Weeknight Cooking

The Fastest Way to a Shrimp Dinner (+ a Perky Green Sauce to Brighten It)

June 30, 2016

Thien Ngo, the chef I worked for at Fork in Philadelphia, had a way with shrimp. Not only could he peel them, leaving each tail intact, in record time, but he could also devein and butterfly them in one swift motion. And no matter how he cooked them—on the grill, in a sauté pan, in a flavorful broth—he cooked them quickly, which resulted in perfectly tender shrimp every time.

When grilling shrimp, for instance, he would no sooner unload them onto the grates than take them off, piling them onto a platter. If the shrimp were not cooked completely as they came off the grill—and often they weren’t—they would continue to cook as they rested, the heat of each shrimp atop another assisting with this carry-over cooking. This on-the-grill-off-the-grill method prevented the shrimp from overcooking and becoming tough and rubbery.

The butterfly effect. (More space for sauces to catch!) Photo by Alexandra Stafford

Butterflying the shrimp, moreover, which simply entails making a deep incision down the shrimp’s abdomen (the curled portion of the body above the tail), not only makes the shrimp twist in a helical fashion and look visually appealing, but serves a practical purpose, too: It opens up their bodies, allowing them, like certain pastas, to catch and cradle sauces—pesto, harissa, adobo, whatever Thien had on hand at the time.

Left: The makings of chimichurri. Right: Just-grilled shrimp tossed in the green sauce. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

These butterflied shrimp, which cook in 3 minutes using the skillet-grilled method, are tossed in chimichurri, a sharp, herby green sauce from Argentina. It's typically served with grilled meat, but chimichurri nicely complements anything coming off the grill—shrimp especially, but also vegetables like shishito peppers, green beans, or ears of corn, all perfect nibbles for a Fourth of July barbecue. Be sure to have some good bread on hand, and if you're up for it, drizzle it with olive oil and throw it on the grill as well. As the shrimp and vegetables disappear one by one, they'll reveal a puddle of savory juices, and when those toasty, charred slices emerge from the grill grates, their purpose will never be so clear.

Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.

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Cook quickly to keep them tender. Butterfly so they catch more sauce. What other tips do you have for cooking shrimp? Share them in the comments.

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  • Fresh Tomatoes
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  • Alexandra Stafford
    Alexandra Stafford
I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.


Fresh T. June 30, 2016
Yum Ali! I will make this soon......somehow your recipes are always at the top of my list...... :)
Alexandra S. July 1, 2016
Thank you, Dana :) :) :)