Clam Juice Is The Secret To Flavorful Shrimp

Of all the shellfish available, the mighty shrimp (pardon the oxymoron) is the most approachable for the home cook. They can be prepared quickly, play well with numerous spices, and have the versatility to be paired with rice, pasta, and/or greens. Chefs can think up complex recipes for shrimp, but they are so delicious that salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon are often all you need to make an amazing meal out of them. But there is one oft-forsaken ingredient that can help add a dash of the flavorful sea: clam juice.  

Clam juice has long been used to bolster the flavor of clam-based dishes, like classic clam chowder and clam bake. But it's also a secret ingredient to amping up the flavor of canned clams and the weird-but-it-works ingredient often added to bold Caesar cocktails. But how can clam juice, a mollusk condiment, bring flavor to a shellfish like shrimp?

The briny wonders of clam juice

It's worth backing up to talk about what clam juice actually is. Clam juice isn't just the excess liquid from a clam once cracked open, but the strained and bottled leftover liquid from steaming a batch of clams in salted water. Better thought of as a broth, clam juice is mild in clammy flavor but has a brininess that gives seafood a more distinct character than salt alone would. Used as the base for rich dishes like classic French bouillabaisse, clam juice is one of the main flavoring agents for many seafood recipes.

Try adding a couple of tablespoons to your pan of simmering shrimp, or, alternatively, boiling your shrimp completely in a bath of clam juice. Clam juice can also be incorporated into whatever sauce you plan to pair with your shrimp, like the lemon, butter, and caper sauce made for shrimp piccata. Or you could take the clam juice experiment off the stove-top, and mix it in with your acid-cooked shrimp ceviche. (Bonus points if you use Clamato, a blend of clam and tomato juice.) And, yes, even a mayo-rich shrimp salad can appreciate the briny nuance of clam juice. 

Just keep in mind that clam juice brings a boost of salinity, so you may need to dial back on the salt called for. Either way, the next time you plan on making shrimp the star of your dish, make sure you've got a bottle of clam juice on hand.