Alton Brown Has A Better Way To Devein Shrimp

Deveining shrimp is a notoriously cumbersome task. It can be time-consuming to remove that pesky part of the crustacean, which is not even a vein at all but rather the intestinal tract. Sometimes, the vein can appear brown, gray, or black, which makes it easier to locate. Other times, like if the shrimp hadn't eaten recently, the vein will be pretty much clear, making it more difficult to find and remove.

While it isn't harmful to consume this part, it can leave an unpleasantly gritty texture, so especially for larger shrimp, you'll want to devein them. To do so, it's common to use a paring knife, but chef and culinary personality Alton Brown recommends an even easier tool — your handy dandy kitchen shears, or even regular old scissors. This trick allows you to take what is usually a two-step process (cutting through the shrimp's shell and then taking out the vein) into one easy step.

How to devein shrimp with kitchen shears

To use Alton Brown's method, you'll want to start by rinsing raw and thawed shrimp in cool water. Then prepare two large bowls — one with cold water and one with ice water. Grab a pair of kitchen shears, and cut a slit through the top of each shrimp from the front to the top of the tail. Gently peel back the sides, dunk each shrimp into the cold water, and use your fingers to simply pull out the veins. If they're being stubborn, you can use the point of your scissors to help the veins out and then pull. Next, swish the shrimp around the water bath to make sure they're nice and clean.

From here, you have options — leave the shell on for a peel-and-eat situation, peel the shrimp (but leave the shell only on the tail for a classic shrimp cocktail look), or remove it all. Leaving the shell on and peeling after cooking is what Brown tends to do because, as he claims, it imparts flavor into the meat of the seafood. If you do decide to use bare bones shrimp to cook, you can still harness that rich flavor by making a quick stock with the shells. Whichever way you choose, your final step will be to drop the cleaned shrimp into the ice water so they stay cold and clean before cooking.

What else does Alton Brown do to make great shrimp?

Alton Brown has a few methods for making a tasty seafood dish, fitting since shrimp is his go-to plane food. As he explains in this YouTube video, for shrimp cocktail, he steams shrimp rather than submerging them in water, which provides a boiled or poached result that's barely cooked, tender, and delicate. To do so, he spreads whole shrimp out evenly in a steamer basket over about an inch of water set to medium-high heat, covers the pot, and lets the shrimp steam for just three minutes. Then, the shrimp get dunked in an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Shrimp prepared this way also make for a creamy seafood salad loaded with fresh dill, or as a filling for Vietnamese fresh rolls.

Brown also likes to pair steamed shrimp with an upgraded cocktail sauce that offers a sweet and spicy riff. As he instructs in another video, he makes his sauce using smoked almonds, sambel oelek, and Old Bay seasoning. 

If you want even more flavor, begin your cooking process with another step. Instead of just dropping the cleaned and deveined shrimp in ice water, make a quick brine by dissolving salt and sugar in warm water, and then soaking the seafood in the brine for about a half-hour before cooking.