Long ago we learned that the reason meats dry out during cooking—even moist cooking—is because heat makes their muscle proteins clench together and squeeze out water.
Sign up for the Cook's Insider newsletter
The latest recipes, tips, and tricks, plus behind-the-scenes stories from the Cook's Illustrated team.
Acidity makes it worse—just try a vinegary marinade if you want tough, dry meat—but the corollary is that alkalinity mitigates the problem. So we often apply a mild baking soda solution to meat before cooking it.
In our Fisherman’s Pie, we use the same trick on shrimp, allowing them to stay plump and juicy throughout cooking.
How to Treat Shrimp with Baking Soda
- Thoroughly toss 1 pound of peeled shrimp with ¼ teaspoon baking soda in a bowl.
- Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
- Proceed with the rest of your recipe.
The baking soda raises the pH of the shellfish’s muscle, which alters the electric charge of the muscle protein. As a result, the muscle fibers stay slightly apart from each other instead of clenching together, and the moisture that’s between the fibers stays between the fibers.
It’s ideal for a long cook like Fisherman’s Pie, which can otherwise tend to dry out the shrimp; but also works magic when shrimp is only briefly cooked, as in a stir-fry.