Shrimp Boil


A shrimp boil is just my fancy way of referring to poached shrimp, which is shrimp cooked in boiling water. I’m not referring to having a shrimp boil or a crawfish boil. Those are festive events that are popular in the Southern Gulf states. If you’ve never been to one, it’s a real treat. There’s usually a vast amount of seafood, plus potatoes and corn to enjoy, and often times great zydeco as well.

I’m talking about one way to prepare raw shrimp once they are peeled and cleaned. There are many choices for cooking shrimp, but poaching them is a wonderful way to prepare them because they can be cooked and seasoned at the same time. Then they can be added to a soup or stew or pasta at the last minute, with no more cooking required. The only stipulation is that they should never be overcooked.

Poaching shrimp takes less than two minutes, unless they’re really huge. I mentioned before that I don’t particularly like that variety, known here as Tiger shrimp. The ones I’m using today are considered medium sized, which number about 30 to 40 per pound.

What I like about poaching chicken, is that I am in control of both seasoning and cooking the shrimp. And there are so many ways to go with seasoning.

Today I used a mixture of bay leaves, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, allspice, and peppercorns.


I placed all of these herbs and spices in a little muslin bag and tied it up.

I had a saucepan on the stove heating up over high heat. Once the water was up to a full boil, I added the bag.

I let the water get seasoned for a good 10 minutes. It actually changed color. Make sure there’s still enough water in the pot for the shrimp.

I cooked the shrimp in two batches, approximately half a pound of shrimp twice. That way, the water continues to boil once the shrimp are added. Too many shrimp, even at room temperature, can cool the water down quickly and it won’t boil for a while.

Almost immediately you’ll see the shrimp turn pinker in color, and opaque. This will happen in about a minute. If you’re unsure, remove one from the water and cut in half. The inside flesh should be opaque as well, not look raw.

Immediately scoop out the shrimp, place them in a colander, and continue with the remaining batch. Repeat and remove.

If you’re concerned that you’ve overcooked the shrimp, plunge the cooked shrimp into ice water to stop the cooking.

What you’ll notice is the lovely aroma as the result of the spices and bay leaves, and if you taste one you’ll taste these flavors as well. It’s just so much better than plain, cooked shrimp, but the seasonings you choose should have something to do with the dish as well.

If you’re poaching the shrimp to use in an Italian pasta, I certainly wouldn’t include cumin seeds or cilantro in the poaching liquid. But for a Southwestern or Creole dish? They would be perfect. And, of course, you could include onion and garlic in the water. So many choices.

I hope you’ll be inspired to have your own shrimp boil. If you want to eat them as is, nice and warm or chilled, serve them with a garlicky mayo or a red cocktail sauce.

25 thoughts on “Shrimp Boil

  1. When you order a shrimp cocktail at a nice restaurant, the shrimp aren’t tightly curled like that. The easiest way to prevent that tight curl is to cook then in the shells, and peel them when they’re cool. Another way it so make a couple of ¼” deep cuts across the body of the shrimp on the underside. This severs the muscle and keeps them from tightly curling.

    My way of poaching shrimp is to bring a large pot of water to a fast boil, add the shrimp in the shells, remove from heat, cover the pad, and let sit off heat for five to ten minutes. Check one of the shrimp for doneness after five minutes and don’t overcook. When done, plunge into ice cold water, then peel and devein.

    • Well I’ll have to disagree. Firstly, I don’t care if my shrimp are curly; the size also had something to do with that, and I’d rather clean my shrimp before cooking. Secondly, I’d never cook non-shelled shrimp for that long, even if the shrimp are removed from the heat source. One minute works perfectly for smaller-sized shrimp.

  2. Great simple recipe. While I do think having a bowl of these cooked guys in the fridge to do with as you please ours never make it that far, especially if there’s a little homemade harissa mayo to go with them! Nice post. Ken

      • Sorry, took me awhile to track her down on this. The whole curved/straight issue depends on how Jody’s using the shrimp. Jody’s not opposed to curved shrimp, especially for home cooking, but she does cook them in their shells for this kind of recipe, for the extra layer of flavor the shells give, then shell and cleans them after. Ken

      • Thank you for this. I actually didn’t think about the flavor from the shells being on, but that makes sense. But I really like my way of creating a flavorful broth first, which also could utilize water in which shells are other parts were cooked. I also think smaller shrimp tend to curl more, don’t you think?

      • Yes, but ironically, smaller shrimp are the ones that we tend to cook most frequently with the shells on. Fresh Maine shrimp, for example, a seasonal treat, are quite small, so we just saute/sitr fry them, shell on–and then eat them that way. We had a recipe for shrimp in papillote a while back that used larger shrimp. We peeled and deveined them before cooking. And they curled–shrimp scampi too–not that anyone complained in either case. Ken

      • well, then i’m obviously wrong about that. It seems unintuitive, but I trust the chef! And you’re probably a chef by osmosis!!

  3. I essentially do the same with shrimp but never thought to use a muslin bag. Great idea, Mimi. I also frequently poach the shrimp in beer/water mix of 50/50, particularly if serving them as shrimp cocktail. And when adding shrimp to pasta, I sauté them in oil, garlic and hot pepper before adding them to the tomato sauce.

    • I love your beer idea!!!!! Will definitely try that next time!!! I guess you could reduce the liquid and add it to a seafood stock… I like the muslin bag because I have accidentally bitten down on peppercorns and the like. Not pleasant!!!

  4. The shrimp look sooo beautiful ! I rather like them curled up – I think they look cute but I do appreciate Dave’s comment about how to prepare them so they don’t curl. And I love the idea about adding different spices at different times – I never thought of doing that!!

    • I must be missing out, because I never thought there was a stigma against curly shrimp!!! I think it’s more important if they are of good quality and properly cooked. The thing I like about favoring the poaching liquid is that is all about flavor layering. It’s important to season every aspect of a dish. So if you add the shrimp to an Asian noodle dish, for example, you can use ginger, garlic, fresh cilantro, and star anise to the water to flavor it before even adding the shrimp!

      • Your shrimp look amazing – I never saw shrimp look so appetizing!! For some reason, I always add ‘things’ to flavor my chicken when I poach it.. and had never thought to add ‘things’ to shrimp when I poached them. See – you keep teaching me and all the rest of your followers!!

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