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Quick and Easy Garlic Shrimp

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Shrimp are perhaps the original fast food. A few years ago while visiting the Low Country I stopped at the pier in Mount Pleasant, SC to pick up some shrimp. The man in front of me asked the young dockhand how to boil them. Before he could answer a lady with a slow Southern drawl interrupted, ” Bring seasoned watah to a boil and add ya shrimp. Take two sips ‘a wine. Stir thuh pot. Thay are done.” This recipe isn’t for boiled shrimp, but it’s nearly just that quick so get your skillet — and your wine glass ready.

Georgia's Golden Isles on
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The Gold Coast

The Low Country, also known as the Lowcountry, is part of the largest saltwater marsh in the world. The Low Country stretches from the Northern reaches of the Atlantic coast of Florida to above Charleston, near Pawley’s Island. Men and women have made their livelihoods for centuries harvesting fish and shellfish from the Low Country estuaries, where the tide flows in, causing the fresh and saltwater to mix.

Jekyll and St. Simons Islands are part of that region and Georgians call this area the “Golden Isles” or “Gold Coast.” For many years, it was the vacation retreat of very wealthy families from the Northeast. But it was another sort of gold that inspired the name: according to a local historian, it was named centuries ago by the first settlers, who were dazzled by the golden glow of the marshes at dusk. These marshes, the clear estuaries, and the surrounding ocean are also home to sweet wild Atlantic shrimp. Some of the finest shrimp in the world come from these waters and it has long been both a way for people to live off the land, or ocean, as the case may be, and also make a living. (Want to get geeky with me? Check out the life cycle of a shrimp!)


Tail On or Tail Off?

I was recently able to procure some flash-frozen Georgia shrimp from the Gold Coast via my dear friend Gena Berry. Now, I love the look of a tail-on shrimp. I know it’s not practical. I know that you have to use a knife and fork to eat them. And, pretty much the only shrimp I cook tail-off is for a po-boy. I like the way the tails look! 

Gena grew up on St. Simons Island, Georgia, in the heart of the fishing and shrimping community. One day years ago, we were in the kitchen getting ready for a party. She jumped in, helpful as always, and offered to peel the shrimp. When she saw my technique of leaving the tails on, she raised her eyebrows perilously high (as only Gena can do), and informed me that “coast folks” don’t peel shrimp like that. I still think it looks better. 

Wild American vs. Farmed Shrimp

There are over 300 types of shrimp in the ocean! We’re lucky that in the South there are two coasts, the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Shrimping is a way of life throughout both regions. I am a huge proponent of wild American shrimp. Many farm-raised imports are not sustainable, the farms damage the delicate ecosystem in the mangroves, and the shrimp are proactively fed antibiotics to keep them free from disease in the crowded ponds.

If you can’t get your mind wrapped around hippy-dippy concerns about the environment, perhaps you can get your head wrapped around the fact that if you are buying wild American shrimp you are supporting American workers and putting money back into local economies.

Making responsible seafood choices is one of the best ways to ensure healthier oceans. Sustainable seafood is caught or farmed with minimal environmental and social impacts. Having said that, not all farm-raised shrimp are bad, but it’s tricky. (I hope you don’t think the All-You-Can-Eat Shrimp for $4.99 is sustainable. Ahem.) For best practices, refer to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website or app. Our seafood choices matter.


How to Peel and Devein Shrimp

Now that you are clear on buying shrimp let’s talk about freshness. If there is any scent of ammonia or fishy smell, when buying shrimp it’s a sign the shrimp is no longer fresh. The frozen shrimp I purchased smelled sweet and fresh, even frozen!

In terms of size, jumbo, large, and medium are all arbitrary designations. Chefs purchase these tasty crustaceans according to the count per pound. 21/25 count indicates that there are between 21 and 25 pieces per pound.

Check out this quick video on How to Peel and Devein Shrimp – no gadgets needed! The black “vein” running down the back of a  is actually its intestinal tract. It can sometimes taste gritty and muddy. If you see an orange tube running down the back, that is roe. Typically, if the vein is thick I will remove it. Check it out.

Rice Pilaf

Rice pilaf makes a great accompaniment for this quick and easy supper. And, it’s a classic Low Country combination. What can take this simple side dish from simple to spectacular is a quick shrimp stock made with the shrimp shells. Peel and devein the shrimp, reserving the shells in a medium pot and discarding the vein. Top with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until the broth is slightly colored and smells lightly sweet, about 5 minutes. Strain, discarding the shells, and set aside. Use the shrimp stock as the liquid for cooking the rice. It’s little steps like this that can really transform a meal. 


How to Make Garlic Shimp

This recipe uses two kinds of garlic – sliced and chopped for a big hit of garlic flavor. The key is not to burn the sliced garlic, but take it to a golden brown. I also use smoky hot Spanish paprika also called pimenton. You can substitute regular paprika and a little cayenne in a pinch. It’s loosely based on a traditional Spanish tapas dish that uses copious amounts of olive oil and served with bread for dipping. I’ve lightened things up with just enough oil to saute the shrimp and suggest serving it on rice or potatoes. (You could also skip the starch.) It’s a fantastic combination of flavors and can be on the table in less than 10 minutes after the shrimp are peeled.

How to Tell When Shrimp are Cooked

Raw, peeled shrimp naturally curve into a semi-flattened “C.” Shrimp cook very fast and when overcooked are dry, tough, and rubbery. When properly cooked, the flesh should be firm, white, and cook into a loose “C.” When they are overcooked they tighten and curl into the shape of an “O.” (O is for overcooked!)

Here’s my video of the dish using a deep water variety of shrimp called Royal Reds. Check it out.

Thanks for reading! I really hope you enjoy this recipe. Stay safe and well.

Bon Appétit, Y’all

Virginia Willis

Quick and Easy Garlic Shrimp

Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time17 minutes
Course: dinner, Main Course
Cuisine: American, spanish
Keyword: seafood, shrimp, sustainable seafood
Servings: 4 people


  • 1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp
  • 4 large garlic cloves 2 chopped and 2 thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon hot smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1 tablespoon pure olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
  • 1 handful cherry tomatoes, halved
  • steamed potatoes rice, or bread, for serving
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper


  • In a bowl combine the shrimp, chopped garlic, and paprika. Season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the sliced garlic and cook until golden, about 30 seconds. Add the shrimp and cook until firm and white, 1-2 minutes. Add herbs and tomatoes; stir to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Rice Pilaf

Take this rice from simple to spectacular with a quick shrimp stock. Peel and devein the shrimp, reserving the shells in a medium pot and discarding the vein. Top with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until the broth is slightly colored and smells lightly sweet, about 5 minutes. Strain, discarding the shells, and set aside. Use the shrimp stock as the liquid for cooking the rice.
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time17 minutes
Course: dinner, Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American, French, Southern
Keyword: pilaf, rice
Servings: 4 people


  • 1 teaspoon pure olive oil
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 2 cups long-grain white rice such as Carolina Gold, jasmine, or basmati
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups shrimp stock chicken stock, or water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


  • Heat the oven to 350°F. In a large, ovenproof saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat until foaming. Add the shallot and cook until clear and translucent, 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Add the rice and stir to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, until the rice is coated and lightly toasted. Season with 1 teaspoon of the salt and pepper to taste. Add the stock and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and transfer to the oven. Cook until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, 17 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes before serving. Add the parsley and fluff with a fork just before serving.

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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Suzanne Turton

    I was so excited about the aromas while cooking this that when it was close to the end, I told my husband to get to the table immediately! I really didn’t mean to tell him that but the recipe does say ”Serve immediately!” Haha! He picked up his pace to the table and we enjoyed a great dish. I actually served it over bowtie pasta. It was so good, just the right amount of ”heat.” I’ve shared the recipe with friends this week! So glad I heard you talk at Hills & Dales in LaGrange, GA, last year! I enjoy following and cooking your recipes!

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