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This Shrimp Pasta Gets a Flavor Boost from an Unexpected Ingredient

Hint: Don’t toss those shells!

Published Nov. 24, 2021.

Many of us lean on pre-peeled, deveined, and even pre-cooked shrimp for the sake of convenience. But when time and budget allow, shell-on raw shrimp are a thing of beauty. Plus, every home cook should learn how to prep their own shrimp at some point, and the task can even feel meditative. In the latest episode of Today’s Special on YouTube, Ashley Moore demonstrates how to do just that to make Spaghettini with Shrimp.

To remove shrimp shells, use seafood scissors (or just a paring knife) to cut along the rounded side of the shrimp about a ¼ inch deep, stopping before you get to the tail. Next, pinch the tip of the tail and the shell should pop right off. While many recipes make the shells out to be inedible, they are actually the most important part of this recipe, so be sure to reserve every last shell when peeling the shrimp.

Believe it or not, like other umami-rich foods like Parmesan cheese, anchovies, and mushrooms, shrimp shells are full of savory glutamates. To extract as much of that flavor as possible, Ashley sautées the shrimp shells in a skillet with plenty of olive oil until they become lightly browned, which only takes a couple minutes. Off the heat, dry white wine is added and the mixture simmers for five more minutes. Once strained, this flavor-packed liquid creates the sauce for the pasta, made even silkier by adding some of the starchy pasta cooking water (and a generous amount of butter).

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“I feel like I’m swimming in the pasta ocean,” Ashley says. “The amount of shrimp flavor in this dish makes it totally worth that extra prep in the beginning.”

Of course, adding shrimp to a pasta dish means that shrimp flavor will be a given. But taking a couple extra minutes to put the shrimp shells to use as the base for the sauce will ensure that that sweet, briny ocean flavor will be evident in every single bite.

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