It may seem trifling to those who know how to do it, to say anything about peeling shrimp, but there is a right way and a wrong way — and it is surely worthwhile to practice the former.
When shrimps are boiled alive, the muscle contracts, and folds the tail beneath the body. When the tail remains extended after, boiling it is because the shrimp was dead and it will be found soft and worthless.
There is a difference in the shape of the different species of shrimps. The tail of the brown shrimp is quite rounded at the bend, like that of the lobster, whereas the tail of the red shrimp and the prawn present a sort of knee or angle.
To shell a brown shrimp, take the head between the right finger and thumb, with the left finger and thumbnail raise on each side of the shell of the tail nearest the head; pinch the tail and the shell will come away entire.
At Honfleur and other parts of the Norman coast, the finest brown shrimps are picked out to be sent to the table as plates of hors-d’oeuvres, while the small ones are shelled to make patties and vol-au-vents by women who perform their task with incredible rapidity, comfortably seated in a low rush-bottomed chair, with their feet keep warm in a small sub or keeler, the shelled shrimps fly from their fingers to the basin which receives them, almost as if they were discharged in a stream by machinery.
To peel red shrimps and prawns, take the head between the thumb and second finger of the right hand; take the tip of the tail between the thumb and first finger of the left hand. With the nail of the right forefinger, raise the section of the shell which forms the knee or bend, pinch the tail and the naked tail will be left attached to the head. Shrimps will not shell easily if at all stale.
– Mrs Ballerton
Potted shrimps recipe
Shell a quart of freshly boiled shrimps. Throw the shells into a mortar with a little bruised lobster spawn, two ounces of butter, a teaspoonful of anchovy essence, a pinch of grated nutmeg or pounded mace and a pinch of cayenne, it well and put the mixture into a jar. Set this in a pan of boiling water and stir it over the fire until it is quite hot. Rub it through a sieve, mix the tails of the shrimps with the pulp and let all get hot together, press the mixture into small pots and let it get cold.
Melt a little butter, and as soon as it begins to set, pour it over the preparation to the thickness of a quarter of an inch and keep in the jars in a cool place until it is wanted. If more convenient, the lobster spawn may be omitted.
Shrimps are generally potted in this way, but their delicate flavor is perhaps better preserved if they are potted whole. Time to heat the seasoning is about ten minutes.