ready for some quick prep work. Follow these four easy steps to peel and devein shrimp, from author George Mendes, executive chef and owner of Aldea and Lupulo in NYC.

 Head: If you're working with a prawn, gently twist the head toward you, and it will pop off.* (If you're working with a shrimp that doesn't have a head, skip this step.)

② Legs: Turn the prawn or shrimp over, with the legs pointing to the sky, and "tickle" the legs to loosen them, Mendes says. Then pull out the legs.

 Shell: After the legs are removed, the shell will start to loosen. Use your thumb to crack and discard the outside harder shell.

 Vein: Take a small, sharp knife and make a shallow slit down the back of the shrimp. In many cases, the vein might be transparent—or not even there—but if you find one, use the tip of your knife to pull out the vein.

*Pro tip: Shrimp heads can be saved and turned into a stock. Chef Mendes suggests roasting the heads with a little olive oil and garlic in a skillet for about five minutes until red. Deglaze the pan with white wine and add water. Use a spoon to crush the heads and strain through a colander. See, that wasn't so scary, was it?