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Holiday feast remix: Shrimp

With UF/IFAS Extension and Florida Sea Grant agent Holly Abeels.

While most will reach for ham or turkey to serve at their holiday gathering, alternatives like shrimp can be a delicious way to mix up your holiday feast. Shrimp is a healthy, sustainable option that can be tailored to your budget and incorporated as an appetizer or part of the main dish.

Why shrimp?

“If seafood sustainability is something you’re cautious about, shrimp is a sustainable seafood option,” said Abeels. “Shrimp reproduce annually in large quantities, a single female releases as many as 300,000 eggs per spawn.”

As far as health is concerned, shrimp is a highly nutritious food. Low in calories but high in protein, shrimp contains a variety of vitamins and minerals and is a healthy choice for a holiday meal.

Also, unlike a turkey which can spend the greater part of the day cooking, shrimp is a quick cooking protein that can be part of a larger meal like a pasta. More on that later!

Shopping tips

Shrimp is readily available at most grocery stores in the frozen section or at the seafood counter. You can adjust your buying decisions based on your budget and the number of people you will serve.

Knowing how much to buy can be tricky. For whole shrimp, a pound is recommended per person. For headless peeled or unpeeled shrimp, 1/3 pound per person is adequate. This of course varies based on the appetite of your crowd but is a good guideline to start with.

“All shrimp is flash frozen on the boat so don’t feel bad about purchasing frozen shrimp, it’s perfectly fine,” said Abeels. “Frozen shrimp is also convenient because it is available year-round, and you can stock up on frozen shrimp when it’s on sale for a later cooking date which could save you a lot of money.”

Make sure that whether you choose fresh or frozen, the shrimp is the last thing you grab on your way to check out at the grocery store. Once home, place it in your fridge or freezer as soon as you arrive. For food safety reasons, you want shrimp to stay as cold as possible.

Cooking and food safety

The safest place to thaw most meats is in the refrigerator and shrimp is no different. A one-pound package will defrost within 24 hours. If you need to quickly thaw shrimp, the microwave’s defrost setting is a safe place to do so but it must be used immediately.

“Shrimp is really easy to cook, but it is also easy to overcook,” said Abeels. “Make sure to carefully follow the cooking time because it cooks quickly and could end up rubbery if cooked for too long.”

Shrimp is considered fully cooked when the shells are red in color and the meat becomes opaque and firm.

Here are some recipes to make shrimp the main attraction at your holiday meal:

Not ready to make shrimp part of the main course? There are a variety of shrimp appetizers to enjoy:

For more information and additional resources, visit Florida Seafood at Your Fingertips. The site includes recipe cards, instructional material on cooking and food safety and cooking tutorials on some of the dishes mentioned here.