Last night I made Crunchy Shrimp, also knows as sesame-orange shrimp, from an old issue of Everyday Food. Shrimp is America’s most popular seafood, so there’s a ton of misinformation about it, possibly pushed by unscrupulous shrimp-brokers. Okay, I have no evidence for that, but “unscrupulous shrimp brokers” conjures up a great image, doesn’t it?
The worst shrimp myth is that all shrimp are the same. The second worst shrimp myth is that “black tiger” shrimp are the best kind. So here’s a two-minute shrimp primer. If it helps, picture me as a guy dressed up in a six-foot shrimp costume and making hilarious jokes about how “jumbo shrimp” is an oxymoron.
Fresh shrimp, as in never-frozen, is extremely rare outside the gulf region. Occasionally we get it in Seattle at Mutual Fish, flown in from the gulf. It’s worth buying and cooking it the same day, if you see it.
Since nearly all shrimp is frozen at sea, you should buy it frozen, too, and defrost it at home. Until a few years ago this meant buying a solid block of frozen shrimp in ice. Luckily, this is no longer the case, and you can get excellent individually quick-frozen (IQF) shrimp in one- or two-pound plastic bags.
Generally, the best species of shrimp are Mexican and Gulf Whites. If what you’re buying isn’t labeled “black tiger,” it’s probably some kind of white shrimp and should be fine. Not that black tiger are necessarily bad; the whites are just better.
Look at the ingredients on the bag. It should read “shrimp, salt.” Don’t buy shrimp preserved with sodium tripolyphosphate (STP). It’s gross. The easiest way to avoid it is to buy shrimp at Whole Foods or another place that is dogmatically against preservatives.
Peel-on shrimp have more flavor. And peeling shrimp is really fun, one of the most enjoyable menial kitchen tasks. Of course, I say this never having worked in a restaurant. I’m sure if I’d been nicknamed “shrimp guy” at some point I’d feel different. Actually, there are many good reasons not to be nicknamed “shrimp guy.”
Frozen shrimp can be quickly defrosted in the sink. Toss them in a colander and run cold water over them for ten minutes, rearranging them occasionally. Then peel.
Finally, don’t overcook your shrimp. I tend to buy shrimp in the 21-25 or 26-30 size (meaning number of shrimp per pound), and they cook fully in two or three minutes at the absolute most.
Last week on Top Chef, Harold made tom kha goong (Thai coconut milk and shrimp soup) to be reheated the next day in the microwave. He put the shrimp in raw, figuring the hot broth would cook them sufficiently when reheated. The gamble paid off–he was at the winners’ table at the end of the show, although Tiffani and her escolar dish took the crown.
Tiffani is so mean!