Learn to cook your favorite crustacean at home.
If you’ve never cooked shrimp before, the thought of peeling, deveining, and cooking these little crustaceans can feel daunting. Add to that the fact that they can be cooked in so many different ways—sautéed, deep fried, or grilled, to name a few—and we understand why it can be hard to even get started.
To help demystify, we’ve created a guide to some of the most common methods for cooking shrimp. On top of that, we’ll also teach you where and how to pick out the freshest shrimp for your particular recipe—whether you’re making paella or shrimp and grits.
Fresh, carefully sourced shrimp is sweet and clean-tasting, with a slightly firm yet tender bite to it—assuming that it’s also been prepared properly. With products available everywhere from the freezer aisle at your local grocery store to the display at specialty fish markets, the shrimp market can feel a little inscrutable. Here’s what to look out for.
While it may seem counterintuitive, frozen shrimp are actually the most reliable kind of shrimp to buy in most cases. This is because the vast majority of shrimp are actually deep frozen soon after being caught, meaning shrimp advertised as “fresh” have really just been thawed from frozen. We recommend shrimp that are IQF (Individually Quick Frozen), that are head-off but peel-on, and have not been treated with STPP, a chemical that can affect texture and flavor.
To defrost, simply remove the shrimp from their packaging and submerge them in cool (not warm) water for a few minutes or until completely thawed.
If you do manage to hunt down the rare treat that is truly fresh shrimp from a trustworthy fish market, first make sure that it looks plump and firm without any black spots or discoloration, and without any discernible ammonia smell, as this can indicate that the shrimp have started to go off. You’ll also want to purchase them as close as possible to when you plan to serve—preferably the same day.
While frozen shrimp is often deveined, you’ll most likely need to remove the vein yourself when handling fresh shrimp. Using a small Knife—we recommend a Paring Knife as it requires precision—simply make a small incision in the back of your peeled shrimp with the curve facing toward you. Use the tip of the knife and your thumb to pull out the black vein that runs all the way down its body.
Shrimp is a wonderfully versatile product, and once you get comfortable preparing it, it makes for an easy but luxe-feeling addition to your dinner rotation. Here are some of our favorite ways to cook it, and how.
Sautéing is an ideal method of cooking shrimp for saucy dishes like scampi or shrimp and grits. Depending on the amount of shrimp you’re cooking, we recommend using a pan with plenty of surface area, like a Saute Pan or a large Frying Pan.
Step 1: Add Fat
Whichever pan you choose, make sure to add plenty of fat, like butter or olive oil, and heat over medium heat. If you’re adding aromatics like garlic (strongly recommended), now would be the time to add them so they infuse into the oil.
Step 2: Add Shrimp to the Pan
Add your (cleaned, deveined) shrimp to the hot pan and cook for a few minutes, flipping once or twice, until pink and opaque-looking. While cooking, shrimp will shrink from loosely curved to tightly-curled, which indicates it’s thoroughly cooked.
Grilled shrimp are incredibly versatile: they taste great on their own with a squeeze of lemon or zesty chermoula, in tacos, or even in place of poached shrimp in a classic shrimp cocktail. We recommend using a Carbon Steel Griddle or Grill Frying Pan for this to keep them from falling through the grates, as well as a set of tongs.
Step 1: Get Your Grill Hot
Heat your grill to medium high and place your Carbon Steel Griddle or Grill Frying Pan on the grates to preheat.
Step 2: Add Your Shrimp
Brush shrimp with oil, season with salt and pepper, and add to your hot pan or griddle. Cook for several minutes, flipping halfway through, until pink, opaque, and slightly browned in spots.
Baking or roasting is a convenient way to get shrimp that’s evenly cooked through and nicely charred, perfect for shrimp cocktail or a weeknight one-pan meal. All you need is a Sheet Pan or Roasting Pan, plus tongs or a spatula.
Step 1: Preheat Your Oven
Preheat your oven to 425F. Meanwhile, toss your shrimp with oil, salt, and pepper and add to the pan.
Step 2: Roast
Roast shrimp for about 10 minutes, flipping halfway through, until just pink and opaque.
If you love to eat your shrimp cold, whether in a shrimp cocktail, shrimp salad, or some homemade sushi rolls, your best bet is gently cooking in hot—not boiling—water.
Step 1: Boil Water
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil, then cut the heat. Add shrimp to the pot and cover. While shrimp is poaching, fill a large bowl with water and plenty of ice.
Step 2: Transfer to Ice Bath
Once shrimp is cooked through, remove from the pot and plunge immediately into your waiting iced bath, then remove and pat dry.
Now that you’ve got cooking shrimp on lock, it’s time to get peeling. If you’re feeling extra grill-friendly, we strongly recommend making Spanish-Style Grilled Shrimp, served with garlic butter sauce and grilled bread.