America's most popular shellfish is the shrimp. Although found in abundance along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as the Gulf coast, we also import considerable quantities. The shrimp is a 10-legged crustacean with a name dervied from shrimpe which meant a puny person in Middle English.

Shrimp were not generally available in all sections of the country until modern times. Today much of our supply is frozen and there is much less need for canned shrimp.

Early Americans developed a fondness for spiced shrimp, a specialty of taverns and bars. The shrimp cocktail, once an exotic appetizer, became the most popular American first course at all kinds of eating places. A great favorite of our forefathers was creamed shrimp, often perpared in a chafing dish and served on toast or in patty shells.

American shrimp cookery developed extensively in Southern coastal areas. South Carolina is still noted for its shrimp pudding, pilau, souffle and shrimp steamed with hominy grits, a breakfast dish. Shrimp paste is also served for breakfast.

In New Orleans flavorful river and lake shrimp, as well as those from the Gulf, are used to make shrimp bisque, Creole and de Jonghe, as well as gumbos and jambalayas.

Florida's shrimp are often boiled in beer, which many believe greatly enhances the flavor. Texans enjoy their shrimp broiled, cooked with chilies and made into creamed dishes. In Brownsvill, which calls itself The Shrimp Capital of the World, a specialty is deep-fried breaded shrimp. On the West Coast shrimp salads or many varieties have been created.

Our various species of shrimp include the common or "white" shrimp, greenish gray when caught; the brown or Brazilian shrimp, brownish red in its raw state; pink or coral-colored, sometimes called "pink gold," and the Alaskan, West Coast and Maine varieties which vary in color and are quite small.

Most shrimp we buy are just the tails, as the heads and bodies are removed and discarded shortly after being caught. Shrimp come in all sizes. They range from jumbo (15 or less to the pound) through large, medium to small (about 40 to the pound). The larger the size the higher the price. Peeled and cleaned shrimp are sold raw or cooked.

Shrimp should cook briefly to retain a firm texture and the true sea flavor. Boiling is the basic method for cooking raw shrimp. Whether to peel shrimp prior to boiling is debatable. Some cooks believe shrimp have more flavor if cooked in the shell. Others maintain that peeled shrimp absorb seasoning more thoroughly while cooking. Either way, put in boiling water to cover with 2 teaspoons salt per pound of shrimp. Allow water to return to a boil and cook 2 to 5 minutes at a simmer, depending on size. Drain. Peel if unshelled and remove sand veins.

One and a half pounds raw shrimp yields about 3/4 pound of cooked peeled and cleaned shrimp, ready to eat or to use in a recipe. Raw, deveined shrimp may also be broiled or dipped in batter and deep-fried.

Shrimp are high in protein, rich with vitamins and minerals, and have a low calorie count. They are excellent for appetizers and salads, soups and many main dishes when cokbined with rice or other grains, most seafood, vegetables and certain fruits.

Given here are some traditional American shrimp recipes. SHRIMP WIGGLE (Serves 4 to 6)

For years this was a popular dish with young hostesses. It was made generally with canned shrimp. 3/4 pound cleaned, cooked shrimp 1/4 cup butter or margarine 1/4 cup all-purpose flour 2 cups milk 1 teaspoon salt Freshly ground pepper and granted nutmeg to taste 1 1/2 cups cooked green peas Hot toast or patty shells

If shrimp are large, cut in half. Melt butter in a saucepan; mix in flour. Cook 1 minute over low heat, stirring often. Gradually add milk, stirring as adding, and cook several minutes, until thickened and smooth. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add peas and shrimp and leave over heat long enough to heat through. Serve on toast or in patty shells. SHRIMP SALAD (Serves 6) 3/4 pound cooked shrimp 1 cup chopped celery 2 tablespoons grated onion 2 tablespoons minced sweet pickle 1/2 teaspoon salt Pepper to taste 1/4 cup mayonnaise (about) lettuee leaves

Cut large shrimp in half. Combine ingredients, except lettuce and chill. Serve on lettuce leaves. GULF COAST SHRIMP BOIL (Serves 6) 3 bay leaves 1 tablespoon whole allspice 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red peppers 2 teaspoons whole black peppers 2 tablespoons whole cloves

2 quarts water 2 medium onions, peeled and sliced 6 cloves garlic, peeled 2 lemons, sliced 3 to 4 tablespoons salt 2 pounds peeled, deveined shrimp

The spices in a piece of cheesecloth. Put water, onions, garlic, lemons and salt in a large kettle. Add bag of seasonings. Bring to a boil. Add shrimp; cover and return to boiling point. Simmer 3 to 5 minutes, depending on size.Remove from heat and let stand in spiced water for 5 minutes. Drain and chill.