Shrimp is the most popular seafood in the U.S., representing more than a quarter of the seafood that America eats in a year. But, sometimes, it's incredible variety can make it an intimidating ingredient to buy. You can find dozens of species, different sizes, preparations that are deveined or not, pre-cooked options and more. And that's not even delving into the confusion surrounding prawns versus shrimp. If you're looking to explore the world of shrimp, Food & Wine's guide will teach you about all the delicious ways to prepare it.

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Venetian Shrimp with Polenta

Years ago, while appearing with the Royal Shakespeare Co. in London, I had a week off and decided a treat was in order. Charlie, my other half, met me in London, and we took a ridiculously cheap flight to Italy. Of course Venice was on the agenda, and especially a restaurant recommended by all of my friends at Food & Wine—Osteria Alle Testiere. Upon arrival, we tried to book a reservation, but no luck. I was crushed, but I was in Venice, so I couldn’t really feel that bad. We took the advice of friends who were seasoned Venice visitors and let ourselves get lost. I believe that’s the only way to see Venice. It was magical. And then, late in the afternoon, we somehow found ourselves outside the shuttered doors of Alle Testiere. I started to feel sorry for myself again, and when I turned to share my sorrow with Charlie, he was nowhere to be found. And then I saw him, on his hands and knees, crawling underneath the metal security gate! As I watched in horror ... nothing happened. I waited, sure that he was about to be arrested. Then he appeared, slithering out from under the gate, looking both a mess and immensely pleased with himself. If we agreed to eat very, very early, and to not linger endlessly after our meal, they graciously agreed to let us be the first customers that night. We raced back to our hotel, showered, changed, and raced back. We then proceeded to have one of the best meals we’ve ever had. I had Schie con Polenta: tiny Venetian brine shrimp with white wine and garlic served over soft polenta. It was a meal and an evening I will never forget, thanks both to Charlie and a wonderful restaurant crew. Since flying to Venice for dinner isn’t possible for most of us, this magical meal is easy to, if not replicate, at least approximate. I say that because I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to find the famous Venetian gray brine shrimp stateside. These shrimp are seriously tiny and sweet. But we all have access to great shrimp at our fishmongers. All you need to do is make a batch of polenta, which isn’t hard at all; it just requires some stirring. And while the polenta simmers away, all you’ll need to do is cook some garlic and white wine and stock, add butter, and, literally two minutes (at most) before you want to serve, toss in the shrimp. The cardinal sin when preparing shrimp is overcooking them, so cook until they’re mostly pink, then toss in the butter, the lemon zest, and about half of the parsley. The remaining moments of heat while you plate is enough to finish the cooking. Complete the picture with the rest of the parsley, and let yourself dream of canals, and San Marco, and the Rialto, and … ah, La Serenissima!
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Mexican Shrimp Cocktail with Saffron

A funny thing happens when you marry a pata salada (Spanish for salty foot—the endearing nickname given to people who are raised on the beaches of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco): You become a mariscos snob. Since meeting my wife Paola, my seafood consumption has spiked to near-ridiculous levels. Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep up with her Neptune-like appetite for anything from the sea. As a result, I can tell you if a shrimp cocktail is made properly or not. Meaning, if the broth is made from scratch with shrimp shells and aromatics versus just throwing a bunch of tomato cocktail mix, ketchup, and hot sauces together in a bowl. Coctél de camarón (you may know it as Mexican shrimp cocktail) has a special place in our life. It has become our welcome meal as soon as we land in Puerto Vallarta, usually famished. We arrive at Paola’s family’s home where a bowl of her mother’s replenishing coctél awaits. It always starts off our trip to paradise on the right foot. One day back home in Los Angeles, I called my mother-in-law and asked her to coach me through her coctél process to surprise Paola. (She was mad at me that day, and I needed all the help I could get to get out of the doghouse!) The idea was to surprise her with one of our favorite dishes that we associate with so many great memories. While the shrimp shells were simmering away to make the broth, I spotted our Spanish saffron container out of the corner of my eye and figured, what the hell? I grabbed a fat pinch of the stuff and added it to the broth. As the broth chilled to room temperature—the way to properly eat a Mexican coctél de camarón, so you can taste all of the delicate flavors and fresh shrimp—I took a sip, and my eyes grew big. It was so good. Her mother’s coctél is perfect as-is, but with a pinch of Spanish saffron, it became a revelatory experience. It did the trick and we forgot what we argued about after a couple of big spoonfuls. In this recipe, Paola amplifies the flavor even more by charring the vegetables a bit before using them to build an umami-filled stock. Combined with the saucy shrimp and all the cucumber, tomato, onion, cilantro, and avocado, this dish is suitable for a complete lunch. Eat it with some good tostadas or saltine crackers to complete the Puerto Vallarta experience.
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Chile-Glazed Shrimp with
 Herbs and Rice Noodles

Slowly grilling head-on shrimp while basting with a garlic- and chile-infused nuoc cham yields tender, juicy shrimp in this recipe from Hong Tran, of the restaurant Hai San Ba Cuong in Da Nang, Vietnam. Served as a main course on a salad of rice noodles and herbs, they are also fun as an appetizer served with Salt-and-Pepper Limes for squeezing. Vietnam has excellent shrimp in a dozen sizes, and this recipe accentuates their sweetness and tender texture. For the best approximation of Vietnamese shrimp, look for Gulf shrimp, which are large and tender.
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Shrimp Burgers

A lip-smacking rendezvous between a po’boy and a burger, this sandwich is the perfect remedy for burger fatigue as well as a godsend for meat-missing pescatarians. Far from a crab cake on a bun, this hearty shrimp patty stars big chunks of shrimp held together without an over-the-top amount of breading. Our secret: blitzing half of the shrimp in the food processor. Old Bay Seasoning delivers classic shrimp boil flavor; try your favorite Cajun seasoning for a nod to this burger’s po’boy roots. For extra credit and for those non-pescatarians, cook a few slices of bacon first, then reserve 2 tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat to cook off the burgers in lieu of using butter. Serve with a handful of crispy kettle-fried chips and your favorite beer.
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Shrimp Parmigiana

Crispy, bubbly, cheesy, hearty—this classic shrimp parm checks all the Italian-American comfort-food boxes. If you grew up showering your plate with a snowfall of canned Parmesan cheese, we get you—nostalgia is a judgement-free zone. We get you back there in a gourmet way by pulsing the good stuff—aged Parmigiano-Reggiano—in the food processor until it yields drifts of savory, cheesy rubble. Mixed into the shrimp breading and blanketing the finished dish, it provides a major flavor upgrade. If you’d like a shortcut, you can use store-bought marinara (we love Rao’s). But trust us—our Best-Ever Marinara comes together in just over half an hour, and its perfectly balanced flavor will transform any recipe you add it to, from pizza to lasagna. It freezes beautifully, too.
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The Snappiest Shrimp

Head-on shrimp are a crowd-pleasing centerpiece, but are easy to overcook and a pain to peel at the table. To make it easier, brine raw shrimp in a slushy solution of sea salt and baking soda. Alkaline baking soda slightly alters the pH of the shrimp, making them as plump and succulent as lobster and resistant to overcooking. The brine also causes the meat to pull away from the shells while cooking, so you get all the great flavor of shell-on shrimp without the hassle.
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More Shrimp

Grilled Gulf Shrimp with 
Comeback Sauce

Comeback sauce, a Southern condiment traditionally served with fried seafood, makes its way west in this dish from Voyager in Ferndale, Michigan. They pair the sauce with smoky peel-and-eat shrimp that are marinated overnight with garlic and Old Bay seasoning before hitting the grill. Slideshow: More Shrimp Recipes
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Buttery Cast-Iron Shrimp with Winter Salad

Shrimp are seared and glazed in chipotle-honey butter in this warm seasonal salad from chef JJ Johnson. He serves the shrimp over gently sautéed radicchio and endive, which mellows their bitter edge without losing their color or delicate crunch. Slideshow: More Shrimp Recipes
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Maine Shrimp Roll

A shrimp roll—or crispy, golden shrimp piled high on a buttered, griddled, and tartar sauce–slathered bun—is a classic way to enjoy some of our state’s favorite seafood. Serve with lemon wedges, pickles, and chips and call it a day. Reprinted from The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine. Copyright © 2017 by Erin French. Photographs copyright © 2017 by Nicole Franzen. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC. Slideshow: More Shrimp Recipes