Special Report

30 Easy Shrimp Ideas for Weeknight Dinners

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Shrimp is the most popular seafood in America. According to the National Fisheries Institute, we consumed 4.7 pounds of the little crustacean per capita in 2019 — the latest year for which data is available — handily outdistancing our No. 2 favorite, salmon, at a mere 3.1 pounds. 

What’s so great about shrimp? To begin with, it isn’t fattening: Three ounces’ worth — about three jumbo shrimp or six to eight large ones — adds up to only 85 calories. (That’s not counting the garlic butter, bacon, or deep-fried breading you might cover them with, of course.) Shrimp is also low in mercury — a major health concern with some types of seafood — and high in protein, selenium, vitamins B12 and D, and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. (No wonder shrimp has its place in our list of the best seafood to eat.)

Never mind all that, though. What’s really so great about shrimp is that it’s delicious, widely available all year long, and extremely versatile. Almost every major cuisine has popular shrimp recipes, and many of them are quick and easy. 

It’s always a good idea to buy the best-quality shrimp you can find, of course. There are literally hundreds of individual species, from both warm and cold water (cold-water shrimp are usually more flavorful), both wild-caught and farm-raised, in all sizes from tiny to immense. 

An estimated 90% of what we eat in this country is farmed and frozen in Southeast Asia or Latin America. Some of this can be very good, but if you ever have the opportunity to buy fresh, wild, U.S.-caught varieties — like West Coast spot prawns, Key West pink shrimp, Atlantic northern shrimp from New England, or Gulf shrimp from Texas or Louisiana — go for it. They’re worth the money.

What’s the difference between shrimp and prawns, by the way? They’re very similar, and the terms are often used interchangeably, with “prawn” generally referring to larger examples. There is an anatomical difference, however. Shrimp have one pair of legs (or tiny claws) while prawns have three.  

24/7 Tempo has combed through numerous cookbooks and recipe websites to come up with a list of easy ideas — both appetizers and main dishes — for shrimp (or prawns). Included are examples from Mexico, Spain, Italy, India, Thailand, and elsewhere around the world — as well as plenty from the U.S.A. 

You won’t find recipes here, just photographs and brief descriptions, but an online search will return recipes galore. (And if you’d rather let somebody else do the cooking, you’ll find plenty of shrimp preparations at the best seafood restaurants in America.)

Shrimp ceviche

This Mexican-style ceviche combines chopped raw shrimp, onion, chiles, tomatoes, and cilantro. The shrimp “cooks” in the lime juice. Tortilla chips or even saltine crackers are the traditional accompaniment.

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Classic shrimp cocktail

There was a time when almost every upscale restaurant in America had this appetizer on the menu. It’s just boiled or steamed jumbo shrimp, with a bit of tail left on to facilitate eating by hand. The shrimp are arranged around a bowl of cocktail sauce — usually just a mixture of ketchup and horseradish with lemon juice and sometimes hot sauce added.

Shrimp-stuffed avocado

Hollowed-out avocado halves make perfect bowls for holding salads — like this combination of chopped avocado and other ingredients, enhanced with little bay shrimp.

Shrimp bisque

Lobster bisque gets all the glory, but shrimp also makes an excellent basis for this rich, creamy soup based on seafood stock flavored with the shrimp shells.

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Shrimp toast

This Chinese-restaurant staple, Cantonese in origin, consists of a coarse paste of minced shrimp and other ingredients spread on bread wedges, then deep-fried — with or without a topping of sesame seeds.

Spicy shrimp dip

This relative of artichoke-crab dip, served warm, is made by combining chopped shrimp with cream cheese, sour cream, and/or mayonnaise and usually with shredded cheese (typically cheddar or jack). Toasted pita chips make an excellent accompaniment.

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Shrimp scampi

Actual scampi aren’t shrimp — they’re langoustines, like miniature lobsters — but this popular dish, an Italian-American restaurant standard, prepares shrimp in the scampi style, which is to say with butter, garlic, and parsley.

Shrimp and grits

Originally from South Carolina but now found all over the South and beyond, this classic comfort food consists of grits (basically cornmeal porridge, to which cheese may or may not be added) topped with sautéed shrimp.

Bacon-wrapped shrimp

There’s a long tradition in many cultures of flavoring seafood with pork products, but few combinations are as easy to make and to enjoy as these shrimp enclosed in crispy strips of bacon.

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Coconut-crusted fried shrimp

Nobody knows who first came up with the idea for this unusual but delicious preparation of fried shrimp, but it may well come from the Caribbean, where both coconuts and fresh seafood are abundant.

Fried shrimp

Shrimp coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried is almost impossible to stop eating, especially paired with hot sauce, marinara, or cocktail sauce.

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Shrimp po’boys

This quintessential Louisiana sandwich on a baguette-style roll may be made with almost any protein, including fried oysters, crawfish, catfish — and shrimp. A “dressed” po’boy includes mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles.

Peri-peri prawns

Peri-peri is a spicy chile- and garlic-based sauce especially popular in Mozambique and other African nations and in Portugal. It is often eaten with chicken but also works wonderfully with giant shrimp (often sold as prawns).

Grilled shrimp

This dish consists of shrimp brushed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, then quickly cooked on a hot grill — what could be simpler and better?

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Garides saganaki (Greek shrimp with tomatoes and feta)

Italians don’t like to combine cheese and seafood, but their Greek neighbors know that few dishes are more savory than this combination of shrimp, feta, and oregano in a rich tomato sauce.

Shrimp and zucchini risotto

Risotto is a versatile dish, a backdrop for almost any ingredient or combination of ingredients. Small shrimp with slightly firm bits of zucchini are a particularly good combination.

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Spaghetti with shrimp

Spaghetti with clams might get most of the publicity, but a similar preparation of the pasta with tomatoes and shrimp is a winner, too.

Fettuccine Alfredo with shrimp

In Rome, its birthplace, fettuccine Alfredo is made with butter and parmigiano, period — no cream, no added ingredients. This immensely satisfying variation, though, shows what the Romans are missing.

Shrimp rolls

Lobster salad heaped into a split-top bun is a New England classic, but there’s no reason not to make it with shrimp instead.

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Shrimp tacos

Fried or grilled shrimp wrapped in corn or flour tortillas are a standard dish in much of coastal Mexico, and deserves to be better known here.

Shrimp enchiladas

Enchiladas don’t have to be filled with only chicken, beef, or cheese. Shrimp in a creamy, chile-spiced sauce is an excellent change of pace.

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Shrimp curry

Whether Thai-style, with coconut milk, or in an Indian interpretation, flavored with the spice mixture called garam masala (“prawns masala” is a common name for the dish), shrimp curry is a quick and easy dish to add to your repertoire.

Shrimp fried rice

Small boiled or steamed shrimp add color, texture, and flavor to any standard fried rice recipe.

Shrimp shumai

A standard of dim sum menus everywhere, these delicate dumplings are made by wrapping small whole or minced shrimp in a thin dough wrapper and steaming or frying the results.

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Shrimp spring rolls

These aren’t the crispy fried rolls found on every Chinese-American takeout menu. Sometimes called fresh spring rolls, these rolls are larger, filled with shredded vegetables and shrimp, and simply steamed. A good dipping sauce is essential.

Thai shrimp salad

Flavored with chiles, garlic, lime juice, fish sauce, and herbs, this vibrant Thai specialty couldn’t be more different from the mildly flavored mayonnaise-based version of shrimp salad.

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Shrimp stir-fry

One mistake many cooks make with shrimp is overcooking it (it should be firm but not rubbery). Stir-frying it — together with an assortment of vegetables — is one way to make sure it’s not overdone.

Teriyaki shrimp

Seafood grilled or broiled with a sweet-and-salty teriyaki glaze — based on soy sauce and mirin (rice wine) — is more popular in Japan than chicken or meat teriyaki, and shrimp works very well with the sauce.

Shrimp with rice paella-style

Whether or not you have a paella pan, cooking short-grain Spanish-grown rice enhanced with shrimp and other ingredients yields a delicious one-dish meal.

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Cajun shrimp gumbo

Shrimp and sausage in a spicy tomato sauce thickened with okra or filé powder is a Louisiana classic.

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