The Secret To Not Overcooking Shrimp

Patience, my friend.

Shrimp Cobb Salad with Bacon Dressing
Photo: Photo: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Missie Neville Crawford; Food Styling: Torie Cox

You don't need a special pot or kitchen gadget to cook shrimp perfectly. (Although a deveiner will help you peel a pile of them quickly). You don't even need to track down a particular variety of shrimp. The secret to shrimp is patience.

I can sense your skepticism. "But shrimp cook in minutes," you say. "Why in the world would you need patience to cook shrimp?"

Yes, shrimp do cook in minutes. That's why they are one of our favorite proteins for fast weeknight meals, and why they are ideal for the high heat of the grill. Grab some shrimp and supper is served before you can even set the table.

But that's one of the reasons shrimp are often overcooked. They cook so quickly—usually in two to three minutes—that they can go from tender to rubbery before you even realize what's happening. The key is to remove them from the heat right when the flesh is uniformly pink, with no brown or greyish-brown spots. Perfectly cooked shrimp generally curl into a loose "C" shape, while overcooked shrimp tend to curl into a tight "C". Tightly curled shrimp are a sure sign of toughness.

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Once those shrimp hit the hot pan (or the grill, or go into the oven), you have to commit to watching them and be ready to pull the pan off of the heat as soon as they turn pink. You can't wander away. You can't scroll through Instagram. You can't leave to go set the table. It can be hard to stand still and focus on a single task for several minutes. It requires patience.

But the payoff is perfectly cooked shrimp.

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