The broiler is an unsung hero in the kitchen: It preheats quickly, transfers heat more efficiently than the ambient waves of the oven’s bake setting, and in certain applications requires less babysitting than the stovetop. Take shrimp, for example, which cook so rapidly in a hot pan that they must be constantly monitored. Spreading them out on a baking sheet and broiling them, I hoped, would be a more hands-off way to “sear” the pieces, since I could strategically distance them from the broiler’s fierce element. If I found that sweet spot, I could achieve a tray of snappy, lightly charred shrimp to top rice, noodles, or salads or swipe through cocktail sauce.
When shopping for shrimp, I gravitate toward the extra-large size—they’re meaty but conveniently bite-size, perfect for everyday applications. After peeling and deveining them, I salted them for 15 minutes so that they’d be thoroughly seasoned and hang on to their moisture during cooking. Then I thoroughly blotted them dry, hoping that would allow their surfaces to brown.
But no matter where I positioned the oven rack—within 2 inches or as far as 8 inches from the broiler element—the shrimp cooked through before taking on any attractive, flavorful char. The problem wasn’t the broiler itself; the rack positions offered plenty of range for harnessing its radiant heat, which is focused and intense at close range and more diffuse with distance. The problem was that shrimp cook quickly and lack sufficient fat to undergo rapid browning.