This shrimp and pearl couscous recipe will be your new favorite shrimp recipe. It starts with a rich, homemade shrimp stock and finishes with a zesty lemon-basil Parmesan topping.
I made this shrimp and pearl couscous recipe for Christmas Eve dinner, and it was a hit with my family. I love that it doesn’t require a ton of ingredients and on paper, it seems so simple. But, the extra attention you give during prep really transforms this meal into a dinner that could have a place on your weekly menu or your extra special holiday occasions.
How to make the shrimp and pearl couscous
This shrimp and pearl couscous starts with homemade shrimp stock. If you’ve never made it, it couldn’t be easier. It’s also a great way to make sure you get the most out of your shrimp by extracting all the flavor from the shells which then acts as a nice flavor base for your pearl couscous.
How to make homemade shrimp stock
Don’t let homemade stock intimidate you! You really just need four things: shrimp shells, olive oil or butter, the green parts of a leek, and salt. I use olive oil, but if you want a richer stock, butter adds extra decadence.
To make the stock, start by frying the shrimp shells in olive oil until they’re pink. Mash them lightly into the side of the pot to squeeze out as much from them as you can. Add roughly chopped leek greens and about 6 cups of water. From there, add a big pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid reduces to about 3 cups. It takes about an hour to reduce it down. You can rapidly simmer the stock to reduce it more quickly, but I’ve found it tastes better when you let it go low and slow.
Once the stock reduces, strain it through a sieve and discard the spent leeks and shrimp shells.
Make the shrimp and pearl couscous
While the stock simmers, prep all the remaining ingredients for the recipe. Here’s what you need:
- Leek, shallot, garlic: Thinly slice the white part of the leek, dice the shallot, and mince the garlic.
- Pearl couscous: I use tri-color pearl couscous, but any variety–white or whole wheat–will also work.
- Spinach, basil, and lemon juice: I chop up spinach and 10 basil leaves to add to the pearl couscous after it cooks. I finish the pearl couscous with lemon juice.
- Parmesan, basil, black pepper, and lemon zest: I finely grate Parmesan and combine it with basil chiffonade, lots of black pepper, and lemon zest. This makes for a beautiful, flavorful garnish!
How to make it
- Step 1: Fry the aromatics. Start with leek and shallot, and then add the garlic.
- Step 2: Add the pearl couscous and toast it in the skillet for a minute or two. Pour in all your shrimp stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for about 12–14 minutes until the couscous absorbs most of the liquid and is almost completely tender.
- Step 3: Once the couscous is nearly finished cooking, fry up the shrimp in a separate skillet until opaque.
- Step 4: Finish the couscous! Fold in the spinach, basil, and lemon juice. As soon as the spinach is wilted, transfer the couscous to a large serving platter.
- Step 5: Serve it up! Pile the shrimp over the couscous and scatter with half the lemon-basil Parmesan topping. Serve the remaining cheese at the table.
I hope you love this shrimp and pearl couscous as much as we did! Please let me know in the comments what you thought of it.
Shrimp and Pearl Couscous
- 2 pounds jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined; shells reserved
- 1 lemon, juiced and zested; juice and zest kept separate
- 4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
- 1 leek, trimmed and thoroughly scrubbed; white and green parts kept separate; green parts roughly chopped and white part thinly sliced into half-moons
- 6 cups water
- 1 shallot, peeled and diced
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 cups pearl couscous
- 4 ounces baby spinach, roughly chopped
- 20 basil leaves, divided
- ⅔ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
- Salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste
Prepare the shrimp:
- Add the peeled shrimp to a large bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil and half the lemon zest. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and transfer to the refrigerator until needed.
Make the shrimp stock:
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the shrimp shells and cook, gently mashing them into the pot, for 3–4 minutes until all the shells are bright pink. Add the green part of the leek and toss to combine. Add 6 cups of water and 1½ teaspoons salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour or until the stock reduces to about 3 cups.
- Once the stock finishes simmering, taste and add more salt if needed. Strain into a bowl through a fine mesh sieve and discard the spent shells and leeks. Wipe out the pot and return it to the stovetop.
Prepare the remaining ingredients:
- As the stock simmers, prep the white part of the leek, shallot, and garlic. Roughly chop the spinach and transfer it to a bowl. Roughly chop 10 of the basil leaves and add to the bowl of spinach.
Make the lemon-basil Parmesan topping:
- Chiffonade the remaining 10 basil leaves and transfer to a bowl. Combine with the remaining lemon zest, black pepper, and the Parmesan cheese. Set aside.
Make the pearl couscous:
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in the pot over medium heat. Add the white part of the leek and the shallot. Cook for 8–10 minutes until the leek softens. Add the garlic and season with salt and pepper. Add crushed red pepper if you like. Cook for 1 minute until fragrant.
- Add the pearl couscous and cook for 1–2 minutes until lightly toasted. Season with salt.
- Pour in 3 cups of shrimp stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 12–14 minutes. After 12 minutes, stir the pearl couscous and add more stock or water if needed. Continue simmering until the couscous is tender and has absorbed almost all the liquid in the pot.
Sauté the shrimp:
- Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat as the couscous finishes simmering. Once hot, add the shrimp and cook in an even layer until opaque. Cook in batches if needed, and turn the shrimp occasionally. Remove from the heat as soon as they are mostly opaque, as they will continue to cook off the heat. It should only take 2–3 minutes per side to cook the shrimp.
Finish the pearl couscous:
- Add the bowl of chopped spinach and basil to the pearl couscous. Add the lemon juice and stir to combine. Simmer for 5 minutes until the spinach is wilted. Taste and season. Turn off the heat.
- Transfer the pearl couscous to a large serving bowl. Pile the cooked shrimp on top. Scatter half the Parmesan mixture on top. Serve the rest of the lemon-basil Parmesan at the table. Enjoy!