Rich and brimming with umami, the complex flavors of this Shrimp Rice Bowl belies its exquisite simplicity. Once you know a few tricks, shrimp is an easy protein to cook, yet it's packed with loads of flavor. My modern interpretation of this classic Japanese rice bowl takes the best of both worlds by melding the addictive flavor of garlic butter shrimp with the umami of sake and Japanese soy sauce. The succulent shrimp get nestled on a bed of hot rice, infusing each grain with garlicky, buttery goodness.
Why This Recipe Works?
- Brining the shrimp in sake, salt, and garlic seasons it through while changing the texture of the protein and giving it a firm snap.
- The sauce is created by emulsifying butter with soy sauce, which makes a creamy, garlicky glaze that coats each bite of shrimp in a glossy layer of umami.
- The glaze percolates down, coating each grain of rice in the flavorful sauce.
- The rich garlic butter complements the lean shrimp, and a squeeze of lemon adds a brightness that keeps the dish from becoming too heavy.
- Shrimp - I chose 16-20 count shrimp for this because they're a good balance between being large enough to hold up to the high heat of the pan without getting overcooked and being small enough to eat them without a knife. You could use larger shrimp if that's all you can find, but I wouldn't recommend going smaller than this. Alternatively this recipe is flexible enough to substitute your favorite protein for the shrimp. Chicken, salmon, or even firm tofu are easy alternatives.
- Garlic - Garlic and shrimp are a match made in heaven, and I love to add a generous amount to this dish. If garlic isn't your thing, you can reduce the quantity to your liking.
- Sake - Sake is a Japanese rice wine that adds depth and umami to the dish. The alcohol burns off when you cook the shrimp, so you don't need to worry about getting drunk off the shrimp.
- Salt - The salt and sake not only season the shrimp but also act as a brine that firms up the texture of the protein, giving it a firm, bouncy snap.
- Olive Oil - I prefer olive oil for this dish due to the extra flavor it adds, but you could also use a regular vegetable oil like canola or grapeseed oil.
- Soy Sauce - Soy sauce adds umami while creating an emulsion with the butter to form the sauce. I used a stardard Japanese dark soy sauce, but you could make this gluten-free or soy-free using tamari or coconut aminos.
- Cultured Unsalted Butter - Butter is an emulsion of water and milk solids in fat. When it melts, the components usually separate apart, but by agitating it (by stirring or boiling), it's possible to keep it in emulsion while adding other liquids (like soy sauce). This is the basis for this creamy sauce. I recommend using cultured butter because it contains a higher concentration of diacetyl, the compound responsible for giving butter its flavor.
- Cooked Rice - I like using Japanese short-grain rice for most rice bowls; this shrimp bowl is no exception. That being said, long-grain rice such as Jasmine or basmati rice will still work, and for a lower-carb option, quinoa, konyaku or cauliflower rice can be used. It's easiest to prepare rice in a rice cooker, but if you don't have one, click the link above for stove top cooking instructions.
- Lemon - The bright acidity of lemon juice provides a nice contrast to the richness of the butter, which makes this taste light and refreshing. Fresh lime juice is another great alternative.
- Scallion - I garnished this with thin Japanese scallions this time, but regular green onions, sweet onions, fresh cilantro, or Thai basil are all great alternatives that are a fun way to add variation to this easy meal.
How to Make Shrimp Rice Bowl
Start by preparing the raw shrimp. We're using 16-20 count shrimp, which refers to the number of shrimp per pound. After peeling and deveining the shrimp, make sure to pat them dry so they're able to absorb the marinade. Then, season them with minced garlic, sake, and salt. This process is like a quick brine, where the salt seasons the shrimp while the alcohol in the sake modifies the protein structure, leading to a firmer, snappier texture. While an hour-long marination in the fridge would be ideal, don't worry if you're short on time; even a brief marination will yield noticeable results.
To cook the shrimp, preheat a large skillet or frying pan over high heat. A hot pan ensures you burn off the sake quickly, allowing us to get some caramelization on the exterior of the shrimp without overcooking it. Once the pan is hot, add olive oil and arrange the shrimp in a single layer.
Let the shrimp cook undisturbed until it's halfway done. The beauty of using larger shrimp is that it gives you a longer window to get some browning on the outside before they become overcooked.
You'll know they're ready to flip when they're pink and opaque halfway up their sides. Quickly flip them over, and then cook the shrimp for another 20-30 seconds before you begin stir-frying them. The idea is to get the shrimp fully cooked around the same time the garlic begins to brown. Shrimp cooks quickly, and overcooked shrimp can turn rubbery, so proceed to the next step when the shrimp looks cooked.
Add the butter, and when it's about halfway melted, pour the soy sauce in and quickly toss everything together. It's important to get the shrimp coated with the glaze quickly; otherwise, the fat will separate and make the sauce greasy.
Assembling your rice bowl is as simple as serving the shrimp over two bowls of cooked white rice (brown rice will also work). Be sure to drizzle any excess sauce over the rice shrimp; the garlicky, buttery glaze will percolate down through the rice, making every bite rich and flavorful. Finish the bowl with chopped scallions and lemon wedges, and enjoy!
Serve it With
With both carbs and protein, this Shrimp Rice Bowl is a flavor-packed dish that stands well on its own. I recommend serving it with some veggies. Adding edamame to the shrimp will increase the protein and fiber content while adding a pop of color. Avocado is another great option. For a pop of heat, try serving this with some grated ginger or sriracha. You could also serve this with a vegetable side dish like my Kinpira Gobo, Smashed Cucumber Salad, or my No-Mayo Coleslaw.
- Peel and devein 340 grams shrimp and pat it dry. Add it to a bowl along with 30 grams garlic, 2 tablespoons sake, and ¼ teaspoon salt and mix to distribute evenly. Ideally, you want to let this marinate for an hour, but if you're in a rush, you can cook it immediately.
- Preheat a frying pan over high heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and shrimp and spread it into a single layer. Pan-fry the shrimp until it is cooked halfway through.
- Flip the shrimp over and cook for another 20-30 seconds. When the shrimp is mostly cooked, start stir-frying them until they're fully cooked, and the garlic begins to brown.
- Add 28 grams cultured unsalted butter, and when it's halfway melted, add 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce to the melted butter. Toss the shrimp in the sauce to emulsify the mixture while glazing the shrimp. Do not let this cook for longer than it takes to coat the shrimp, or the sauce will break.
- Serve the garlic butter shrimp over 2 servings cooked rice, and garnish with 1 scallion and 1 lemon.