Picture yourself indulging in a mouthwatering shrimp pasta that seamlessly combines plump garlicky shrimp with a velvety nori cream sauce accented with peppery watercress that tastes a bit like wasabi. The combination might be surprising to some, but a whole subgenre of Japanese cuisine is dedicated to Japanese-style pasta (a.k.a. wafu pasta) which mashes up Japanese ingredients with techniques from Italian cuisine.
In just fifteen minutes, you can create this heavenly weeknight meal that delights the senses while satisfying the soul. The luxurious nori cream sauce is tossed with perfectly cooked strands of spaghetti, making a vibrant and umami-rich dish that's like a kiss from a clean ocean breeze while the pop of freshness from the watercress keeps the richness in check.
Table of contents
Why This Shrimp Pasta Recipe Works?
- Marinating the shrimp with garlic and soy sauce before pan-frying them ensures they become a well-seasoned contrast to the creamy pasta.
- Using the pasta liquid to dissolve the nori adds starch and salt to the sauce, which helps thicken and season it.
- Parboiling the spaghetti and finishing it off in the nori cream sauce marries the sauce with the pasta while imparting additional starch from the noodles into the sauce, thickening it up.
- Pasta - Spaghetti comes in varying thicknesses, so the thicker the noodles, the longer they take to boil. I enjoy the texture of thicker spaghetti, so I used one with a suggested cooking time of 11 minutes, but thinner spaghetti will work too. Just be sure to set the timer for 2 minutes less than the package instructions as you will finish cooking the shrimp pasta in the cream sauce.
- Pasta water - As the spaghetti boils, it releases starch into the water. This is a valuable tool when making any pasta dish to keep it in emulsion while adjusting its viscosity. The salt in the pasta water also seasons the sauce for this dish, so it is very important to follow a precise ratio of salt to the water. I use 6 US cups of water per tablespoon of table salt.
- Shrimp - Since you want the shrimp to mix into the pasta, this is one recipe where you can get away with using cheaper, smaller shrimp. I used 26/30-count shrimp, but 31/40, or even 41/50-sized shrimp, would still work. I remove the tails and brine the shrimp, and you can follow my How to clean shrimp tutorial for the details on that. Alternatively you could also make this pasta with another shellfish like scallops.
- Shrimp Marinade - I like to marinate the shrimp with garlic and soy sauce which gives the pasta a burst of flavor when you pop one in your mouth. Some of the soy sauce and garlic caramelize on the pan when you fry them, infusing the sauce with loads of flavor.
- Nori - Nori is a type of seaweed made by drying a specific species of algae into thin sheets. Good nori should be almost black with a slightly green hue. It should also smell like a clean ocean breeze. Since we're dissolving the sheets of nori, it doesn't matter if it's gone stale and is no longer crisp, but if it smells fishy or has turned reddish or brown, it means the nori is old or improperly stored, so it should be tossed.
- Cream - The bulk of the sauce's flavor comes from the nori, but the cream is the medium that drapes the briny flavor onto each strand of pasta. I used a high butterfat heavy cream (45%), but if you want a lighter pasta, you can use one with less fat.
- Watercress - Watercress is an aquatic plant that's in the cabbage family. It has a fresh peppery flavor with hints of wasabi, and it goes great with seafood. I used the tips of the stems as a garnish for this shrimp pasta, but the stems and leaves are also chopped up and used as an herb. If you can't find it, mustard greens would be the closest in terms of flavor, but you could also use other herbs like fresh parsley, shiso, or basil.
How to Make Japanese Shrimp Pasta
Begin by adding water and salt to a large pot and bringing it to a full boil. Once boiling, submerge the spaghetti in the salted water, setting a timer for two minutes less than the package directions say. In the meantime, prepare the shrimp by combining it with garlic and soy sauce in a bowl, stirring to coat evenly.
Heat a large skillet or frying pan over medium heat when the pasta is about five minutes from being done. Add olive oil and the shrimp, arranging them into a single layer. Fry until they start to turn orange around the edges. This should take about half a minute. Flip them over and continue frying for another thirty seconds until they are no longer gray. Transfer them to a clean bowl and set aside.
Add the nori to the pan and measure half a cup of water from the pasta. Stir the mixture together until the nori dissolves. If there's over a minute left on the pasta timer, turn off the heat and wait. Otherwise, pour the cream into the nori mixture and raise the heat to boil the sauce.
When the spaghetti is ready, transfer the cooked pasta directly into the nori cream sauce using tongs, and reserve the remaining water. Simmer the spaghetti in the cream sauce over high heat to finish cooking it while stirring it regularly. If it starts getting too dry and sticking together, add more pasta liquid to ensure they stay loose and slippery.
Add the shrimp back into the pan along with chopped watercress, and toss to combine. Plate the pasta immediately and garnish with watercress tips.
Serve it With
This Japanese pasta can be served as a main course for two, but in Japan, we often eat meals family style, in which case this should be enough to feed more than two people (depending on how many other dishes you make). If you're serving this as an entre, I'd recommend a green salad with my creamy sesame dressing or my smashed cucumber salad. If you want some other side dishes to serve this family style, my Shio Karaage Kinpira Gobo, and Blistered Shishito Peppers would all make delightful additions to the table.
Other Japanese Pasta Recipes
- Uni Pasta (sea urchin)
- Mentaiko Pasta (cod / pollock roe)
- Butter Shoyu Pasta (with shimeji, maitake, & shiitake mushrooms)
- Spaghetti Napolitan (sausage & ketchup)
- 6 cups water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 200 grams spaghetti
- 200 grams shrimp (peeled and deveined)
- 7 grams garlic (minced)
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 grams nori (2 full sheets)
- ¾ cup cream
- 25 grams watercress (chopped, with tips reserved)
- Add the 6 cups water and 1 tablespoon salt to a pot and bring it to a full boil. Next, add the 200 grams spaghetti and submerge it into the boiling water. Set the timer for 2 minutes less than what the package directions say.
- While you wait for the water to boil, add the 200 grams shrimp, 7 grams garlic, and 1 teaspoon soy sauce to a bowl, and stir them together to coat the shrimp evenly.
- When the pasta has about 5 minutes left on the timer, heat a frying pan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and shrimp, and spread them out in a single layer.
- Fry the shrimp until they turn orange around the edges (about 30 seconds), then flip them over.
- When no gray is left on the shrimp, transfer them to a clean bowl, and set them aside.
- Add the 8 grams nori and ½ cup of boiling liquid from the pasta and stir until the nori has dissolved.
- If the pasta has over 1 minute left on the timer, turn off the heat and wait. Otherwise, add the ¾ cup cream and turn up the heat to bring it to a boil.
- Transfer the spaghetti straight into the nori cream sauce with tongs when it is done. Toss the pasta in the sauce and let it finish cooking. Add more pasta liquid to keep it loose and slippery if it starts sticking together.
- Return the shrimp to the pan along with the chopped 25 grams watercress and toss to combine.
- Plate the shrimp pasta by twirling it onto two plates and then garnish it with the watercress tips.