This convenient protein is the savvy shortcut you should definitely be taking advantage of. 

Photo: Romulo Yanes; Styling: Lindsey Lower

Boiled (and usually peeled) shrimp with a side of cocktail sauce is a ubiquitous summer finger food that’s easy to serve at just about any warm-weather gathering. It takes little effort to prepare and most people (barring those with shellfish allergies) tend to enjoy the simple appetizer. However, simple boiled shrimp have far more potential beyond being a classic and classy snack; in fact, the precooked shrimp you can pick up at the grocery store offers ample possibilities for quick, everyday meals.

Basic boiled shrimp—which can be chilled and peeled for a classic shrimp cocktail—involves cooking fresh shrimp in a seasoned cooking liquid. The cooking liquid typically includes water, lemon juice, black peppercorns, bay leaves, garlic, and salt. Once the liquid comes to a boil, it is reduced to a simmer and whole shrimp is simmered in the liquid for about 2-3 minutes. When the shrimp turn pink, it is then removed from the pot and shocked in an ice bath to stop the cooking process. From there you can peel the shrimp and eat as is.

This method is simple enough, but it’s also a bit easier (and for many, less intimidating) to purchase shrimp that have already been cooked—in a bag from the freezer section, by the pound at the seafood counter, or even in the form of a cocktail shrimp ring—at the grocery store. It’s a simple, savvy supermarket shortcut that a busy home cook should feel absolutely no shame in utilizing. Prepared shrimp, particularly the frozen options that are already peeled (we suggest looking for tails-on, though) seriously cuts down on the time that you would spend on tasks such as peeling, deveining, and even bringing the poaching liquid to a boil, which makes throwing together these easy-to-assemble dishes all the more manageable. Here are 4 ways to integrate store-bought “cocktail” shrimp into delicious meals that you won’t mind putting together.

Toss into a salad or grain bowl.

Tossing boiled (and thawed if necessary) shrimp in a leafy green salad or grain is an easy meal prep hack to keep in mind. Bonus: Because this use is best consumed chilled anyway, you won’t have to worry about being the one at the office with smelly seafood that you warmed up from last night’s dinner. For an extra dash of flavor, toss your shrimp in a dash of a spice blend such as Old Bay seasoning, Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning, or lemon pepper seasoning. You instantly add personality to your salad and it’s a fun/simple way to switch up the flavor profile of your lunches throughout the week.

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Add to soup (hot and cold).

Being that your shrimp are already cooked, you won’t need much heat to warm it through, so no need to thaw frozen shrimp before adding it to a pot of hot soup. The gentle heat from the soup will warm the to shrimp to the perfect temperature without overcooking it into a rubbery state. Just give the shrimp a few minutes in the pot to warm through before serving up your soup. Soups such as a corn chowder, tomato soup, and Coconut-Red Curry Squash Soup would benefit greatly from the addition of a handful of shrimp. If you go with a cold soup, thaw frozen shrimp under running cold water before stirring in. And if you purchased a form of already thawed shrimp, simply stir the chilled shellfish right in. Add to your favorite warm weather soups such as gazpacho, sweet pea soup, or avocado soup.

Make spring rolls and lettuce wraps.

Spring rolls and lettuce are a fun and fresh food to assemble for lunch or to serve as an appetizer to guests. Pack them tight with your favorite fresh vegetables and add in a few shrimp (tails removed) to eat roll/wrap. (Depending on the size of your shrimp, you may want to cut into smaller pieces.) To prepare the spring rolls, purchase 8-inch round rice paper wrappers and individually soak the wrapper in warm water to make them pliable. The wrappers can be filled with sliced carrots, cucumbers, radish, jicama, and cabbage. In terms of the lettuce wraps, butter and bibb lettuce leaves are solid options to go with.

Bulk up cold pasta and noodle dishes.

Precooked shrimp are ideal for easy chilled noodles dishes. A pasta salad is a great place to mix in a handful of cooked shrimp, especially in flavorful recipes such as a pesto pasta salad, Broccoli, Grape, and Pasta Salad, and Orzo Salad with Zucchini and Feta. You have the flexibility to play around with different types of noodles and flavor profiles, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Soba noodle dishes are often served chilled and adding your handy shrimp to a well-dressed bowl of noodles is the perfect way to incorporate protein.