After spending a good three hours in the humid heat of the good old Florida outdoors, I decided it was time for an A/C break. I stumbled into Publix, mainly because I needed cat food, and decided it would be good to get some human food also.
My shopping list was very conveniently sitting on my kitchen table, so I wandered around the grocery store figuring out what to get. I soon found myself staring longingly into the seafood case. I’m still not totally comfortable cooking fish, so I shifted my gaze to the shrimp. Shrimp I can do, I thought.
I’ve cooked shrimp plenty of times before: shrimp tacos, shrimp kabobs, in jambalaya, in pasta — I’ve even baked it with roasted tomato and feta, which is exactly what I had in mind while I stood staring into the case.
While planning my Saturday night meal, I was caught off guard when the lady at the counter asked me if I needed help. Flustered, I told her, “Half-pound of shrimp, please.”
As I continued to run through my checklist in my head, the lady asked, “Fresh local?”
Without much thought I said, “Sure.”
Once I finally realized that she was reaching for the large shell-on shrimp with the occasional tentacle, I immediately regretted daydreaming. But being too embarrassed to admit that I ordered the wrong thing, and that I really wanted uncooked, peeled and deveined shrimp, I kept my mouth shut, smiled and headed to checkout.
When I was finally ready to cook in the kitchen, I knew it was going to be a long, laborious process. But I have to admit, I wasn’t ready for the grossness.
Apron on, I set up my cutting board, knives and other utensils, and I began peeling and deveining the shrimp. Peeling was not the issue. I have done the peel-and-eat shrimp thing before, and I was A-OK with that part.
But deveining was a whole different ball game. This was my first and hopefully my last at-bat with that.
I had seen the process several times on “Chopped”: Competitor after competitor was sent home for the rookie error of not cleaning their seafood properly. I was determined to get it right.
As I sliced down the outer edge of a shrimp’s back, it revealed a thin, black, stringy-looking thing that I knew to be the vein. I removed it with the tip of my paring knife and discarded it. Gastrointestinal tract: gone!
I noticed another black line running underneath the shrimp, so for good measure, I removed that the same way I did the first. I have no idea if this was necessary, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
I know that the vein is not harmful to humans, and there is practically no taste, but I kept hearing the voice of Aarón Sánchez in my head, judging my dish and telling me that my shrimp was gritty.
I repeated this for three or so shrimp until I came across a larger one, with coral-colored goop hanging out of it. OK, I thought, kind of gross, but I can do this. As I sliced into it, I was certain I had stumbled upon a female shrimp and her reproductive canal, which is found in the same place as the vein. Out that went too. Blah.
It reminded me of the green stuff in lobsters, which my mom and the rest of my family who grew up in New England say is “the good stuff.” For me, it’s just gross goop.
Washing my hand after every couple of shrimps, and keeping them in a bowl of ice until I was ready to cook, I soldiered on and finally completed my task. For sure, it was the most disgusting task I have ever faced in the kitchen.
When I was done, I had to give myself props, though. As a child fishing with my dad, I refused to even touch the mini shrimp we used as bait while my younger sister was all about it. And now, I was not only touching them, but I was peeling and cleaning them all by myself.
When I finally finished, it was well past dinner time, and I gave up on the idea of baking the shrimp with tomatoes and feta, which would take another 40 minutes. Instead, I sautéed my meticulously cleaned shrimp with EVOO and a Greek rub to top a mixed green salad.
The next day, my mom called to see how the adventure went. Before hanging up, she said that peeled and deveined shrimp are going on sale this week and that I should stock up.