Embracing High Heat, Part I (The Savory)

The juiciest shrimp ever.

I dunno about you, but in my early days of cooking, I was petrified of high heat.

Back then when I was a teen, the words, “Heat the pan on high,” would make me quake in fear.

I thought I’d end up burning myself, not to mention whatever I was cooking, along with the poor pan, too.

But the more you cook, the more you realize the beauty of high-heat cooking. There’s nothing like it for creating caramelization, and thus, greater flavor, texture, and color.

Who doesn’t love the blistered crust of pizza baked in a scorching wood-oven? Or the yummy crust on a seared steak? Or the crispy skin on a salmon fillet? Or the smoky, intense flavor vegetables get from being tossed around in a fiery wok?

When I took a recent class at Draeger’s in San Mateo, veteran cookbook authors Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough reminded me of the joy of high-heat cooking, when they demonstrated their recipe for “Roasted Shrimp.” It’s from their newest cookbook, “Cooking Know-How” (Wiley).

Normally, I just saute shrimp in a pan. But their oven-method could not be easier. It’s my new favorite way to cook shrimp.

Like all the recipes in this book, the shrimp one gives you a basic technique, then variations so you can alter the flavorings.

Preparing the baking pan.

The method remains the same: You put a baking dish in a cold oven with oil and herbs. Turn the oven on to 450 degrees. As it warms, the herbs get infused gently into the oil. When the oven gets up to temperature in 15 to 20 minutes, add shrimp (or scallops) to the pan. Cook for about 10 minutes for large shrimp (about 5 minutes for scallops), stirring a couple of times during the cooking process.

Pull out the pan, then stir in salt, pepper, and a dash of acid (vinegar, citrus juice, or wine).

This is by far the juiciest shrimp you’ll ever eat, with a pleasing crunch, too. It’s the high heat that does all that. Moreover, the fragrance of the herbs roasting in the oven is utterly intoxicating.

Serve the shrimp as an appetizer, or as an entree with salad and crusty bread. The shrimp also would be phenomenal over pasta.

Below is the recipe for “Thyme Roasted Shrimp,” which is the variation I made. I also used lemon thyme instead of regular, because I happen to have a pot of it growing in my yard. Also included are directions to make the variation, “Rosemary Roasted Shrimp,” which Weinstein and Scarbrough demonstrated.

Once you get the technique down, feel free to experiment with your own flavor combos.

Then, kiss your fear of high heat good-bye.

Thyme Roasted Shrimp

(serves 4)

1/4 olive oil

12 thyme sprigs

2 peeled whole garlic cloves

2 pounds large shrimp (about 18 per pound), peeled and deveined

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Pour olive oil into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or similarly sized roasting pan.

Add thyme sprigs and garlic to the dish. Set the dish in the oven, then preheat the oven to 450 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.

Lay shrimp over the thyme and garlic,then roast until pink and firm, about 8 minutes for medium shrimp (about 30 per pound) or 10 minutes for large shrimp (about 18 per pound), tossing gently two or three times.

Remove baking dish from the oven, and stir in vinegar, salt, and pepper. Serve.

Variation: To make Rosemary-Roasted Shrimp, substitute 5 rosemary sprigs for the thyme, and 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar for the balsamic.

From “Cooking Know-How”

Tomorrow: Embracing High Heat, Part II (The Sweet)

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