Sometimes, this task may have been done for you by the retailer where you purchased the shrimp. Other times, you will need to do the job yourself, especially if the shrimp still have their shells on.
Shrimp don’t actually have veins, since their circulatory system is open. However, they do have a long line down their back that looks like a vein, which is a bit unsightly.
Fortunately for us, cleaning this shrimp vein is easy. Keep reading to find out how to do it.
There is nothing quite like the look of a plate of cooked shrimp with the back open and the vein removed.
Any good restaurant knows that presentation of shrimp means de-veining them prior to serving. The plate in the photo below would not look any where near as appealing if the dark vein were still showing on the shrimp.
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What is the black line in shrimp?
There are two “veins” in shrimp. One is a white vein which is on the underside of the shrimp. It is white because a shrimp has clear blood.
There is no real food safety reason to remove the clear shrimp vein (I don’t) but you may do so if it bothers you.
The main “vein” is the one which runs along the top of the body. This is the is the alimentary canal, (digestive track) or the “sand vein,” and is where the body wastes such as sand pass through the shrimp.
You remove the black line on shrimp, partly because it’s unappetizing, but also so you don’t bite down on the sand and grit.
Although deveining shrimp is a common practice, it is not actually necessary. The vein is safe to eat. Many people like to remove it for aesthetic reasons or personal preference.
They make a deveiner for shrimp, but the process is very easy to do at home with tools you already have on hand.
Use these tricks to devein shrimp perfectly every time
Deveining shrimp involves removing the “vein” that runs along the back of the shrimp. To devein shrimp, you’ll need to follow a few simple steps:
Peel the shrimp before deveining them
Start by selecting fresh or thawed shrimp. Choose shrimp that are still in their shells.
Peel the shrimp first and keep them in a bowl of icy water. This keeps them fresh while you work on the other shrimp to remove their veins.
Hold the shrimp firmly with one hand and use the other hand to locate the shrimp’s back where the vein runs. The vein is a dark line that runs along the back curve of the shrimp.
Making the cut
A sharp knife is essential. I use a very sharp paring knife. I have also done it with a very sharp pair of kitchen shears. The scissor method works best with the extra large shrimp or those with shells still on. If you have small shrimp, the paring knife is better.
Cut a shallow 1/4 inch deep slit down the back of the shrimp. Be careful not to cut too deeply as you want to avoid cutting the shrimp in half.
Start at the fattest part of the shrimp and cut towards the tail. You don’t have to go all the way to the end. The vein will be easily seen at this stage. Have your cut follow the line of the vein.
Removing the vein in shrimp
Once you’ve made the initial cut, use the tip of your knife to remove the “vein” and then rinse the shrimp in cold water. The vein should come out relatively easily.
Sometimes, the vein breaks or doesn’t come out completely. If this happens, you can rinse the shrimp under cold water to help remove any remaining bits of the vein.
This picture shows the shrimp when it was peeled, cut and with the vein removed.
The whole cleaning took me about 3 or 4 minutes tops once the shells were removed. Although, it seems slow at first, you get better at it as you work your way through the shrimp.
A toothpick can also be use to remove the vein if you don’t want to make the cut as long, along the back side. Just make a little slit and push the toothpick under the vein at the last segment area and give it a little pull to release the vein.
How to devein shrimp with the shell on
My photos show peeled shrimp that have been deveined. You can also devein shrimp with shells on.
In this case, use sharp kitchen shears to cut along the shell first so that you can locate the vein. The vein should be visible if you pry open the cut area.
Then, use the tip of a sharp knife to remove the vein.
You can also remove the body of the shell and leave the tail intact. The choice depends on your recipe and preferred presentation.
I used these shrimp in my new Shrimp Alfredo recipe with broccoli. You can view the recipe here.
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Admin note: this post for cleaning shrimp first appeared on the blog in May of 2013. I have updated the post to add new photos, a printable project card, and a video for you to enjoy.
- Raw shrimp in shells
- Sharp paring knife
- Kitchen shears can also be used for larger shrimp
- Peel the shrimp first and keep them in a bowl of icy water. This keeps them fresh while you work on the other shrimp to remove the vein.
- Use a very sharp paring knife. ( I have also done it with a very sharp pair of kitchen shears. This method works best with the extra large shrimp. If you have small ones, the paring knife is better.)
- Cut a 1/4 inch deep slit down the back of the shrimp.
- Start at the fattest part of the shrimp and cut towards the tail. You don’t have to go all the way to the end. The vein will be easily seen at this stage.
- Use the tip of your knife to remove the “vein” and then rinse the shrimp in cold water.
You can also devein shrimp but not peel them first. A pair of kitchen shears will allow you to cut the shell so that you can locate the vein and remove it.
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