December 7, 2018
The Least Stressful Way to Cook a Lot of Shrimp

It involves cooking, cooling, and storing in a plastic bag.

Most recipes for poaching shrimp go something like this: You boil water with some salt, lemon juice, maybe a bay leaf. You dump your raw, deveined shrimp into this flavorful little bath, and watch, adrenaline pumping, for about 2 1/2 minutes as they turn from translucent little creatures into opaque pink curls. Then you leap across the kitchen to dump these expensive little guys into a large ice bath in the hope that they won’t overcook in their own lingering heat.

With shrimp, the margin of error can be pretty small. If you get distracted for 30 seconds, or if you forget to have your ice bath ready and waiting, they will overcook and turn out tough and rubbery. Ruining the whole thing is as easy as wandering into the other room to turn the music up, or responding to an email. But if you have 15 minutes and a sous vide circulator, there’s a much more forgiving way that will keep that $30 worth of seafood out of harm’s way.

In her latest book, Sous Vide Made Simple, Lisa Q. Fetterman shares this as the key to tender shrimp cocktails and garlicky shrimp pastas. As Fetterman writes, “Shrimp is highly sensitive to heat and goes from raw to rubbery in a matter of minutes.” But by lowering and closely controlling the heat with a circulator, you can slow down the cooking process and pretty much eliminate the possibility of overcooking them.

With your circulator set to 140°F, the shrimp will be cooked within 15 minutes, but leaving them in the warm water for an extra 10 minutes is totally fine. Even if your shrimp are on the plump side (or on the shrimpy side), they’ll be cooked consistently, all the way through. Once you’ve removed the plastic bag from the warm water, you can just transfer the whole bag to an ice bath, and from there, you can stick the whole bag in the fridge until you’re ready to use them (they’ll be good refrigerated for up to a week).

If you decide to make a party-size shrimp cocktail and sidestep the flavorless, limp grocery store tray, you can cook a few pounds of shrimp at once without affecting the cook time. Two pounds will fit in a one-gallon bag (if you’re making more, just distribute them into a couple separate bags). “Just be sure to arrange them in a single layer with as little overlap as possible to ensure even cooking,” says Fetterman.

Since there is no direct heat touching the shrimp during sous vide, avoiding caramelization, the method works best as a replacement for poaching. If you want a sear, cook in a pan. Rather than flavoring your poaching liquid, you season your shrimp with a little salt before putting them into the vacuum bag. If you’re ultimately incorporating them into a warm dish (like Fetterman’s gumbo or garlicky shrimp linguine), just add them at the very end and give them about a minute in the warm pan to heat through.

Straight out of the refrigerator, you can tuck the shrimp into summer rolls full of vermicelli and fresh herbs. You can turn them into James Beard’s very retro shrimp butter by chopping them into some softened butter with a little bit of diced onion and parsley. Or you can dig up some vintage issues of Martha Stewart and construct your own shrimp cocktail tower out of nesting bowls filled with ice.


  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined (approximately 16 to 20), with the tails left on if desired
  • Salt

With an immersion circulator at your disposal, you can control the temperature of the water bath so you don’t need advanced culinary training to prepare shrimp flawlessly. After discovering how easy it is to make juicy, firm-yet-tender shrimp using the gentle, precise heat of sous vide, you’ll never go back to settling for a lackluster seafood cocktail or sad takeout lo mein again.

Best of all, shrimp cooked in this method takes only about 15 minutes, so you can easily prep the rest of the ingredients in the spin-off recipes, like my not-exactly-traditional gumbo or a garlicky scampi-style linguine, while they’re bobbing away merrily in the bath. Even when prepared ahead of time, you never have to worry about the shrimp turning tough in the final dish—all they need is a minute or two of heat to gently warm through before serving.

  1. Preheat the water bath to 60°C (140°F).
  2. Season the shrimp lightly with salt and place in a 1-gallon freezer-safe ziplock bag or a vacuum-seal bag. Arrange the shrimp in a single layer with as little overlap as possible to ensure even cooking. Seal the bag using either the water displacement method or a vacuum sealer.
  3. When the water reaches the target temperature, lower the bagged shrimp in the water bath (making sure the bag is fully submerged) and cook for 15 minutes (or up to 25 minutes).
  4. Remove the bag from the water bath, transfer it to an ice water bath, and chill until completely cold, about 10 minutes. Once cooked and chilled, the shrimp can be refrigerated in the bag for up to 1 week.
  5. Alternatively, if you plan on using the just-cooked shrimp in a spin-off recipe right away, let them rest in the bag at room temperature for at least 10 minutes or up to 1 hour before proceeding.


  • Cocktail Sauce
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon horseradish, freshly grated or prepared
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-2 teaspoon Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 MASTER RECIPE Shrimp, just cooked and chilled or straight from the fridge chilled
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley, for garnish

Shrimp cocktail is a dish familiar to almost everyone, but it very rarely dazzles. No amount of cocktail sauce, no matter how punchy or delicious it is, will manage to completely cover up the flaws of unremarkable or overcooked shrimp. The succulent tender texture and pure flavor of shrimp cooked sous vide makes for unbeatable cocktail shrimp, and my zippy version of a classic cocktail sauce serves to enhance, rather than distract from that. If you haven’t already cooled the shrimp in the ice bath, refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

  1. Chill four to six cocktail glasses in the refrigerator for at least at least 30 minutes.
  2. MAKE THE COCKTAIL SAUCE: Combine the ketchup, horseradish, mustard, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and black pepper in a medium bowl and whisk to mix well. Divide the sauce evenly among the chilled martini glasses.
  3. Remove the chilled shrimp from the bag using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate, and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. Discard the liquid in the bag.
  4. Divide the shrimp among the cocktail sauce–filled martini glasses, arranging each shrimp so that it hangs over the lip of the glass, tail facing outward. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve immediately.


  • Salt
  • 1 pound linguine
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 tablespoon minced pickled hot cherry peppers or a generous pinch of red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 MASTER RECIPE Shrimp, just cooked or straight from the fridge
  • Zest of 1⁄2 lemon, finely grated
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley, plus additional for garnish
  • ¼ cup coarsely grated ricotta salata or queso fresco, for garnish (optional)

I based this recipe on the paradoxically named shrimp scampi—paradoxical because scampi is actually the Italian word for langoustine, or Norway lobster, a different type of crustacean altogether. In practice, the name refers to an Italian-American dish of shrimp cooked in a garlicky sauce featuring white wine and butter and typically served over pasta. This combination is a winner no matter what you want to call it—it’s easy enough for a weekday but decadent enough for entertaining.

While combining cheese and seafood is generally frowned upon in Italian cuisine, I think the mildness of ricotta salata (literally “salted ricotta”) complements the shrimp nicely. The pickled hot cherry peppers—available at most Italian markets—are also an unconventional touch, but worth seeking out, as they add a nice pop of heat and acidity. Leftover pickled peppers are a great add-on for pizzas, salads, or a salumi platter.

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season generously with salt. Cook the linguine to al dente according to the package instructions.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until the butter is melted and just begins to bubble. Add the garlic and pickled cherry peppers and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and sizzling, making sure the garlic doesn’t brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine to the pan and simmer until reduced in half, about 2 minutes.
  3. Remove the chilled shrimp from the bag and transfer them, along with any liquid in the bag, to the pan. Return the mixture to a simmer and cook for 1 minute or just until the shrimp are fully heated, then immediately remove from the heat. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter along with the lemon zest, lemon juice, and black pepper. Season with additional salt to taste.
  4. Drain the cooked pasta in a colander and transfer it to a large bowl. Add the shrimp and the 1⁄4 cup of chopped parsley and toss lightly to coat the pasta. Sprinkle with the ricotta salata and additional parsley and serve immediately.

Anna Hezel

Anna Hezel is the senior editor of TASTE.