Striped like its jungle namesake, the black tiger shrimp is available year-round and is one of Asia’s major aquaculture products.
Most tiger shrimp is farmed, though a significant amount is harvested from the wild by trawlers working mud bottoms from very shallow water to depths beyond 300 feet. The largest of 300 commercially available shrimp species worldwide, tigers can grow to 13 inches, but harvest size averages 9 to 11 inches. Many countries supply black tigers from both farmed and wild sources.
Farmed black tiger shrimp have a mild, almost bland flavor compared to the pronounced taste of ocean-harvested Gulf shrimp. Cooked tiger’s meat is also softer than that of other shrimp species.
Tigers have gray to black stripes on gray or bluish shells and associated stripes on the peeled meat. The cooked shell turns bright red. The white flesh is tinged with orange if cooked peeled and red if cooked in the shell.Meat should be slightly resilient and moist. Improper storage temperatures, refreezing or extended frozen storage can turn shrimp tough, dry and fibrous. A black spot on the shell indicates melanosis. It’s not a health issue in early stages but indicates general poor quality.
Mature tiger shrimp caught in the wild can be distinguished from native American penaeid shrimp by their overall rusty brown color and the distinctive black and white banding across their back and on their tail. There is also a rarely seen color variant of the species with a conspicuous, wide, reddish-orange stripe along its back.
Most black-tiger shrimp is sold raw, with shell-on tails. Shrimp are sold with classifications of “jumbo” or “large,” while industry sizing is based on a per-pound value. You will often see shrimp labeled 16/20 or 21/25 which is the number, or count of shrimp per pound. The smaller the number, the larger the shrimp. When it comes to price, generally, the larger the shrimp, the higher the price. Black Tiger Shrimp are usually priced higher than white shrimp but that is primarily because Tiger shrimp grow to larger sizes than white shrimp.
When buying fresh shrimp use your nose! Shrimp should have a fresh fish or clean seaweed smell. Avoid shrimp that have an iodine or ammonia smell. Fresh should appear translucent, shiny, firm, and moist and resilient. The shells should have some iridescent color to them.
Black Tiger are easy to work with – they are easy to peel and forgiving to harsh handling. They can be cooked whole in the shell or with the shell removed before cooking.