When properly fried, popcorn shrimp are just as crunchy, salty, and addictive as their namesake.
Element of Distress
Unfortunately, most popcorn shrimp recipes produce something greasy and gummy, or feature so much coating that you can barely taste the shrimp. And those bags or boxes of frozen, breaded, “golden brown” shrimp in the supermarket? Don’t even go there—they’re a shoddy shortcut to fried seafood, and deplorable at best.
Line of Attack
We’d take some advice from seasoned seafood shacks: Keep it simple. We’d use fresh shrimp, a light batter, and a shake from our old friend Old Bay.
Show us a man with a bowl of soggy popcorn shrimp, and we’ll show you a man that has no friends. And as opposed to that sad man, we know that the key to brilliant popcorn shrimp is a particularly light, crisp, and texturally superior coating.
Instead of using a basic fry batter—equal parts water and flour—we gave it extra-crunchy oomph by replacing some of the flour with cornstarch (cornstarch makes the coating drier and crispier) and adding a teaspoon of baking powder (which increases browning and “lift”). And instead of water, we conjured more seaside magic by subbing in clam juice, which bought a brininess to the batter that echoed the sweet ocean-y shrimp. A little Old Bay seasoning, along with a couple of teaspoons of black pepper, finished off the flavorful coating.
As for the shrimp, does size matter? Make as many jumbo shrimp jokes as you want, but we realized after testing that medium to large shrimp (31 to 40 per pound) were large enough to withstand a good fry (two minutes in 375-degree oil) but small enough to stay true to their popcorn nature; smaller shrimp not only overcooked quickly, they also tended to get lost in the batter coating. For extra flavor-popping measure, we marinated the shrimp in a little oil, minced garlic, lemon zest, and reliable Old Bay for 30 minutes—it made all the difference.
Fry, fry, fry away home.