I spend summers on the Jersey shore and, by the beach, it’s common practice for seafood shacks to serve their shrimp butterflied. This technique gives way to a fuller plate and better mouthfeel, so even a simple Caesar salad with grilled shrimp suddenly feels larger and more filling. And on my plate, the more shrimp the better. So why aren’t we doing this at home too?
Butterflying shrimp is similar to butterflying chicken breasts, but applied on a much smaller scale. Like a butterfly and its wings, symmetrical halves are connected lengthwise at a thin center. This means a larger surface area, and a larger surface area means more charred bits on the grill or saucy nooks and crannies in a skillet.
Because the cooking time for shrimp is so minimal, it’s worth it to spend a few extra minutes prepping for a more flavorful outcome, and of course the little mind trick of feeling like you’re eating more at no extra cost.
Here’s how to butterfly shrimp.
Look for large, shelled, tail-on shrimp. Anything too small and it’d be too tedious a task. Hold the shrimp in your nondominant hand with the outer, convex edge facing you. Starting at the tail and working down, use a paring knife to make a lengthwise incision along the curve of the shrimp. The cut should be just deep enough to leave symmetrical halves intact by a small membrane, like a book connected at its spine.
An added bonus is the ability to devein the shrimp as you go. For a cleaner look, make sure to remove the dark line running along the edge or through the body (it can vary shrimp to shrimp).
The same method can be applied to the inner curve of the shrimp, where the legs once were. If you’re doing it this way, make the same lengthwise incision from top to bottom. It may feel natural to slice the bottom end fully in half when you get there, and it’s fair to follow that instinct. You’ll just be left with a half butterflied shrimp. The former method may be more common, but the latter is equally delicious.
After butterflying, you can sauté shrimp for scampi, steam them over seafood paella, grill them with turmeric mojo sauce, stir fry them with vegetables like asparagus, or simmer them in a big pot of cioppino. And if you just can’t decide where to take your shrimp, that’s okay too. Because really, the butterflying does the heavy lifting: Tossed in some salt, pepper, paprika, and olive oil, and thrown on a hot grill for a couple minutes on each side, does the trick for me.
Don’t skimp on the shrimp
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