"Company stopping by," I announced as I hung up the phone. We like this. I surveyed the kitchen, flipping the cups into the dishwasher then I walk into the den. Picking up the sprawled newspapers, I begin thinking of something to offer the guests to eat - not dinner, not lunch just that hostess thing one does when friends stop by, something to nibble while we catch up.
"How about that shrimp?" the shrimp lover suggests.
I nod in approval and suggest we sit outside.
"Great, I'll sweep the patio while you cook the shrimp," my moving partner suggests.
Oh busboy, cook the shrimp? I step onto the dusty bricks and ask, "Shall I sear, sizzle, simmer, steam, saut or grill? Shall I parboil, pan fry, poach or fry it? Shall I boil, broil, blanch, baste, braise or deep fry it? "He gives me one of those, "You're out of your mind," looks and returns to eradicating the pine needles from the pathway.
Sometimes cooking is so complicated, isn't it? I mean all I want to do is cook up a bit of frozen shrimp. So many options. Shrimp is suited to many different cooking methods but what are these methods and which should I use? I guess it depends on the results I want.
If I sear it, I will have to peel it and brown it quickly on all sides using high heat and no fat. This helps seal in the juices under a broiler, or on top of the range, giving a tasty lightly charred outside. The food should be only turned once.
If I simmer it, I can cook it in a small amount of liquid that is kept just below the boiling point with just a few slow bubbles on the edge. This is always recommended as a hard boil (high temperatures) will toughen protein such as meat or fish. I can use water or fish stock. I can peel it before or after but I do not add fat.
Steam is a good option too. This is done by cooking a food in the vapor (steam) given off by boiling water. I have double boiler I can just put a sieve over a pot of boiling water. Here the flavor and nutrients don't leech into the water and there is no fat added. I'll peel it after.
If I saut, I will peel shrimp first. From the French word saunter, meaning "to jump." Sauted food is cooked quickly and stirred/jiggled in a small amount of fat over fairly high heat in an open, shallow pan. This is great for foods, like shrimp, that need to be cooked quickly. It has the advantage of adding the flavor of the fat. The use of fat or not often defines the cooking method.
When grilling the food is cooked over open grates on a grill allowing direct contact with flame. The sides then get "seared." This brings out the caramelized brown flavors. It is a no-fat method of cooking.
Boiling is cooking food in water or a liquid that is hot enough to have large bubbles. Most of us know what this is. In the case of shrimp, it is quickly added to already boiling water, peeled or not, until it turns pink.
Parboiling is just that. The food is partially boiled or partially cooked by boiling. Parboiling will work well for those items that need to get started by parboiling, but will get fully cooked at another item. Because we cook shrimp for a very short time, parboiling will probably fully cook it, peeled or not.
Blanching is similar, but it really just "dips" food into the boiling liquid to blanch it. These all use a large amount of liquid.
Poached basically is just cooking in a liquid, water or stock.
If I braise the peeled shrimp, I will sear it first, then cook it on a low temperature in a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan. Usually this is a slower method but with shrimp, I would not braise for long unless it was part of a stew.
Broil is to cook food a measured distance below direct, dry heat. Similar to grilling, it does not have to use a direct flame.
Basting is when I spread melted fat or flavored marinate/sauce on the meat as it cook using one of the other methods.
Fry means cooking in fat - oil, butter, etc. The food sizzles in the hot fat.
Deep fry means to cook food by completely covering with hot fat, usually at 375 degrees. When we deep fry shrimp, it is usually battered or breaded in order to protect the lean fish and, of course, add flavor. Panfry is frying in a pan using added fat or fat from the item itself as in ground beef.
Phew, now I know how to cook using many methods but which shall I use? As I think about it, I'll think I'll just get out some cheese and crackers.