Why It Works
- Brining the shrimp with baking soda and salt gives them a plump, snappy texture.
- Searing the shrimp, removing them from the pan, then building the sauce and finishing the pasta before adding them back ensures they don't overcook.
My tricked-out shrimp scampi recipe was originally developed in its carb-free appetizer form, with no explanation for how one might add pasta—the other very popular way to serve it. But the recipe needs little adjustments here and there to make it work better for pasta, almost entirely in the form of scaling the sauce up to account for the added mass of noodles
As in the original, I brine the shrimp briefly with baking soda and salt, a trick we use from time to time here on Serious Eats to ensure incredibly plump shrimp, but in this recipe I also cut the shrimp into two pieces, since I find whole large shrimp don't interact with the noodles all that well. Just a little smaller, though, and they can work their into the pasta strands better, not just ride on top of them.
I quickly sauté the shrimp over high heat to build flavor and cook them rapidly, then remove from the pan until just before serving. This guarantees they don't overcook while you build the rest of the sauce and boil the pasta.
I call for a good deal more butter, olive oil, and garlic here, since we're not just saucing a pound of shrimp, but a pound of pasta on top of that. As for the pasta, take your pick. Long dry noodles like spaghetti and linguine are the most popular, though the pieces of shrimp will work really, really well with big tubes of rigatoni, or even those extra-large rings of paccheri.
As with my original recipe, I use dry vermouth instead of white wine. It brings more flavor to what's already a bold, garlicky sauce, and it keeps longer once opened, which makes it a great kitchen wine in general. I brighten the sauce with some fresh lemon juice along with freshly grated zest from that same lemon, but then deviate one final time from the original by pulling back on its more complex herb mixture of parsley, tarragon, and chives (yes, I know that's awfully French, but it's also awfully good) and using just parsley. Could you use that herb mixture here? Definitely, but I don't mind going a simpler route with pasta (I also don't mind skipping the other herbs in the no-pasta version, if parsley is all I have in my crisper drawer).
Finally, this rendition also includes pasta cooking instructions, which walk you through the process of finishing the pasta with some of its starchy water for a silky, noodle-glazing sauce. It's the same technique we've tried to teach with so many pasta recipes, but it never hurts to see how it plays out in each particular case.
- 1 pound (450g) large shrimp, peeled and split down the back, veins removed
- Kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 8 tablespoons (120ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 10 medium cloves garlic, finely minced (about 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons; 50g)
- Large pinch red pepper flakes
- 3/4 cup (180ml) dry vermouth
- 6 tablespoons (85g) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) fresh juice and 1 teaspoon grated zest from 1 lemon, divided
- 1 pound (450g) dried linguine or spaghetti
- 1 loosely packed cup (1/2 ounce; 15g) fresh parsley leaves and tender stems, finely minced
Cut each shrimp in half crosswise. In a large bowl, toss shrimp with 3/4 teaspoon (3g) kosher salt and baking soda until evenly coated. Let stand for at least 10 minutes and up to 1 hour.
In a 12-inch stainless-steel skillet or large sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons (45ml) olive oil over high heat until shimmering. Add shrimp in an even layer and cook, stirring and turning shrimp occasionally, until pink, barely cooked through, and just starting to turn lightly golden in spots, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and, using a slotted spoon, flexible slotted offset spatula, or tongs, transfer shrimp to a plate.
Add 3 tablespoons (45ml) olive oil to skillet along with garlic and red pepper flakes. Set over medium-high heat and cook, stirring, until garlic is just starting to turn golden, about 1 minute; lower heat if necessary to prevent scorching.
Add vermouth and boil over high heat, stirring and scraping up any browned bits, until raw alcohol smell is mostly gone and vermouth has reduced by about half, about 4 minutes.
Add butter and cook, stirring and swirling pan rapidly as butter melts to create a silky, emulsified sauce. Remove from heat, add lemon juice, and season with salt.
Meanwhile, in a pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta, stirring frequently for first 30 seconds to prevent noodles from sticking, until just shy of al dente (about 2 minutes less than package directions).
Using tongs, transfer pasta to skillet, reserving pasta cooking water. Alternatively, drain pasta using a colander or fine-mesh strainer, making sure to reserve at least 1 cup (235ml) pasta cooking water, then transfer to skillet. Add 1/4 cup (60ml) reserved pasta cooking water to skillet, set over high heat and cook, stirring and tossing rapidly, until pasta is al dente and sauce is slightly thickened and coats noodles with a creamy glaze, 2 to 3 minutes, adding more pasta cooking water in 1/4 cup (60ml) increments as needed.
Return shrimp to skillet along with any accumulated juices, lemon zest, parsley, and remaining 2 tablespoons (30ml) olive oil, tossing to combine thoroughly. Remove from heat. Season with salt, if needed.
Divide pasta and shrimp among serving bowls and serve right away.
12-inch skillet or large sauté pan
Make-Ahead and Storage
Shrimp scampi is best made right before serving.