Poached Shrimp Three Ways

Brian and I love shrimp. We eat them whenever possible! Since we're not much into frying these days (farewell, popcorn shrimp!) I tend to boil, more like _poach_, them. So here are three ways that I prepare them; all yield different flavors and can be used in different ways.

The goal for boiled/poached shrimp is a tender but very firm result. The shrimp should slightly resist as you bite it and then yield into a meaty but tender mouthful. Overcooked shrimp are rigid and slightly crumbly. Make sure that the shrimp are opaque with a hint of translucency. If they're dead white all the way through and tightly curled, you've overcooked them.

Remember: they keep cooking once you take them out, so err on the side of underdone!


I. The Classic "Boiled" Shrimp - for the best Shrimp Cocktail

This is straight out of The Joy of Cooking. This is the basic poached shrimp. You can peel 'n eat these guys and they will have a very herbaceous, clean flavor. They make the best Shrimp Cocktail. Traditionally, we eat these on New Year's Eve with homemade cocktail sauce. Yum. What's crucial here is how I've changed the cooking instructions.

In a large pot combine:
2 celery ribs, cut into 2-inch sections
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 8ths
1 small lemon, quartered
1/2 bunch parsley
8 whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 tbs salt
10 cups water (honestly, I eyeball this - you just need a big pot 'o water, but not stockpot size)

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Scoop put solids. Add 2 pounds shrimp, preferably with shells on. [CV: shrimp cooked in their shells have much more flavor than those that lack them).

Watch the shrimp. They will start to get white and curl immediately. In about 2 minutes, you will see that they are increasingly opaque. When they are gently curled and opaque with just a ghost of translucence, strain them in a colander. Throw ice on them to shock them and stop the cooking process.

II. Shrimp for Thai and Mexican dishes

If you need pre-cooked shrimp for Asian or Mexican dishes, try this boil. The method is exactly as above, but the ingredients for the boil are different. (These work wonderfully in shrimp quesedillas or curries that don't require the shrimp be cooked in the sauce.)

1 medium red onion, cut into 8ths
1/2 bunch parsley or 1/2 bunch cilantro
1 lime, quartered
8 peppercorns
1/2 tsp ground red pepper (cayenne)
1 tbs salt

III. Low Country Beach Shrimp

You need to own some Old Bay seasoning in general. If you want a classic Carolina beach supper, use the above method with Old Bay seasoning and set on the table with the shrimps: red rice and fried okra or succotash or fresh steamed corn with lots of butter.

Old Bay makes a more lively and informal and spicy peel 'n eat experience. It's amazing with beer (or white wine if you're feeling high church). You can either follow the instructions on the can to steam your seafood (which is great, but I find that having had a glass or wine or beer ahead of time, one wants to just boil stuff) or just add a bunch of the seasoning to the aforementioned pot of water.

I'd say 2-4 tbs in a big pot of water. Use your nose - it will tell you when the water is fragrant but not reeking. Poach according to my instructions. I like to serve them a few minutes out of the pot, while they're still warm. I have everything else ready and when folk consent to get to the table and light the candles (I feel like I usually eat these outside or on a porch), I dump the shrimp into the boiling broth.

Put out lots of napkins and a bit bowl for the shells and get ready to be embarrassed when your recycler guys come to pick up the empty beer bottles.




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