This delicious shrimp alfredo recipe is one of my favorite Italian seafood dishes. The creamy sauce is easy to make with only five ingredients, and it clings perfectly to fork twirls of fettuccine pasta.
Table of Contents
Fettuccine alfredo is a classic Italian dish with long strands of pasta tossed in a creamy white sauce. The recipe is easy to customize. As such, my family loves chicken alfredo, but for this meal, I switched up the protein by adding big pieces of sauteed shrimp. The quick-cooking seafood only takes a few minutes for a fast and flavorful dinner.
To maximize the flavor, I saute the shrimp first to prevent them from getting tough and rubbery. I also use the briny juices left in the pan to make the alfredo sauce. Combined with a few simple pantry ingredients, the heavy cream reduces until thick enough to stick to the pasta.
Fettuccine is the most popular type of pasta to use with heavier sauces like alfredo. The pasta looks like a ribbon, flat and about ¼-inch thick wide. This shape gives more surface area for the sauce to cling to and coat, a great choice if you enjoy heartier bites. If you want a thinner option, give linguine a try.
Cooking the pasta
A half a pound of dry pasta doesn’t look like it can make at least four servings, but it will. When the starches hydrate and expand, eight ounces yields about four cups of fettuccine. I always season the water with salt when cooking pasta. The salt ensures well-seasoned, flavorful noodles, not just the sauce.
Cook until just past al dente. You don’t want the broader noodles tasting too chewy in the center. Reserve the starchy pasta water for later. I use it to thin out the sauce at the end of cooking.
You can use different types of shrimp, such as white, pink, or red argentine, for a more lobster-like flavor. Purchase large varieties that will give two to three bites per piece. I recommend 16/20 count size, which is pieces per pound.
I prefer to buy individually quick frozen (IQF) shrimp right after harvesting for the freshest taste. Often the thawed selection in the grocery store sits out for an unknown time and could develop a strong odor.
Cook the shrimp
I season the shrimp with olive oil, salt, and pepper since it already has a slightly sweet and briny taste. It doesn’t need much else. I leave the tails intact as the shells add flavor to the cooking oil while it sears. However, you can remove them if you prefer. The proteins in this type of crustacean cook fast! Use a large skillet so they can cook in a single layer.
It only takes about two minutes per side, so don’t walk away from the stove. Once the shrimp turn pink and opaque, transfer them to a plate to halt the cooking process. You may see golden bits stuck to the pan or some juices. Don’t toss that extra flavor! I use the same pan and whisk in those bits to make the sauce even tastier.
How to make alfredo sauce
I use my alfredo sauce recipe for this dish which contains five simple ingredients; cream, cheese, butter, garlic, and nutmeg. I start with sauteing minced garlic in butter as the savory and spicy allium adds depth to the dairy-based sauce. Heavy whipping cream creates a rich, velvety texture. Use a variety containing a minimum of 36% fat, which adds body and does not curdle as quickly as lower fat products.
Stir continuously while scraping the bottom and sides of the pan to keep the sauce smooth. The cream will reduce by concentrating the fat into a thicker consistency. The sauce should be able to coat the back of a spoon when done.
Add fresh cheese
Aged cheese like parmesan or pecorino romano adds nutty and fermented notes to the alfredo sauce. I use freshly and finely grated parmesan cheese, then stir it into the cream off the heat. I find that fresh melts better compared to pre-shredded. Packaged products may be drier or have a starch coating to prevent them from sticking together, taking longer to dissolve.
Wait to add this spice
When I worked at an Italian restaurant in college, the chef gave me a handy tip. A little bit of grated nutmeg added to cream sauces or fillings adds a hint of sweet baked aromas and flavors. You’ll be delightfully surprised how much it transforms the smell and taste of the sauce. Stir it in at the very end of cooking so it retains as much fragrance as possible.
To thin the sauce
You have the chance to adjust the sauce texture with the hot pasta water. Just whisk in a tablespoon at a time to get a pourable consistency that will still stick to the pasta. I typically add about ¼ cup, depending on how much cream has been reduced.
Toss the hot fettuccine in the sauce, then serve each plate with several pieces of shrimp on top. I always garnish with chopped parsley or basil for a pop of color and freshness.
Serve this with
- Garden salad with balsamic vinaigrette
- A classic Caesar salad
- Crunchy garlic bread
- Rosemary focaccia
- Puff pastry cheese straws
White sauce like bechamel is made with roux, butter, and flour to thicken milk or cream-based sauces. Alfredo sauce is thickened by a reduction on the stovetop that concentrates the fat and milk solids for added viscosity.
Heavy cream, also called heavy whipping cream depending on the brand, is at least 36% fat. General whipping cream is about 30 to 36% fat, which will give a slightly lighter sauce but is the best replacement.
If you want a lower fat sauce, you can use whole milk or half and half. Instead of reducing the sauce, add 1 ½ tablespoon of flour to the butter after sauteeing the garlic, then slowly whisk in the milk and heat until thickened. Alternatively, you can add 2 ¼ teaspoons of cornstarch mixed with 4 ½ teaspoons of water, then whisk it into the simmering milk—double the amount of thickening agent for a heavier consistency.
Don’t throw away the pasta water!
When you look at the pot of hot liquid leftover after cooking pasta, you’ll find it white and opaque. Those are the wheat starches that have been released into the water. When added to the creamy alfredo sauce, it can help thin it out and create a more velvety consistency. I always salt the water, so it will further season the sauce.
Pin this recipe to save for laterPin This
- 1 pound shrimp, 16/20 count size, peeled and deveined
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- ¾ teaspoon black pepper, divided
- 3 quarts water
- 8 ounces fettuccine
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 ½ cup heavy whipping cream, or heavy cream
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, for garnish
- 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, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Set aside.
- In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Add 1 ½ teaspoons salt, stir to dissolve. Add the pasta and cook until just past al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes, or according to the manufacturer’s directions—transfer pasta to a colander to drain. Do not discard the pasta water. While the noodles are cooking, make the shrimp and alfredo sauce.
- Heat a 12-inch skillet 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 start to curl, about 2 minutes. Quickly flip and cook until pink, translucent, and curled into a loose “C” shape, about 1 to 2 minutes. Immediately transfer to a clean plate and cover to keep warm—Reserve the pan to make the sauce.
- To make the sauce, heat the same skillet used to cook the shrimp over medium-low heat. Add the butter. Once melted, add the garlic and saute until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Do not brown the butter or garlic. Add the cream, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper, stir to combine. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a spoon to incorporate any browned bits.
- Bring the cream to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, frequently stirring, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan to make sure the cream does not curdle. Reduce the sauce to about 1 cup, about 10 to 12 minutes. The sauce should be slightly thickened, coating the back of a spoon.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese and nutmeg. If the sauce is too thick, add in some of the hot pasta water a few tablespoons at a time until the desired consistency is reached. I typically use a ¼ cup of liquid.
- Add the pasta to the sauce, gently tossing to combine.
- Divide the pasta among bowls, top with shrimp, and some parsley.
- Recipe Yield: 6 cups
- Serving Size: 1 ½ cups
- Storing: Cool completely and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Reheat: Cover and microwave individual portions in 30-second intervals, stirring in between until pasta and shrimp is hot.
Want to save this recipe?
Create an account easily save your favorite content, so you never forget a recipe again.
Tried this recipe?
Tag @jessica_gavin on Instagram. I'd love to see how it turns out!