Shrimp. Shrimpies. Skrimps. Whatever cute name you may have for them, they are a tasty crowd-pleaser. This easy recipe for garlic butter shrimp is so tasty and versatile that it has quickly become one of my go-to methods for an easy seafood dinner. The butter and garlic are rich and delicious, but a small hit of lime keeps everything lively and bright. Give it a try!
Theoretically, this is an adaptation of a recipe I did for a cookbook version of Mexican camarones al mojo de ajo (shrimp in garlic butter sauce), but that recipe itself was a flagrantly loose (and over-complicated) interpretation. There are many variations out there, but I'm not sure if that cookbook version still qualifies. Some recipes call for marinating the shrimp in garlic, some don't. Most are simply cooking shrimp in a pan full of garlic sauteed in a generous amount of butter, sometimes finished with herbs.
There are two particularly nice things about this dish. First, it is incredibly tasty even at its most simple. Second, it is an excellent springboard for improvisation. For example, swapping out the herbs depending on what I'm serving it with.
- Garlic Butter Shrimp: The Shrimp!
- Garlic for Your Garlic Butter Sauce
- Extras: Adding Chilies and Herbs to Your Garlic Shrimp
- Getting a Good Sear without Overcooking your Shrimp
- Helpful Tips for Garlic Butter Shrimp
- Looking for more pescatarian recipes? You might like these!
- Garlic Butter Shrimp with Chilies and Herbs
Garlic Butter Shrimp: The Shrimp!
Size doesn't matter here, but take note of the size you end up using and how it compares to the size called for in the recipe. If using bigger or smaller, adjust cook times up or down accordingly.
When buying frozen shrimp, look for brands that don't add anything extra. It's common to see added preservatives and other ingredients to retain moisture, which allows brands to sell smaller shrimp as bigger shrimp. Rude! It also means you'll end up with soggy shrimp--that extra moisture wants to escape, and it will prevent good browning when it does.
Garlic for Your Garlic Butter Sauce
One of the holdovers from my cookbook recipe is quick-roasting the garlic. You don't need roasted garlic to make camarones al mojo de ajo, but the slightly sweet and nutty flavor of roasted garlic is objectively lovely.
I like to throw whole, unpeeled cloves of garlic into my skillet to toast while I prep the rest of my ingredients. An occasional turn to promote even browning is all they need, and when you're done you have garlic with deeper, softer notes than raw will give you.
Extras: Adding Chilies and Herbs to Your Garlic Shrimp
Another holdover is the chilies. You don't need them, but they can add a nice bit of easy, extra flavor. I list them as optional in the recipe, so just know that your shrimp will be delicious regardless of whether you include them.
The herbs are the perfect way to nudge your final flavors in a certain direction. Cilantro is perfect if you're making tacos. Dill and/or parsley would be great for a more Mediterranean vibe. Keep in mind that just because a dish's origins are from one geography doesn't mean it can't be paired with recipes inspired by other regions or countries! Use technique as a guide to play with flavor!
Getting a Good Sear without Overcooking your Shrimp
I personally really like the flavor of seared, golden-brown shrimp. Unfortunately, it's easy to over-cook shrimp, especially when using higher heat levels. My go-to way of avoiding the dreaded rubber texture while still achieving a delightfully seared flavor is to only sear one side.
When you add your shrimp to the pan, let them cook without fussing over them. They'll cook most of the way through on that one side, and develop a gorgeous sear. To finish cooking through, just give them a few quick stirs, until the un-seared sides have turned light pink and opaque. It only takes a few seconds!
Helpful Tips for Garlic Butter Shrimp
"Is buying frozen or fresh shrimp better?"
Broadly speaking, frozen is better. The "fresh" shrimp you see behind fish counters are often thawed from frozen anyway, which means there have been more opportunities for them to sit at sub-optimal temperatures. The biggest exception to this rule is if you have access to truly fresh, live shrimp.
"Can I make this dairy-free?"
Sure, use vegan butter and go to town! You can also use a neutral oil, but I wouldn't suggest more robust oils like extra-virgin olive oil. It can get bitter and be overwhelming.
"Why don't you cook the shrimp in the sauteed garlic, like other recipes?"
Two reasons: First, I want to sear the shrimp (I like it that way), and using high enough heat to quickly sear would over cook the garlic. Second, after searing there are usually leftover juices and browned bits in the pan. Cooking the garlic in that dirty pan means you get even more browned flavor incorporated into the sauce.
Garlic Butter Shrimp with Chilies and Herbs
- 5 garlic cloves, peel on
- ¾ pound extra-large shrimp, peeled and de-veined, patted dry, 21/25 per pound; leave the tails on if you like
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- Neutral oil, for frying
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 small jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped, Optional
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro, Or your herb of choice
- Step 1While you're prepping the rest of your ingredients, quick-roast the garlic. Heat a medium to large nonstick skillet over medium heat (it doesn't have to be nonstick, but it's tidiest to use the same skillet you plan to cook your shrimp in). Add the garlic cloves, skin still on, to the skillet and let cook without disturbing until the bottom has developed a dark brown spot. Turn each clove and repeat until each side is spotty brown. The whole quick-roasting process will take 5 to 10 minutes depending on your pan. Remove from heat and let cool, then peel and finely chop the garlic.
- Step 2In a medium bowl, toss the shrimp with the garlic powder, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Heat a slosh of oil in your large nonstick skillet over medium-high until just beginning to smoke. Add the shrimp in an even layer and cook without disturbing until deep golden brown, about 2 minutes. Give them a quick stir and cook just until the shrimp are opaque on both sides, another 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl. Allow the pan to cool about 5 minutes, just until no longer sizzling hot. If there are any browned bits in the pan, leave them in.
- Step 3When the pan has cooled, add the butter, finely chopped garlic, lime juice, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is quite soft and beginning to turn golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the jalapeño (if using) and any juices that accumulated at the bottom of the shrimp bowl. Cook another minute or so, until the chilies have softened. Taste and season with salt and pepper, then add the shrimp back in just long enough to reheat them. Remove from heat and add the cilantro.
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