Shrimp Rolls Bring the Seafood Shack Home

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

Context is everything. When I'm ordering out at a seafood shack, I inevitably settle on ordering a lobster roll, despite the slightly more appealing price of a shrimp roll. But if I'm going to make a shellfish roll at home, it's the inverse.

The reason is twofold. First, I simply love lobster too much to abstemiously reserve even part of my haul for later—I much prefer eating it whole, in one sitting. Second, picking lobster meat for a roll is a lot of work, especially when that delicious, delicate meat isn't going straight into your mouth to sustain you as you go. Shrimp rolls make a lot more sense to me in a home cooking environment, since preparing the meat is a relative breeze.

That said, there's certainly an art to making great shrimp rolls, and it's as simple as cooking the shrimp perfectly. You have a couple options for this. You could go the sous vide route, which yields shrimp that are incredibly tender and concentrated in flavor. To be honest, though, I rarely have the patience for that. (If I'm unwilling to shell a lobster or two without eating the meat right away, what are the chances I'm willing to set up an immersion circulator?)

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Instead, I generally opt for our basic poaching technique, which offers up roll-ready shrimp in no time. Most recipes for poached shrimp call for adding them to already-simmering water and cooking them until they're done. While this technically works, it tends to toughen them up and increases your chances of accidentally overcooking them, given how quickly shrimp cook through at high heat.

To combat those issues, we start the shrimp in cold water, then gradually bring them up to about 170°F (77°C), which is just about where they hit their perfectly cooked state. By not letting the shrimp go beyond that temperature, you leave very little chance of overcooking them.

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When I poach shrimp, I usually add aromatic vegetables to the liquid, along with white wine, lemon juice, and herbs, to infuse the shrimp with even more flavor. Here, I consider that step optional, since the shrimp are eventually coated in a flavorful dressing. Those extra flavors in the liquid won't hurt, but they're not as noticeable in the finished roll, and therefore not as important.

Similarly, in this recipe, I also diverge from our frequently called-for technique of marinating the shrimp with baking soda first. The baking soda alters the shrimp's texture, leading to a snappier bite once they're cooked. But in a shrimp roll, I don't think snappiness is an important characteristic—if anything, I'd rather have the shrimp be more tender, like lobster. Once again, it's an optional step. Do it if you want the snappiness; skip it if you don't.

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Once the shrimp are cooked, cooled, and cut into pieces, the rest follows standard lobster roll procedure: Fold the seafood with mayo, finely diced celery, chives, and lemon juice, then pack the mixture into buttered and toasted top-split buns.

And be generous with the amount of shrimp you scoop into each bun. You've already saved time and money by using shrimp, so you deserve a little something extra.

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