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 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.
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.