Brown, White, Pink, Tiger, Shell-on, Prawns, peeled and deveined (P&D), IQF and block are all terms to describe shrimp. These, terms and brands, are used and misused in search of good quality shrimp. But before you get into the shrimp descriptors you have to start at the origin to fully comprehend quality. Our focus is on Gulf Shrimp; this can be applied to some South American product such Ecuadorian shrimp.
There are two types of boats that catch shrimp, freezer boats and ice boats. Freezer boats are large "freighter" operations that catch the shrimp but also process and freeze the product. A ice boat will catch shrimp, storing it in the hull for the length of the expedition (up to 10 days). Upon returning to port, ice boats send the shrimp to land based processing facilities. Because of perishable nature of shrimp the freezer boats have the quality advantage. Shrimp from a ice boats may experience a softening of the meat texture, water loss and excessive handling result in loose shells or unpleasant odor. But expect to pay more for freezer boat shrimp.
Once you have determined the boat preference you need to determine your interest in a chemical-free product. Over the last few decades block-frozen shrimp were treated with a preservative called sodium tripolyphosphate (a saline like solution). The addition of this chemical not only detracts or changes the natural flavor but also results in a toughening or rubberizing of the meat. There are two reasons for using preservatives. First, many suggest that it is required to provide better shelf stability for thawed shrimp (although this is debated). The primary reason many believe is to add weight to the shrimp pack. Percentage weight gains of preservatives can be quite profitable.
The next issue is integrity. In the fish business, unfortunately, the issue of integrity is always discussed. So we start with a question. When is a 5lb block not a 5lb block? When its thawed and it weighs less than 5lbs, that's when. A good wholesaler will be checking these block weights on a periodic basis. But look for some wholesalers to lead with low price, low weight shrimp products.
Another quality issue is the type of block pack. A Mexican gulf shrimp is finger packed. The finger pack process is a labor-intensive method that involves laying the shrimp side-by-side in very uniform rows. The quality of this pack generally results in better grading and less loss of product due to torn or broken shrimp. A less expensive pack is the shovel pack. A shovel pack takes a specified weight of shrimp and places it in a block, randomly organized. This pack is more common among domestic gulf packers. Shell-on or shell-off (peeled) that is the question. While a peeled product is less labor intensive for the kitchen staff the chef forgoes the flavor afforded a shelled product. The more robust shrimp flavor is afforded a shell-on product. This is one case where the quality characteristic of a product does not cost more.
The following is a summarization of various shrimp characteristics.
Gulf Domestic (same as Mexican except block is shovel packed)
· Block, 5lb, finger pack
· IQF, 3lb
Firm texture, although sometimes considered bland and may have a hint taste of iodine. Browns have a broad groove in their last body segment Firm texture with mild taste. Generally the standard how other shrimp are measured. Whites are often grayish with tinges of blue and green on legs and tails. Less firm texture but a very sweet taste. Also called hoppers or skippers Other Shrimp Tiger, Wild · Block, 4lb Loose texture with blander taste. Product origins include Bangladesh, and India Tiger, Farm · Block, 4lb Loose texture. Blandest taste of shrimp products. Product origins include Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam Prawns · Block, 4lb Refers to fresh water shrimp. Origins include India.
Frozen shrimp can be stored up to 9 months. Once thawed shrimp has a 48-hour shelf life if iced and maintained as close to 32 degrees as possible. Any temperatures above this temperature can drastically shorten shelf life.