Butterflying shrimp is not difficult at all and it means you can open out the shrimp, exposing more of the surface area. This is a great idea if you are marinating the shrimp because more of it will be exposed to the flavorful marinade. It also results in a nice presentation and makes the shrimp look much bigger.
The most important thing to know is that when you butterfly shrimp you do not cut right through, else you will end up with your shrimp in two pieces instead of being able to open the shrimp out like a book. This takes practice but you should be able to pick it up fast.
First you will need to clean the shrimp, and this usually means taking off the head and peeling off the shell. If you are grilling the shrimp you can leave the shell on to stop the shrimp drying out too easily. It is possible to devein the shrimp without removing the shell, by using a paring knife or some sharp scissors to cut along the back and pull the vein out.
When butterflying shrimp for stuffing or frying, it is common to peel them but leave the tails on. This gives the shrimp a ‘handle’ and also makes the shrimp more attractive. There are two veins in shrimp. The one along the back is the digestive tract which is usually removed. The one underneath is the nerve cord and you can either remove this or leave it in.
Butterflying Along the Top
It is easier to butterfly the shrimp along the back, since you can remove the vein at the same time. Use a deveining tool or paring knife to cut into the shrimp and remove the vein. For butterflying, you will need to cut deeper, so use the same cut and cut right into the shrimp but not all the way through, splitting it from the head to the tail along the length of its body.
Once you get a feel for the cutting, you can do all this in just one-step. A butterflied shrimp will open out like a book. Add the shrimp to a colander as you go, so you can rinse them all off together.
Butterflying from the Underside
Another method is to butterfly the shrimp from underneath. This is more time-consuming since you have to pull out the vein on top and then butterfly from underneath, rather than doing it all at the same time. Devein the back without splitting the shrimp from head to tail.
Insert the knife just underneath the head, leaving the top flesh connected, and run the knife lightly along the surface of the back so you can pick out the vein. Keep the top as closed as you can, since you are going to be cutting into the underside.
Turn the shrimp over and cut out the vein along the underside (the nerve cord). Take it out and then cut further into the shrimp until you can open it out like a book. The underside does not cut as easily as the top, so it will take a bit longer to butterfly them this way.
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