The Biggest Mistake You're Making With Poached Shrimp

Imagine it's summer and you're hosting a casual get-together with friends. It's hot out, the drinks are flowing, and you're amazing because you've made snacks and apps for everyone to enjoy. Except you notice no one is touching the shrimp you spent your morning cleaning, deveining, and poaching. What gives? You taste one and it's like chewing on an eraser — gross and rubbery, with no flavor. Those things are better off as bait to catch something else to eat. Before your next party is ruined by poorly poached shrimp, let's discuss the biggest mistake you're likely making: Your heat is too high, your water is too hot, and you're in a hurry. 

But don't worry — poaching is a simple method to master once you know the basics. As The Spruce Eats describes, poaching doesn't produce agitation in the pot and the temperature of the water never hits boiling, so it's the perfect environment for delicate ingredients like fish and eggs. Right. Think of that other classic party appetizer, deviled eggs, and their tender existence. Treating poached shrimp with the same TLC we show our eggs only makes sense. Let's get into the process.

Heat your poaching liquid low and slow for shrimp

The trick to perfectly poached shrimp is to start them in cold water or stock and slowly bring the water up to just below a simmer (not to a boil, which would be too harsh). The theme here is careful and gentle, as though the shrimp are fragile, like your ego if you screw them up again. If you have the time, Serious Eats recommends you brine the shrimp in a solution of salt and baking soda to ensure a plumper result. According to Bon Appétit, a brine also imparts flavor, preserves tender texture, and keeps things juicy. When you're ready to cook, Serious Eats recommends starting the shrimp off in liquid at a low heat, then gradually raising the temperature to no higher than 170 degrees Fahrenheit, and cooking until the shrimp are slightly opaque, meaning not transparent. This doesn't take long, and it's actually very easy to know when your shrimp are ready to come out of their bath.

How to know when your poached shrimp are done

Reluctant Gourmet says when shrimp are done the exterior should be pink, the tails will be red, and the flesh will be somewhat white and opaque. Well, that's a little too subjective for our tastes, so, let's see what Cook the Story has to say, too. They give a helpful cook time of 4 to 5 minutes for poached shrimp, and recommend transferring them from the poaching liquid to an ice bath to prevent any carryover cooking. If you are a fan of visual indicators but aren't sure about judging doneness by the shrimp's color, Southern Living advises to look at the shape. Shrimp cooked to the ideal temp will curl into a loose "C" shape, whereas overcooked shrimp will seize into a tight "C," indicating they are tough and unhappy. 

Now that you know how to poach shrimp to perfection, go forth, and serve your crustaceans with confidence!