Learn how to cook shrimp on the stovetop like a pro! Don’t walk away, these bite-sized crustaceans require your full attention because they cook fast. Check out more of my tips for succulent seafood every time.
Aside from the sweet and briny flavor of shrimp, it’s quick cook-time and various types make it an appealing ingredient for the weeknight dinner rotation. There are just a few nuances to look out for when they start to sizzle in the pan. Paying attention to these delicate crustaceans will ensure that each dish is perfectly cooked.
One of the easiest ways to prepare shrimp is in a skillet. You just need a little bit of hot oil and they’ll fully cook in less than five minutes, or less depending on the size. If you’re ready to learn, I’m going to show you how to rapidly defrost frozen pieces, prepare it for cooking, and a foolproof recipe for mouthwatering shrimp.
Frozen shrimp is better
Most local grocery stores sell defrosted shrimp. Although this might seem convenient, once it’s no longer frozen, the quality and texture start to decline. After sitting for a few days it becomes mushy and that’s why it tends to go on sale.
My personal preference is to buy individually quick frozen (IQF) pieces that are sold in 1 to 2-pound bags. They’re frozen shortly after being harvested and will have the freshest taste. To defrost, simply add the needed quantity into a colander and run under cold water until they’re no longer solid, about 3 minutes.
Clean and devein
For the recipe below, you need to peel and devein the shrimp if it’s not already. The process to clean and remove the digestive tract is fairly easy. If you prefer, you can still leave the shells on, but just make sure to remove the vein.
Dry the surface thoroughly
After draining as much water as possible from the colander place the raw shrimp on a sheet pan lined with paper towels. Pat each shrimp dry with more paper until the surfaces are no longer wet.
Whether your rinsing store-bought shrimp or just defrosted, make sure to dry the surface thoroughly before cooking. This is important as a dry surface ensures the proper sear in the hot oil which will create more browning flavor. If still partially wet, you’ll get unwanted steam instead.
Seasonings to enhance the flavor
At a minimum, season the shrimp with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. This allows the briny and lightly sweet flavor to shine. However, if you want to ratchet up the flavor, I recommend adding fresh minced garlic, spicy red pepper flakes, or smoked paprika. You can also sprinkle fresh herbs like chopped parsley and serve with lemon wedges to squeeze on top.
Cooking shrimp on the stovetop
Heat a large cast iron pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and once that begins to shimmer then add the shrimp making sure they’re in a single layer for even cooking.
Once they start to change color and turn pink on the bottom, about 2 to 3 minutes, quickly flip them over. Finish cooking until the pieces are pink, opaque, and loosely curled, another 1 to 2 minutes.
Don’t leave them in the skillet!
Shrimp can quickly overcook if left unattended in the skillet, even with the heat turned off. This is due to the residual retained heat in the pan, causing additional carryover cooking. Instead, immediately transfer them to a serving bowl or platter.
How to tell when shrimp is done cooking
- The meat will change from translucent to opaque.
- Look for the thickest part of the shrimp (closest to the head) to turn opaque.
- Fully cooked pieces will be pinkish in color, typically from gray to pink depending on the type of shrimp.
- The muscle will curl into a loose “C” shape. If it becomes a tight “O”, it’s overcooked.
- When the internal temperature of the thickest part reaches 140ºF (60ºC), it’s ready.
Keep an eye on the color change
Shrimp is easy to cook because the visual cues are obvious, especially the color. It can turn from whitish gray to pink in seconds. That’s because when the muscle proteins denature from heat, a pigment called astaxanthin is released and transforms into a pink color. This begins to happen when the internal temperature hits 120ºF (49ºC).
How to Cook Shrimp on the Stovetop
- 1 pound (454 g) shrimp, 16/20 count size, peeled and deveined
- 2 tablespoon (30 ml) olive oil , divided
- ½ teaspoon (3 g) kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon minced parsley
- 4 lemon wedges
- If using frozen shrimp, defrost in the refrigerator overnight. For quick-defrosting, place shrimp in a colander and run cold water over until no longer icy, about 3 minutes.
- Thoroughly drain and pat the shrimp dry using paper towels.
- In a medium bowl combine shrimp, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt, and pepper.
- Heat a 12-inch skillet or cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, once hot, add the shrimp in a single layer.
- Cook without moving until they turn pinkish on the bottom and just starts to curl, about 2 minutes.
- Quickly flip and cook until pink, translucent, and curled into a loose “C” shape, about 1 minute. Immediately transfer to a serving dish to prevent overcooking.
- Garnish shrimp with parsley and serve with lemon wedges.