March 31, 2006

Shocking shrimp

I can't count how many times I've cooked shrimp. Tiny shrimps, medium shrimps, large shrimps, tiger prawns; white shrimps, pink shrimps; head on, head off, de-veined; steamed, scampi, sweet-sour, chili-garlic, fried, breaded, roasted, broiled, grilled. So, you can imagine how many meals I ruined.

To save you the same misery, here are my learned-the-hard-way tips for cooking tasty, delicious shrimp:

1. Room temperature. Frozen shrimps thaw quickly, so it won't be too much of a hassle. Unless you're thawing the really big ones, in which case you just need to take them out of the freezer earlier. (No matter how much of a hurry you're in, DO NOT thaw in the microwave! Seafood and microwave don't go well together. Thaw them in water instead. Give your guests something to play with while they wait.) This room temperature requirement is important because otherwise the next tip won't work.

2. Shock treatment. Shrimp becomes tough the longer it cooks. So, the best tasting shrimp would be opaque but not tough. The solution: shock. If you're steaming, let the steam build up before you put in the shrimp. If frying, heat that oil to smoke point. If broiling, pre-heat the oven. If grilling, let's see those bright red coals! The shrimps should curl up almost instantly, and when they're whitish and all curled, take them out pronto and serve! (Remember, only a few seconds spell the difference between "flaky-scrumptious" and "hard-as-rubber" shrimps. So, practice, practice, practice!)

3. Season with a reason. Shrimps are like most seafood -- bland. Sprinkle salt and pepper, or whatever your poison is, before cooking. And unless the shrimps are a minor part of a major dish, season them again just before serving. The best just-before-serving seasoning for shrimp would be melted butter, garlic powder, flavored extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, and/or a squeeze of lemon. Of course, there's the ubiquitous marinara dipping sauce (speaking of which, soy sauce and wasabi would be fun, too!). Now, don't get carried away with the sprinkle-sprinkle-bamm seasoning -- it's easy to overwhelm these little shrimpies. Of course, if you're the adventurous type, no harm no foul!

About guest satisfaction...

Before I came to America, I thought everyone knew how to eat shrimp. Then I met folks who have zero experience in shelling cooked shrimp (they never bothered to figure out how the guys in the kitchen prepared their favorite shrimp cocktail). I even know someone who gets goosebumps at the sight of cooked shrimp with their heads on (I plan to teach him how to suck the tasty shrimp fat from inside those spiny heads! Yum!). So, ask your guests beforehand if they have qualms about consuming sea creatures -- the ones that look like insects. It would be a golden opportunity to teach someone something new.

Bon appetit!

No comments: