Delicious Shrimp Scampi is foolproof with a couple of tricks shared in this method to ensure moist and juicy shrimp that’s full of flavor. Great as an appetizer or over angel hair pasta.
I have finally found a recipe for cooking shrimp that I’m confident with, especially for this special and easy Shrimp Scampi. The recipe shares two unique steps that ensure your shrimp is moist and juicy and your scampi sauce is full of bright, fresh flavors. After being frustrated with recipes where I turned out shrimp that was mediocre and (cringe) tough to the point that it got left on the plate, I decided to turn to the experts at Cook’s Illustrated in hopes of improving my track record of “Sally isn’t great with shrimp”.
We’ve all heard that perfectly cooked shrimp is supposed to be easy but I also know from experience that it’s easy to send a fresh helping of perfect shrimp into ruins in a matter of one minute. Is this you too? Or are you able to turn out perfectly tender shrimp to your family and guests time and again? Well, I’m determined to no longer be a ‘shrimp-dish-failure’, and this recipe takes me right out of that category and I want to share it with you. Let’s get into the steps and tricks I learned to be able to make perfect shrimp every time.
How to cook perfect shrimp
Brine the shrimp- Cook’s Illustrated touts this as being a must-try for great flavor in any shrimp dish. It takes just a few minutes but you’ll notice a definite difference in how plump and juicy your shrimp will be when you brine it first. By using three tablespoons of salt and two tablespoons of sugar in a quart of cold water, this creates a simple brine for about a pound and a half of jumbo shrimp. Submerge the shrimp in the brine (I find placing it all in a gallon ziplock bag works great) and refrigerate for only 15 minutes. Don’t soak for longer than this. This method is for untreated shrimp. If the shrimp you buy is already treated with salt or sodium, you shouldn’t brine the shrimp. I purchase frozen shell-on, jumbo shrimp and can easily find untreated shrimp where the ingredient list is only: Shrimp.*
Don’t overcook the shrimp (Easier said than done)- Brining the shrimp helps with increasing the moistness of the shrimp but as you’re cooking, if you don’t get the timing right, you can still end up with rubbery shrimp. For the Shrimp Scampi, the shrimp is cooked twice. First until just opaque; the shrimp will still look a little milky in color and not bright and ready to eat. The shrimp is removed from the pan while at this stage but returns after the sauce has been completed and gets tossed in the hot liquid and finishes just enough to cook completely but not beyond the doneness level that you want. Tossing the almost finished shrimp (that continued to cook a bit after you removed it from the pan) into the sauce and then removing from the heat finishes everything just enough so it’s perfect when either passed around with forks and lemons, or tossed with angel hair pasta.
Make a stock from the shrimp shells
If you’re making a shrimp recipe where a sauce is involved, use this method to make a quick shrimp stock to get extra seafood flavor into the sauce. Purchase shell-on shrimp; peel and devein the shrimp and remove the tails. Reserve the shells and when ready, they can be cooked in heated oil in a skillet until the shells turn spotty brown and the oil starts to turn golden. Remove the shells from the pan with a slotted spoon and discard. For the Scampi sauce in this recipe; after the shells have been cooked and discarded, the sauce gets developed with white wine, lemon juice, butter, and the fat that you fried the shells in (butter and/or oil). A little bit of cornstarch helps to thicken the sauce until just right. Flavor it up with generous amounts of garlic, red pepper flakes, fresh parsley, and black pepper for a perfectly bright, rich yet light coating for your cooked-just-right shrimp. See the full recipe to get full details on getting this method right.*
* The size of the shrimp you purchase matters for the amount of time to cook it as well. This recipe uses jumbo shrimp (16-20 per pound), but I list modifications for extra-large shrimp in the recipe notes.
How to peel and devein shrimp
When purchasing shrimp with the shells on, the task of peeling and deveining the shrimp before cooking can be a bit labor-intensive. Here’s how to do it quickly and efficiently:
- You’ll need a sharp paring knife. Wash the shrimp under cold water and pat it dry for easy handling.
- Hold the shrimp in one hand and pull off the legs; then slip your thumb under the shell from the same side that you removed the legs and the shell will come off easily, not necessarily all in one piece; to remove the tail, hold the tail with one hand and the body of the shrimp in the other, gently squeeze the tail and wiggle the body while pulling and the tail will come off easily.
- To devein the shrimp, take your paring knife and slice it down the top of the shrimp (the outside of the C-shape of the shrimp) without going all the way through the shrimp, usually about a quarter-inch. You’ll see the black vein which you can lift with the tip of your knife and then pull it out. If the vein breaks, just repeat with the tip of the knife again.
- Once all the shrimp have been peeled and deveined, rinse the shrimp again and if you’re going to cook the shrimp in oil or butter, pat it dry again to prevent too much splattering when you place it in the pan. Reserve the shells, even if you’re not making a sauce, you can freeze the shells to use another time for homemade seafood stock.
I can’t forget to rave about the simple yet perfect scampi sauce for this recipe. A generous amount of garlic, because garlic and butter- the perfect match; just enough red pepper flakes and black pepper- heat; lemon juice and parsley- brightness; combine that with the shrimp stock/butter mixture- you might want to forgo pasta and just sop it up with crusty bread! Like I said in the beginning, perfect for an appetizer, over pasta, or just as you see it. And I don’t know how you’ll end up with any leftovers, but the recipe notes give instructions for how to reheat shrimp without, again, over cooking it!
This recipe has given me a sense of pride, being able to get perfect shrimp right and I hope the tips listed and instructions will work for you too.
- 3 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 ½ pounds jumbo shrimp, shell-on, peeled, deveined, and tails removed, shells reserved
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 ½ cup dry white wine
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 3 tbsp lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 8 cloves garlic, sliced thin
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 4 tbsp butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- Dissolve the 3 tablespoons salt and 2 tablespoons sugar in 1 quart of cold water in a large gallon-size freezer ziplock bag. Add the 1 ½ pounds of shrimp to the brine and refrigerate for 15 minutes (no longer or the shrimp will turn mushy). Remove shrimp from brine and pat dry with paper towels.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add the shrimp shells and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to turn spotty brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and carefully add the 1 ½ cup of wine and the 5 thyme sprigs. When bubbling subsides, turn the heat to medium and return the skillet to stove. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Strain mixture through a sieve over a large bowl. Discard shells and reserve the liquid (you should have about 2/3 cup). Wipe out skillet with paper towels.
- Combine 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 teaspoon cornstarch in a small bowl. Set aside. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil, sliced garlic, red pepper flakes, and black pepper in the now-empty skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant and just beginning to turn golden at edges, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the reserved wine mixture, increase heat to high, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium now, add the shrimp, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are just opaque, not yet fully cooked, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and using a slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to a bowl.
- Return the skillet to medium heat, add the lemon juice-cornstarch mixture, and cook until slightly thickened, this should happen very quickly. Remove from heat and whisk in the 4 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley until butter has melted. Return shrimp and any accumulated juices to the skillet and toss to combine. The shrimp should be fully cooked but not over-cooked now, between resting in the bowl and being added back to the sauce mixture.
- You can serve the Shrimp Scampi a couple of ways at this point. Serve it in the pan it cooked in and eat the shrimp family style, using forks and passing lemon wedges to squeeze over the Scampi. If serving as an appetizer, this is a good way to display the Shrimp Scampi, too. Either in the pan or on a plate as I've illustrated.If serving over pasta, be frugal with the amount of pasta used, as the Scampi is not super saucy.See notes for storing and reheating leftovers.
- This recipe uses cook times for jumbo shrimp (16-20 per pound). You can also use extra-large shrimp (21-25 per pound) but if so, cut the cooking time in step three by about one or two minutes.
- Several ways to serve this dish; if serving over pasta, I recommend angel hair and not a large amount of pasta. Cook about 8 oz. according to package directions, then divide the pasta (swirl it into shallow bowls) by 4. Top with the shrimp and then spoon scampi sauce over top. If serving as an appetizer, super easy to just cut thin slices of french bread, buttered, then place a few forks and a spoon for everyone to pick up their own shrimp and sauce for dipping or topping on the bread.
Slightly adapted from America’s Test Kitchen.