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A type of deep fried breaded shrimp, popcorn shrimp is normally made with only the smallest shrimp, so as to be bite sized. Often thought to have originated in the United States' Cajun South, the seafood restaurant chain Red Lobster® also lays claim to its invention. Whatever its origin, popcorn shrimp is a popular snack food or side dish for much of the US. It can be found not only in many restaurants, fast food chains, and groceries stores, it can also be made at home.
Popcorn shrimp contains two main components: shrimp and breading. Although commercial popcorn shrimp may or may not be spicy, most homemade recipes are. Creole seasoning, chili powder, or Cajun seasoning are a popular additions to the breading.
As its name suggests, breading is made primarily with bread crumbs. Panko, a type of Japanese bread crumb, is popular in homemade versions. Any type of bread crumbs may be used, however, and they can be made from fresh bread. The crumbs are usually mixed with the seasoning to create the completed breading.
To bread, the shrimp is usually dredged in flour first, though some recipes omit this step. Then, they are dipped in an egg mixture, which may contain only whisked eggs or may include some spices or cream. Finally, they are coated with the bread mixture. The shrimp is usually breaded in batches, often about a third or a quarter of the shrimp at a time.
After the shrimp is breaded, it is carefully dropped into a pan of hot oil. The oil, a simple cooking oil, usually fills at least half the pot and must be extremely hot before the shrimp is placed in it. Once the shrimp is in the oil, it is fried for a few minutes until golden. Cooks should always be careful of spitting oil when deep frying as this can not only be painful, it can be dangerous.
The biggest difficulty inexperienced cooks have with deep frying is insufficiently heated oil. In order to test if oil is hot enough, sprinkling a few unused bread crumbs over the top should be adequate. If the bread crumbs sizzle, the oil is ready for the shrimp.
When shrimp are complete they are removed from the oil and allowed to drain on a paper towel. Popcorn shrimp can be eaten alone or with a dipping sauce, like cocktail sauce. Many popcorn shrimp recipes can be adapted for large shrimp.
@Soulfox -- true, but someone has to peel those things. It is important to mention that because a misconception does exist that popcorn shrimp require less work than regular shrimp in terms of prep -- that is true if you buy them commercially, but not so if you catch them out in the wild.
One of the greatest things about popcorn shrimp is that they are generally sold peeled and with the tails removed. Ask any cook who has had to peel "regular" shrimp what a chore that can be.
With popcorn shrimp, all one has to do is prep the things, cook them and eat them. You typically get all the fried shrimp flavor without the prep time. No wonder those things are popular.