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Pan-Seared Shrimp

ONE TECHNIQUE SIMULTANEOUSLY COOKS AND SAUCES SHRIMP

Plump, briny, and sweet—shrimp that are cooked well can be a weeknight treat or impressive enough for company. As for cooking method, pan searing is ideal. Browning enhances the sweet notes in shrimp and deepens flavor overall. The method is so fast that you can cook a generous platter of these crustaceans in less than 5 minutes.

As fast as pan searing is, it seems like there shouldn’t be enough time for the shrimp to dry out. But if you wait for the shrimp to brown it can actually toughen first. Seasoning the shrimp with sugar (along with the usual salt and pepper) speeds up the browning process. Don’t go overboard—you don’t want to taste the sugar. Just ⅛ teaspoon is plenty for 1½ pounds of shrimp. Batch cooking and the smart use of residual heat are also keys to preventing overcooking.

When you’re done, the pan will look promising for making a sauce—there should be some browned bits (aka fond), especially if you use a conventional rather than a nonstick skillet. But if you make a traditional pan sauce—sauté aromatics, deglaze with wine or broth, reduce, and then enrich—the shrimp will be cold long before you’re done—even if you cover them with foil.

The solution? You need a sauce that cooks with (not after) the shrimp. A concentrated glaze or potent butter added to the pan during the last minute or two of cooking is the answer. By the time the shrimp are cooked, the flavors in the glaze or butter have bloomed and the dish is ready to eat. Dinner can’t get easier than that.

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS

Shell the Shrimp at Home

We find shell-on shrimp to be firmer and sweeter than already peeled shrimp. To peel shrimp, break the shell under the swimming legs, which will come off as the shell is removed.

Remove the Vein

The vein that runs along the back of the shrimp doesn’t affect flavor but it doesn’t look appetizing. To remove it, use a paring knife or seafood scissors to make a shallow cut along the back of the shrimp to expose the vein. Use the tip of the blade to lift out the vein and discard it by wiping the vein against a paper towel.

Cook in Batches

If the pan is overcrowded, the shrimp will steam instead of sear. It is crucial to arrange the shrimp in a single even layer to allow for the best contact with the pan and so they cook all at once. We find that 1½ pounds of shrimp (enough for four servings) are best cooked in two batches. Since the shrimp cook really fast and are seared on only one side, a smoking-hot pan is essential.

Count on Residual Heat

This recipe makes use of residual heat twice to prevent the shrimp from overcooking. Once the shrimp are seared on the first side, take the pan off the heat and turn them (using tongs). Allow the shrimp to cook for another 30 seconds before transferring them to a bowl. The second batch is cooked the same way—seared on the first side, then taken off the heat and cooked on the second side. When this batch is done, return the first batch and the sauce to the pan and throw the cover on. Letting all of the shrimp sit for another minute or so ensures that both batches of shrimp are warm and ready to eat. The heat also distributes the sauce evenly.

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Yes, peeling and deveining the shrimp is a pain but they cook in a flash.

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Pan-Seared Shrimp

SERVES 4

RECIPE DETAILS

Timeline

  • 20 minutes to thaw, peel, and devein shrimp
  • 5 minutes to cook shrimp in batches and heat with sauce

Essential Tools

  • 12-inch skillet with lid (Either a nonstick or a traditional skillet will work for this recipe, but a nonstick will simplify cleanup.)
  • Tongs to flip shrimp one at a time

Substitutions & Variations

  • We like to use extra-large shrimp in this recipe, 21 to 25 shrimp per pound. Smaller or larger shrimp can be used; just be sure to adjust the cooking time as needed.
  • For other sauce ideas, try a few tablespoons of salsa verde, chimichurri, or even barbecue sauce. Or try another type of compound butter, using fresh herbs of your choice, lime or orange juice (add some grated zest if you like) instead of lemon, and a little minced shallot, scallion, or ginger in place of the garlic.

We recommend buying shell-on frozen shrimp. Almost all the “fresh” shrimp sold in supermarkets has been frozen and you might as well control the thawing process at home to ensure optimal results. (And forget about peeled shrimp—it loses a lot of flavor and moisture so you’re best doing this at home, too.) Simply place the frozen shrimp in a colander under cold running water and let the water run until they are soft enough to peel and devein. If you want to plan ahead, you can thaw frozen shrimp overnight in the refrigerator.

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1½ pounds extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon sugar

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until just smoking. Meanwhile, toss shrimp, salt, pepper, and sugar in medium bowl. Add half of shrimp to pan in single layer and cook until spotty brown and edges turn pink, about 1 minute. Off heat, flip each shrimp using tongs and allow shrimp to continue to cook in skillet until all but very center is opaque, about 30 seconds. Transfer shrimp to large plate. Repeat with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and remaining shrimp. After second batch has cooked off heat, return first batch to skillet and toss to combine. Cover skillet and let sit until shrimp are cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

PAN-SEARED SHRIMP WITH GARLIC-LEMON BUTTER

Beat 3 tablespoons softened unsalted butter with fork in small bowl until light and fluffy. Stir in 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 minced garlic clove, and ⅛ teaspoon salt until combined. Add butter mixture to skillet when returning first batch of shrimp to skillet. Serve with lemon wedges if desired.

PAN-SEARED SHRIMP WITH GINGER-HOISIN GLAZE

Stir together 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger, 2 teaspoons water, 1½ teaspoons soy sauce, and 2 scallions, sliced thin, in small bowl. Substitute ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes for pepper and add hoisin mixture to skillet when returning first batch of shrimp to skillet.

PAN-SEARED SHRIMP WITH CHIPOTLE-LIME GLAZE

Stir together 2 tablespoons lime juice, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, 1½ teaspoons minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce plus 2 teaspoons adobo sauce, and 4 teaspoons packed brown sugar in small bowl. Add chipotle mixture to skillet when returning first batch of shrimp to skillet.

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