One of the things I love most about shrimp—and the reason I make it often on weeknights—is that it cooks so quickly. But if that is shrimp’s best attribute, it can also be its fatal flaw. It cooks so fast that it’s easy to overcook, and the sad result can be tough, dry shrimp whose sweet goodness has all but vanished. You won’t have that problem in these saucy shrimp sautés, however, because my technique preserves shrimp’s tender interior and boosts its delicate flavor. I start with a good sear and finish with a sauce, which guarantees moist, succulent results every time.
The first trick to a great shrimp sauté is to dry the shrimp well before cooking. Surface moisture is the enemy of browning, causing the seafood to steam instead of sear.
Next tip: Get the pan good and hot. I heat the dry pan on medium high for a minute or two before I even add the oil. Once it’s hot—if you hold your hand above the surface, you’ll feel the heat radiating off it—I add the oil. It will start to shimmer almost immediately, which tells you that the pan is hot enough to start sautéing. Only then do I add the shrimp.
Here are a couple more pointers: Arrange the shrimp in a single layer and don’t fiddle with them once they’re in the pan. It’s tempting to keep tossing them around, but if you leave them alone for a couple of minutes, they’ll brown better.
To turn these shrimp sautés into a more complete meal, I use the same pan to prepare an intensely flavored sauce with a vegetable or two, some broth, an acidic liquid for a little tang, and perhaps a touch of spice for excitement. Bring this to a boil and return the shrimp to the pan. It’ll take just a minute or two for them to pick up the flavors of the sauce and cook to a perfect doneness.