For The Absolute Crispiest Shrimp, Baking Soda Is Your Friend

What's better than a plate full of fried food? While delicately prepared plates of haute cuisine will undoubtedly feature multifaceted flavors and scintillating textural combinations, there's something to be said for simple, salty fare. Frying your favorite foods instantly transforms them into delicious dishes.

However, frying food at home can be tricky, at the very least. You have to contend with scalding oil splash-backs. Furthermore, there are countless factors, ranging from the size of your frying vessel to the coating you use on your food, that could have an impact on the quality of your finished meal. Making sure that the flour coating properly adheres to your fryer-bound chicken cutlet is of the utmost importance. An improper covering can leave your food dry as a bone. 

However, there's one ingredient hack that is sure to bring certain fried foods to the next level. The next time you're frying a pan of shrimp, include baking soda in your coating if you want to achieve maximum crispness.

Baking soda and the science of cooking shrimp

While you're probably familiar with baking soda's primary application in the culinary sphere, which is as a leavening agent, there are a lot of unexpected ways to cook with baking soda. Baking soda can break down the cellular structure of your potatoes, ultimately resulting in a crispy fry. It can also cut down on the acidity in your homemade sauces and even tenderize meat.

Sprinkling shrimp with baking soda sets off a fascinating scientific process. When raw shrimp comes into contact with baking soda, its muscles begin to have an electrical spasm. This causes the muscles to slightly expand. Though you may think that a less constricted shrimp would be more porous, the looser structure of a shrimp that has been treated with baking soda will actually retain more moisture, ultimately resulting in juicy, perfectly textured shrimp. 

When you're making a recipe that calls for long cook times, this hack is a great way to keep shrimp from drying out.

Real-world applications of the baking soda and shrimp method

While snappy shrimp are unquestionably prize enough, there are other benefits to using baking soda on your seafood. A baking soda brine will loosen the connection between a shrimp and its shell, streamlining the generally tedious peeling process.

Celebrity chef J. Kenji López-Alt is a notable practitioner of the baking soda method. In a recipe for garlic and lemon shrimp skewers that he wrote for Serious Eats, López-Alt explains that he performed experiments in his kitchen to determine the efficacy of the baking soda hack and found that the baking soda shrimp were much more firm. Additionally, he says baking soda causes the shrimp to brown faster, which means more flavor with less cooking time.

If you're looking to introduce a bit of breading to the mix, as is the case in many fried shrimp po'boy recipes, baking soda can also be useful when you're coating shrimp in preparation for a dunk in the deep fryer. Baking soda causes fried shrimp batter to produce carbon dioxide and consequently crisp up.