Saturday, September 18, 2004

Recipe/Ingredient: Poached Shrimp(s)

Around here, ‘fresh shrimp’ means the little Maine ‘popcorn’ shrimp that show up for a couple of weeks each year. The rest of the time, our shrimp come frozen, mostly from SE Asia. Even when you buy them out of the fresh fish case, they arrived frozen. And you know what? They’re still great. Especially since somebody figured out how to de-vein the little buggers before freezing them!

But shrimp have such a delicate flavor, and they cook so quickly that their taste often just disappears if they’re cooked with anything else. So when we do a shrimp dish, I’ll almost always poach the shrimp separately and add them to the rest of the dish at the last minute.

Now you could just boil some water and toss the shrimp in, but as long as you’re in the kitchen anyway . . .

Collect 1 lb. of uncooked shrimp, shell on.

Peel your shrimp

Peeled shrimp

and put all the peels in a saucepan. Add a few cups of water. And, hmmmm, how about a few whole black peppercorns? Yeah, that’s a good idea. Say, what about that coriander seed and . . .

Well, mix up your own favorites – just please stay away from all those pre-packaged ‘shrimp boil’ or ‘crab boil’ kinda things you find in the store. Make your own. It’s easy, and you get to control just how it tastes.

Last night, mine consisted of:

8 black peppercorns
1/3 tsp. whole coriander seed
¼ tsp. whole mustard seed
¼ tsp. dried dill weed
¼ tsp. dried savory leaves (or a little thyme and a couple of rosemary leaves if you don’t have savory)
1/3 tsp. coarse kosher salt
4 small bay leaves, broken into pieces
stalks from 4 sprigs of fresh parsley
1 fresh basil leaf

and a quart of water in a covered 3 qt. saucepan.

Bring it all up to a boil. Now be careful. It will froth up and boil over. I guarantee it . . . So be ready. Don’t go wandering off to check the score of the ballgame. Stand there. Wait. On my stove, over high heat, it takes a pot of liquid about 7 minutes to come to a boil. For this stuff, I start lifting the lid after about 5 minutes. And keep checking every 15 – 30 seconds. ‘Cause when it starts to go, it will overflow in about 3 seconds. As soon as you get a good head of froth, get it off the heat, stir the pot, turn the heat to low, stir again, re-cover, and put it back on the burner.

Shrimp broth cookin’

Let it bubble gently for a half hour or so. Now you can go check the score of that game . . .

When you come back, strain the liquid. Don’t spill a drop! Those shrimp shells and the herbs and spices have given their all for your poaching liquid. Don’t waste it!

Put the liquid back in the saucepan and put it back over medium high heat to reduce. Leave the lid cracked, or half on or something. You don’t want this to be a frothy boil, but a good rolling simmer will be perfect. You do want about half the liquid to evaporate. So get an eyeball on the pot when you start. Guesstimate half that height. And do whatever it is you do while you wait for things to get cooked . . .

Shrimp broth reduced

OK. Ya got two cups left? Now’s the time. Crank the heat to high. Cover the pan. Count to 32 (or whatever your favorite magic number might be today). Uncover, dump the peeled shrimp in, swirl with a spoon, cover, and turn off the heat. Check the time! In exactly 5 minutes your shrimp will be ready. Not 4, not 6, 5. Exactly.

Poached shrimp

So, at the end of 5 minutes, strain the liquid into a bowl, measuring cup, bucket, whatever, and dump the perfectly poached shrimp onto a plate. SAVE that liquid! If you can’t use it tonight, put it in a glass jar, seal it tight (while it’s still hot!) and park it in the fridge. That’s shrimp broth. It’s worth millions! Save it. Use it for soup(s), sauce(s), gravy(ies), ice cream topping, skin conditioner, I don’t know. But it’s good!

As for the shrimp, let them sit for at least 5 minutes. Then do something fun with them . . .
Poached shrimp finishing

1 comment:

  1. In North Florida we do NOT peel the shrimp first....that makes them rubbery. We poach/boil/simmer them in a massive amount of water seasoned with Kosher or rock salt (lots) and Zattaran's crab boil (a product of New Orleans) with the addition of limes/lemons that have been halved, squeezed and the hulls thrown into the pot. The cooking mixture is cooked for at least a half-hour prior to immersing the shrimp, to drive the oils from the citrus. The gray shrimp are cooked 2 or 3 minutes, or until they turn pink and are opaque. Depending on taste, they can be iced until they are cold, or iced until they are room temperature and have stopped cooking. Do not flush them with cold water--that gets rid of the seasoning. Then peel, and service Remalade or spicy red sauce using Chili sauce, not ketchup, for the base.