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Air-Fryer Shrimp Recipe

Why It Works

  • Dry-brining the shrimp with salt, baking soda, and sugar results in plump, snappy shrimp.
  • 16/20 shrimp are large enough to withstand a slightly longer cook time for browning without overcooking.

I know people call canned tuna the chicken of the sea, but I think the real chicken of the sea—the ingredient with just as much versatility as poultry—is shrimp. It’s a relatively affordable protein that you can dress up or down, and is delicious no matter which way you prepare it. Need a dinner party appetizer? Shrimp cocktail and shrimp dip await. Want to impress your date with an elegant dinner? You can’t go wrong with shrimp risotto. In search of a simple weeknight dinner? Shrimp scampi, please. But lately, my favorite way to cook shrimp is in the air fryer, and with this basic quick shrimp recipe developed by seasoned recipe developer Nicole Hopper, I’m willing to bet air-fried shrimp will be your new go to, as well.

I do a lot of cooking in my air fryer, simply because it’s so easy and quick—it’s basically a mini convection oven that’s remarkably efficient at circulating air, making both preheating and cooking much faster than if you were to use a standard oven. I rely on my air fryer to churn out wonderfully crispy potatoes and tender broccoli, and it’s no surprise that the appliance is also a great vessel for preparing shrimp. Whether I’m enjoying it on its own or incorporating it into other dishes like this shrimp, corn, and tomatillo salad, the air fryer is now my favorite method for cooking the crustacean. Read on for tips on preparing the best buttery air-fryer shrimp and to get Nicole’s recipe, along with five variations, including jerk, Old Bay, and ginger-sesame spins. After a brief, hands-off dry brine, the shrimp take just four minutes to cook, so this recipe is incredibly weeknight friendly.

Tips for Preparing Juicy Shrimp in the Air Fryer

  • Don’t be afraid to go for frozen shrimp. As contributor Dan Nosowitz wrote in his guide to picking shrimp, most shrimp available at the grocery store or fishmonger in the United States are frozen at sea—even the ones on display behind the glass are thawed from frozen. It’s difficult (if not impossible) to know how long shrimp have been defrosted, and for that very reason, we recommend purchasing individually frozen (IQF), head-off, peel-on shrimp. The only time you should buy fresh is if you have access to just-caught shrimp. (Of course, if you live near the Gulf coast, ignore everything I just said, and feel free to go for fresh, never-frozen shrimp.) 
  • Pick shell-on shrimp. It’s tempting to purchase peeled shrimp if you want to save time, but shelled shrimp are, more often than not, damaged. Because the delicate flesh is no longer protected by the shell, they tend to get mangled during transportation. For the best quality shrimp, buy them shell-on when possible and take the time to peel and devein them yourself. (See the notes below the recipe for tips on peeling the shrimp. We recommend leaving the tails intact.) 
  • Thaw your shrimp properly. I know it’s tempting to just chuck frozen shrimp in your air fryer, but please refrain. Defrosting your shrimp takes just a few minutes, and just requires putting it in a bowl under cold running water. (If you’d like to conserve water, you can fill the bowl of shrimp with cold water and allow it to sit at room temperature until thawed, which will take slightly longer but still get you there.)
  • Devein your shrimp. My husband I jokingly call the vein “shrimp poop,” which, while immature, is not inaccurate. The vein is the digestive tract, and though it’s edible, it can be bitter and sandy. After defrosting and peeling the shrimp, use a paring knife to make a shallow slit from the top to the bottom of the shrimp, then use the tip to gently lift out the vein. Or you could just ask your fishmonger to peel and devein the shrimp for you. Chances are they’ll be happy to oblige.
  • Dry-brine your shrimp with salt, sugar, and baking soda. Just as dry-brining results in tender, juicier roast chicken and steaks, seasoning the shrimp with salt, baking soda, and sugar results in shrimp that’s satisfyingly crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. The salt helps the crustacean better retain its moisture, while baking soda produces juicier shrimp. As Kenji noted in his recipe for grilled shrimp, baking soda raises the pH of the shellfish. The Maillard reaction—a chain of chemical reactions that occurs when proteins and sugars are transformed by heat—takes place at higher pH levels, too, which means faster browning without overcooking the shrimp.
  • Keep the cooking time short. To prevent overcooking your shrimp, cook it for just a few minutes at a high temperature. We recommend four minutes at 400ºF (205ºC), which keeps them nice and plump and prevents them from becoming rubbery.
  • Experiment with different seasonings. Salt and pepper is great, but try mixing it up with the variations listed below.

Editor’s Note

This recipe was developed by Nicole Hopper; the headnote was written by Genevieve Yam.

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