How to Avoid Overcooking Shrimp
Because there’s nothing worse than rubbery, flavorless shellfish.
In the United States, there is one kind of seafood that we love above all others: Shrimp. Americans consume approximately 4.6 pounds of shrimp per person annually, making it the most-consumed seafood species in the nation.
But there is one way that no one likes shrimp, and that is overcooked.
Far too often, we are filled with anticipation, and the shrimp we’re served is hard, rubbery, and bland. Meanwhile, shrimp cooked properly is none of those things.
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The thing we all need to remember is that shrimp hardly needs to be cooked at all. Yes, you heard me correctly—hardly at all. All you’re really trying to do is to change the shrimp from an almost translucent grey-ish color to an opaque white-ish or pink-ish color. And that takes virtually no time.
For example, if I’m poaching shrimp for a shrimp cocktail, I place the shrimp in a pot (with water, wine, peppercorns, salt, and whatever other additions strike my fancy), turn the heat on medium, let it approach but never reach the boil—and the second I see the shrimp starting to turn opaque, I turn off the heat and let the shrimp cool in the broth. They are never overcooked.
If I’m making shrimp scampi pasta, I marinate the shrimp in extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes for at least an hour, and then add all of the shrimp and marinade to a saute pan over medium heat. The second I see the opaque transition begin, I remove the shrimp from the pan. Then, I finish cooking the pasta, build the rest of the sauce, and toss it all together with the perfectly cooked shrimp in the same saute pan that’s still on medium heat. Once all is tossed together, I turn off the heat and let the pan sit for a minute or two. Dinner doesn’t get much tastier, or easier.
Recipe: Shrimp Scampi Linguine
I am in no way advocating serving raw shrimp at home; leave that to your sushi professionals. But taking shrimp from raw to overcooked takes, literally, seconds. And that’s why I’m a firm believer in stopping the cooking BEFORE the entire shrimp has changed color. Residual heat will finish the process for you if you pull the shrimp off of the heat as soon as you see the color begin to change. Do this, and you will be amazed at the flavor and texture you can achieve.
Side note: I’m also a big believer in purchasing frozen shrimp. Unless you have access to a seafood market or a roadside stand right on the water, you have likely never actually cooked fresh shrimp at home. The “fresh” shrimp you buy at the seafood counter in your grocery store is actually frozen shrimp that has been defrosted… but who knows how or when. So, keep a bag of good frozen shrimp in your freezer, and defrost them yourself. The other key benefit of that is that you’ll start reaching for shrimp a lot more often because they’re just a freezer away!