I'll turn nearly anything into an excuse to eat seafood. Feeling sad? Nothing a trip to the raw bar can't fix. Happy? Let's celebrate the good times with some oceanic exoskeletons. Away on vacation? Time to immerse ourselves in a new culture...by ingesting local marine bugs. Home alone? Crustaceans count as company! That's just how my mind works.
So you can imagine that when I'm thinking about a good dip to serve at a party, I skip right past the countless bean spreads and cheesy dips that most people make and decide on a shrimp dip instead. The fact that it has shrimp in it may make some think it's more complicated than those other options, but that's not so. It's as easy as poaching some shrimp, chopping them up, then mixing them with a handful of other ingredients.
There are a couple of tricks to making the poaching step as foolproof as possible. The first is to toss the shrimp with salt and baking soda a half hour before cooking them. The salt and baking soda both help make the shrimp extra plump and juicy and nicely seasoned throughout.
The second is to invert the cooking process. The standard procedure for poaching shrimp is to add them to simmering water, then pluck them out as soon as they're done. The problem there is that the shrimp come out a little tougher from the high heat, and there's a risk of overcooking them—they go from perfectly cooked to rubbery in a matter of moments. If you start them out in cold water, on the other hand, and then bring it up to—but not past—170°F, you run almost no risk of overcooking the shrimp, and they're far tenderer thanks to the lower water temperature.
After that, just chill the shrimp in an ice bath, drain and dry them, and chop them up.
I combine the shrimp with finely diced celery and shallot, which I've soaked in fresh lemon juice while the shrimp marinated in the baking soda mixture. The acidic lemon juice tames the shallot's raw-onion edge and gives it a pop of tartness.
I mix all of that with equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream and fold in minced fresh herbs, like parsley, dill, and chives. Some ground coriander adds a great aromatic note, and minced preserved horseradish adds some warmth.
But that's all incidental, because...shrimp!