Properly carried out, both steaming and boiling produce shrimp with a very similar texture and flavor. Both methods allow you to season your shrimp to taste, and because neither method requires added fat, the nutritional profiles of shrimp produced either way are nearly identical. Whether you choose to steam or boil shrimp may depend on how much time you have: Steaming takes longer, partly because you may have to make multiple batches.
Boiling shrimp is a very quick process, requiring anywhere from two to four minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp. Steaming shrimp will take five to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp and the capacity of the steamer -- even the smallest pots for boiling shrimp have a larger capacity than the average kitchen steamer, or steaming racks that fit into larger pots. Shrimp can be overcooked very easily while boiling, however, and come out rubbery. Steaming is a more forgiving process, and allows you to more easily monitor the color and opaqueness of the shrimp, two important clues as to when they are done.
Flavoring the Shrimp
Boiled shrimp are usually flavored with herbs and spices, such as bay leaves, garlic cloves, coriander seeds, peppercorns and cayenne pepper, that are added to the boiling water along with the shrimp. These additions infuse the shrimp with flavor during the cooking process. Frequently, vegetables, including small potatoes, carrots, corn on the cob and mushrooms, are boiled in the flavored water before the shrimp are cooked. While lemon juice, beer or Cajun seasonings are often added to the water simmered for steaming shrimp, most steamed shrimp get additional flavor from a marinade, or from herbs and spices sprinkled on just before the steaming begins.
You can boil shrimp with the heads and tails intact or remove the shells beforehand. Fill a large stockpot two-thirds of the way to the top with water. Add beer, lemon juice, kosher salt and other seasonings as desired, and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Add shrimp to the boiling water and boil for two to four minutes, or until the shrimp are opaque and begin to turn pink. Pour the shrimp into a large colander to drain.
You can steam shrimp with the heads and tails intact, but you can fit more into the steamer basket if you remove the shells (or at least the heads) before cooking. Place a steamer basket in a pot filled with enough water to reach about 1 inch below the basket. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and quickly arrange the shrimp in the steamer basket. It's all right if the shrimp are touching one another, but don't layer them or they will not cook evenly. Sprinkle with kosher salt and dried spices such as cayenne pepper, paprika or oregano. Cover and steam for five minutes. Check to see if the shrimp are done -- they will no longer be translucent and they'll begin to turn pink. If they are not done, cover and continue steaming. Recheck every minute until the shrimp are cooked through.
- Tony Chachere's Cajun Country Cookbook: Recipes Featuring Seafood & Wild Game; Tony Chachere
- Serious Eats: Low-Country Shrimp Boil with Spicy Remoulade
- New York Times: Featured Recipe -- Steamed Shrimp With Lemon Grass-Coconut Sauce
- Photo Credit Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images