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For Plump and Snappy Shrimp, Attain for Baking Soda and Salt

Shrimp is certainly one of my favourite sources of protein, however there’s nothing that may wreck a meal fairly like biting into one and discovering it is overcooked to the purpose of being rubbery or mushy.

Shrimp cook dinner shortly and may go from excellent to overdone in a matter of seconds, so it’s important to not overcook them. Past that, although, there is a method we have lengthy used on Critical Eats to make sure plump, juicy, snappy, and scrumptious shrimp: Dry brine it with a easy combo of baking soda and salt. It is a trick I make use of each time I cook dinner shrimp. 

The Science Behind Why Shrimp Will get Mushy or Rubbery

Earlier than we dive into why the brine works, it’s necessary to notice what’s taking place to your shrimp when it cooks, and why it could possibly tackle a rubbery or mushy texture if cooked too lengthy. “If you apply warmth to any protein—meat, fish, eggs—the proteins denature and coagulate, bonding with one another to kind a extra stable construction,” explains Critical Eats editorial director Daniel Gritzer. “With prolonged time and elevated warmth, the proteins bond tighter and tighter, which squeezes liquid out of the meat identical to wringing out a sponge. This could result in dryness, or within the case of shrimp, a tighter, much less plump texture,” and finally a mushy one because the muscle tissue breaks down additional.

Why You Ought to Dry Brine Your Shrimp

Critical Eats / Debbie Wee

To maintain shrimp plump and juicy as they cook dinner, we flip to a dry brine of baking soda and salt—cheap components all of us have readily available. These two components work together with the shrimp in necessary methods—growing the pH and interacting with muscle proteins—with the general impact of accelerating moisture retention throughout cooking.. 

“Salt and the next pH (that means, extra alkaline) can each assist the shrimp retain moisture by interfering with how effectively the proteins can bond with one another in order that they contract much less,” says Daniel. “In meat and different animal protein, together with seafood, salt dissolves the muscle protein myosin, which in flip reduces the myosin’s diploma of contraction throughout cooking. Elevating the pH, in the meantime, will increase the quantity of hydroxide ions (OH⁻) within the resolution; they work together with protons (H⁺) that will in any other case be accessible to take part within the protein bonding and decreasing the power of these proteins to bond extra readily.”

This phenomenon happens in all animal proteins, together with seafood and shrimp, which is why we nearly at all times advocate dry-brining your meat for the perfect outcomes. Each Kenji Alt-López and Daniel have employed this method in quite a few shrimp recipes throughout our web site, together with shrimp scampi and grilled shrimp. We advise utilizing about one teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda for each pound of shrimp, whether or not shelled or not. Solely about quarter-hour—throughout which era you’ll be able to prep your different components—is all that’s wanted, however you’ll be able to hold it marinating as much as an hour; simply make certain to pop it within the fridge to maintain it contemporary if you happen to’re planning to let it sit for various minutes.

Kenji additionally notes that whereas this method is nice for attaining plump and snappy shrimp, it additionally aids in browning shrimp. That is as a result of the Maillard response—the browning reactions that occur when proteins and sugars in meals work together with warmth to create extra advanced flavors—happens extra shortly at larger pH ranges. 

Additional Guarantee Juiciness By Not Overcooking Shrimp 

It’s necessary to notice that it’s nonetheless attainable to overcook your shrimp even after brining it, so that you’ll wish to control the shrimp because it’s cooking. “This can be a method that prolongs a extra fascinating plump texture and extends the time earlier than the tightening results of overcooking develop into obvious,” says Daniel, however the shrimp will finally overcook regardless. He additionally notes that whereas this method is helpful and makes a noticeable distinction, it’s possible you’ll not at all times desire a extra taut texture in your shrimp—all of it comes down to non-public desire. 

“It is a very particular texture, and in some methods, the shrimp has a tautness that’s noticeable,” says Daniel. “It is plump, it is juicy, it isn’t mushy, however it’s additionally not very tender. So that you’re dropping one thing to achieve another issues.” He compares the water retention in brined shrimp to a “tightly-filled water balloon,” which isn’t at all times very best. For instance, in Tim Chin’s shrimp fried rice recipe, he opts to not dry brine the shrimp after discovering that doing so would have elevated the cooking time and decreased the smoky wok hei taste he was attempting to realize. 

Whereas we will’t assure you’ll by no means encounter rubbery or mushy shrimp once more—particularly exterior your own home—it is a nice method to maintain in your again pocket as an insurance coverage coverage. 

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