Every time I shop for shrimp, I have to chuckle. Between colossal, jumbo, and large shrimp, I’m surrounded by oxymorons. In fact, when I first learned the meaning of the word oxymoron—the combination of contradictory or incongruous words—jumbo shrimp was the example I was given. That’s because the word shrimp refers not only to one of the most popular seafoods in the world, but to something that’s small or puny.
Shrimp are graded by size as defined by the count, or number of shrimp in a pound, and those counts are expressed as a range, such as 26-30 (the higher the numbers the smaller the shrimp). If you’re a fishmonger, counts aren’t a sexy way to label your shrimp. But stick an adjective like colossal or extra-large onto those curvy crustaceans, and the shopper is far more inclined to go for the big ones, which cost more.
There is a standardized list of shrimp counts and their corresponding names (available all over the internet), and reading it will tickle your funny bone. Would you believe that super colossal is bigger than extra jumbo? In my experience, wherever shrimp are sold, these terms are tossed around rather loosely. One store’s jumbo is another one’s extra-large. Forget about the shrimp police; there aren’t any.
Why does size matter? Because the larger the shrimp, the longer it takes to cook, and no one enjoys underdone or overcooked shrimp. Your best bet, then, is to ask for the count. Just don’t go down for the count obsessing over it!