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A Hands-Off Way to Sear Shrimp

By Annie Petito Published

For tender, succulent, spotty-brown shrimp, let your broiler do the work.

The broiler is an unsung hero in the kitchen: It preheats quickly, transfers heat more efficiently than the ambient waves of the oven’s bake setting, and in certain applications requires less babysitting than the stovetop. Take shrimp, for example, which cook so rapidly in a hot pan that they must be constantly monitored. Spreading them out on a baking sheet and broiling them, I hoped, would be a more hands-off way to “sear” the pieces, since I could strategically distance them from the broiler’s fierce element. If I found that sweet spot, I could achieve a tray of snappy, lightly charred shrimp to top rice, noodles, or salads or swipe through cocktail sauce. 

When shopping for shrimp, I gravitate toward the extra-large size—they’re meaty but conveniently bite-size, perfect for everyday applications. After peeling and deveining them, I salted them for 15 minutes so that they’d be thoroughly seasoned and hang on to their moisture during cooking. Then I thoroughly blotted them dry, hoping that would allow their surfaces to brown.

But no matter where I positioned the oven rack—within 2 inches or as far as 8 inches from the broiler element—the shrimp cooked through before taking on any attractive, flavorful char. The problem wasn’t the broiler itself; the rack positions offered plenty of range for harnessing its radiant heat, which is focused and intense at close range and more diffuse with distance. The problem was that shrimp cook quickly and lack sufficient fat to undergo rapid browning. 

Keys to Quick Browning ​​​​

  • Shrimp are so small and lean that it’s difficult to achieve flavorful, rich char on their exteriors before their interiors become rubbery. To encourage more‑rapid browning, we coat the shrimp in a mixture of butter and honey: The butter’s milk solids bronze readily in the heat of the oven, and honey contains fructose, which can caramelize more rapidly than white sugar.

So I zeroed in on the setup that produced the plumpest, most succulent shrimp—4 inches below the element, elevated on a wire rack in the baking sheet so that the heat could circulate around each piece—and tried coating the pieces with various sources of fat and sugar in hopes of boosting browning. Melted butter was a great start—and a better option than oil—thanks to its quick-browning milk solids. A sprinkle of sugar nudged the browning a little further, but not nearly as much as honey. The latter’s reducing sugars catalyzed the color development almost instantly. I incorporated a tablespoon into the butter and then coated the shrimp thoroughly in the mixture, especially in and along the crevices where they’d been deveined so that those ridges would char attractively. 

Briny-sweet and juicy with toasty bits of char, the shrimp were a treat straight off the pan. And the formula was easy to dress up with bold seasonings: Loads of garlic and red pepper flakes paid tribute to scampi, while smoked paprika, cumin, and coriander made for a smoky spice blend, freshened up with a shower of cilantro. I also pushed the honey profile into a sweet-spicy combination by combining it with chili powder, cayenne, and sliced scallions. Suffice it to say, the broiler finally got its due. 

Recipe Garlicky Broiled Shrimp

For tender, succulent, spotty-brown shrimp, let your broiler do the work.

Recipe Hot Honey Broiled Shrimp

For tender, succulent, spotty-brown shrimp, let your broiler do the work.

Recipe Smoky Broiled Shrimp

For tender, succulent, spotty-brown shrimp, let your broiler do the work.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.