What’s not to love about shrimp? They’re a high-protein, low-calorie option that cooks up in a flash. Making shrimp for dinner is the perfect way to create easy, healthy weeknight dinners! The tricky thing is learning how to cook shrimp so they hit that perfect medium between over- and undercooked.
What’s our secret? Using a pan that’s large enough to cook the shrimp without crowding them. If each shrimp has space to breathe, they’ll have more contact with the hot cooking surface. That creates a rich sear and even cooking throughout the shrimp.
Do you cook shrimp with the shell on?
Shrimp can be cooked peeled or unpeeled, although they are significantly easier to eat when the shells are removed before cooking. If you’re cooking for company, you should always peel the shrimp so your guests don’t have to do it at the table. When you’re cooking for the family, feel free to skip it! Either way, be sure to remove any dark-colored veins inside the shrimp.
Is undercooked shrimp bad for you?
Raw shrimp contains bacteria that can cause unpleasant reactions, so we recommend fully cooking shrimp. That being said, overcooked shrimp are chewy and tough. You’ll want to cook them just long enough for the shrimp to turn from translucent and gray to pink and opaque.
Color is a good indicator, but you can also learn a lot about shrimp from its texture. An undercooked shrimp is very wiggly with an open and loose structure. As it cooks, the fibers constrict and the head curls towards the tail. Overcooked shrimp curl up very tightly and turn a matte white color, an indication that they’ve lost too much moisture. A perfectly cooked shrimp is firm enough to curl without being constricted, and it has an opaque color with a sheen.
How to Cook Shrimp
Yield: 4 servings
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound uncooked shrimp (26-30 per pound), peeled and deveined
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
- Hot cooked pasta or rice
A quick note about the ingredients: We like using common olive oil when sauteing shrimp (as opposed to virgin or extra-virgin). It has a higher smoke point, making it ideal for high-temperature searing. Cooking the shrimp in olive oil instead of butter saves about 3g of saturated fat per serving, but feel free to swap in clarified butter or ghee if you’re craving a buttery flavor. Since whole butter has a low smoke point, you shouldn’t use it solo, but you can mix in a 2:1 ratio of butter to cooking oil.
Step 1: Heat the oil
Start by selecting a skillet large enough to cook all the shrimp without crowding them. If you don’t have a large enough pan, consider cooking the shrimp in two batches. Once you’ve selected your skillet, heat it over medium-high heat and add the oil (or combination of oil and butter).
Step 2: Add the shrimp
When the oil is slightly shimmering, it’s hot enough to add the shrimp! Add the shrimp and cook for about two minutes, stirring often, until the shrimp just start to turn pink. Keep in mind that smaller shrimp cook more quickly than large ones, so pay more attention to the color and texture of the shrimp more than the time they’ve cooked.
Pro Tip: Worried you might have taken the shrimp too far? Immediately remove them from the pan to halt the cooking process. They will continue cooking even when they’re off the heat, but the residual heat from the pan can dry them out.
Step 3: Add flavorings
Now that the shrimp are nearly cooked, it’s time to add the flavorings. Adding them at the last minute allows their fresh, bold flavors to infuse into the shrimp while preventing any tiny pieces from burning. Add the garlic, lemon juice and salt. Cook and stir until the shrimp curl inwards and turn pink with a white sheen. Stir in the parsley and serve over pasta or rice.
Pro Tip: If you’re ready to experiment, add in fresh herbs and citrus zest after cooking. Keeping these ingredients away from the heat maximizes their fresh flavor, adding a delicate accent to the shrimp. Don’t be afraid to experiment with any type of herbs you like!
Take your sauteed shrimp skills to the next level with our 10 best shrimp recipes.