This Is The Best Type Of Shrimp To Buy

Americans love shrimp, consuming about a billion pounds (via South Florida Reporter) of the little Pleocyemata annually, more than any other seafood. Buying shrimp can get confusing, however. What kind of shrimp should you choose? Most important is origin. The tastiest and healthiest shrimp are caught in the wild, not imported from unregulated hotspots like Vietnam, China, and India, where shrimp farms teem with antibiotics and other nasties. Because it is sustainable and harder to catch, clean, wild shrimp is more expensive than farmed shrimp (via Consumer Reports).

There are many shrimp varieties: tiger, rock, and white shrimp among them. But best among the choices you'll find at your local seafood market or grocery store are spot prawns. Despite their name, these brown creatures with distinctive white spots around their heads are indeed a variety of shrimp, and not their larger relative, the prawn. Spot prawns are the largest cold water shrimp sold, and can reach lengths up to 12 inches (via Consumer Reports). 

Spot prawns are native to the waters off Alaska, California, and Washington, says another Consumer Reports article, but according to The Atlantic, the best are those caught off the coast of British Columbia. Here, fishermen are known to behead and suck out the meat, sashimi style, during the May-June spot prawn season. Aside from their expense, the problem with British Columbian spot prawns is that they are often sold out to the Canadian market before they ever hit U.S. retailers.

'The Lobster of Alaska'

No matter their region of origin, wild-caught spot prawns are delicious. Sometimes referred to as "the lobster of Alaska" because of their superior taste, they are considered the most flavorful, sweetest, most tender shrimp available (via Chef's Resources).

Chefs and sea-foodies will tell you that buying live spot prawns will deliver the best quality and freshest flavor. Of course, this presents a problem if you live inland. But if you know what to look for, spot prawn tails sold on ice can be a good alternative. (Pro tip: Never buy a spot prawn with the head still attached unless it is alive. As soon as this shrimp dies, the brain releases an enzyme that causes the entire prawn to become unpleasantly soft.) When buying tails, look for firm, translucent flesh, and avoid those with black spots. Be sure they smell fresh and have no hint of ammonia. Frozen spot prawn tails are another good (and some say better) choice, says Serious Eats, delivering more consistent quality than those sold on ice.

Spot prawns are more tender than the average shrimp, so be careful not to tear the flesh when you peel them. Keep in mind that spot prawns have small spikes on their shell, which can prick you if you're not careful. They cook quickly and are delicious simply boiled, says VanMag on YouTube, or steamed with garlic and green onions, or served with dipping sauces, suggests Vancouver Foodie, also via YouTube