Give your weekly menu a little kick with this 30-minute Cajun Shrimp Pasta! With whole wheat noodles, juicy shrimp, and colorful veggies tossed in a lightly spicy cream sauce, this recipe is a homemade version of everyone’s favorite restaurant-style recipe.
This lighter Cajun shrimp pasta recipe is inspired by a well-loved restaurant of my childhood: Chili’s.
Their Cajun shrimp pasta was always one of my go-to orders (when I wasn’t down the street enjoying Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad).
Spicy blackened shrimp cooked in a thick Alfredo sauce, it was indulgent, heavy on the penne pasta, light on the veggies, and exactly that sort of thing that high school Erin craved (I wasn’t cued into lighter takes like Garlic Shrimp Pasta yet).
Nowadays, I still love a rich and creamy plate of pasta now and then, but with a few tricks to make the recipe just as healthy and wholesome as it is satisfying.
5 Star Review
“This was absolutely delicious!!! I’ve never left a comment on a recipe before, but I just HAD to for this one.”— Joselyn —
Tips for Making Cajun Shrimp Pasta without Cream
Why does restaurant food taste so good (hello, Lettuce Wraps | Copycat PF Changs)? Usually, because they contain large amounts of fat and salt (sodium)—great for a night out, not so great for everyday home cooking.
To recreate this restaurant-style Cajun shrimp pasta, I made a few swaps to the classic recipe to make it a solid choice for weeknight meals.
- No Cream. Unlike Chili’s recipe, which relies on butter and heavy cream for richness, I opted for milk, cornstarch, and light cream cheese to create a healthier but equally-delicious sauce with less fat and fewer calories.
- Extra Veggies. Restaurants usually go heavy on pasta because it’s an affordable ingredient that accommodates Americans’ expectations for BIG restaurant portions. This recipe, however, opts for more veggies and less pasta for added nutrition.
- Whole Wheat Pasta. I always prefer to reach for whole wheat pasta (like in this Chicken Alfredo Bake) when cooking a pasta dish at home to sneak a little extra fiber and whole grain goodness into every bite.
These nutritious swaps paired with easy prep and crowd-pleasing flavor will quickly turn this version of Chili’s Cajun shrimp pasta into an instant family favorite.
How to Make Creamy Cajun Shrimp Pasta
My goal for this recipe was to make a copycat Cajun shrimp pasta that’s tasty and better for you without losing its indulgent appeal.
The luscious, creamy sauce adds decadence (just like in Pasta al Limone), and ingredients like whole wheat pasta, bell peppers, mushrooms, and shrimp bring a scrumptious balance.
- Shrimp. Quick-cooking, easy to eat, and tasty in a variety of dishes (everything from Shrimp Tacos to spicy Bang Bang Shrimp), shrimp are also an excellent source of protein. v
- Whole Wheat Pasta. Trading out white pasta noodles for their whole-grain counterpart instantly boosts your intake of fiber, protein, and other nutrients.
- Reduced-Fat Cream Cheese. This is a creamy Cajun shrimp pasta without cream! Just 4 ounces of light cream cheese are all you need for a sauce that tastes thick and creamy like Alfredo, for a fraction of the calories. (it’s also my secret to creamy Turkey Tetrazzini.)
- Milk. Making this dish with nonfat milk lightens things up.
- Bell Peppers. Crisp and colorful, a trio of bell peppers load every twirl of the fork with plenty of vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber.
- Mushrooms. While the original Chili’s version of this Cajun pasta does not contain mushrooms, I love the addition. They taste super delish in this recipe (and Mushroom Pasta) and add tons of nutritional benefits.
- Fire-Roasted Diced Tomatoes. A one-ingredient trick to make this Cajun shrimp pasta taste like Chili’s. I keep several of these cans in my pantry at all times to add instant flavor (and extra veggies!) to my meals. (If you love tomato cream sauces, check out Penne Alla Vodka next).
- Cajun Seasoning. Cajun seasoning is a blend of flavorful Cajun spices and herbs such as smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, thyme, and oregano. It gives this pasta its signature flavor. You can also use it for Cajun Shrimp Boil Foil Packs and Cajun Shrimp and Grits.
Note that Cajun seasoning contains salt, so depending on how much you choose to add to this recipe (more seasoning = more spicy), you’ll want to adjust the amount of salt you add elsewhere accordingly. If you have concerns with sodium content, be sure to compare different Cajun seasoning brands.
- Green Onions. For a final flourish of color that adds additional zip and freshness.
- Cook the pasta to al dente, drain, and set aside.
- Toss the shrimp with Cajun seasoning, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
- Add the shrimp to a preheated large skillet with oil.
- Cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the cooked shrimp to a plate.
- Saute the bell peppers with more Cajun seasoning, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Add the tomatoes.
- Add part of the green onions. Remove the vegetables to the plate with the shrimp. Whisk the milk and cornstarch together.
- Pour the milk mixture into the skillet with butter, whisking until smooth. Add the cream cheese. Stir in the remaining Cajun seasoning.
- Return everything to the pan.
- Toss to coat all the ingredients in the sauce.
- Top with additional green onions, chopped fresh parsley, or a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. ENJOY!
- To Store. Refrigerate pasta in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
- To Reheat. Gently rewarm leftovers in a Dutch oven on the stovetop over medium-low heat or in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Freeze pasta in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Meal Prep Tip
Up to 1 day in advance, cook the pasta and chop the vegetables. Store each ingredient in a separate airtight storage container.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Dutch Oven. Perfect for making Cajun shrimp pasta.
- Whisk. This small whisk is easy to handle.
- Mixing Bowls. A set of mixing bowls is essential in every kitchen.
Be warned; this creamy Cajun shrimp pasta is about to fire up your busy weeknight dinner expectations!
Frequently Asked Questions
As the recipe is written, this pasta has a kick (like this Spicy Shrimp Pasta) but certainly won’t set off alarm bells if you are accustomed to spice. The creamy sauce helps to cool it down. You can also squeeze lemon juice over the top for some extra zip that balances the spice.
If you’d like the pasta hotter, feel free to add additional Cajun spice and/or cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes until it’s as spicy as you care to dare.
If you prefer a thicker sauce, you can reduce the amount of milk in the recipe. Add gradually to the sauce and stop when it reaches the desired consistency. If you’ve accidentally added too much milk, you can experiment with adding additional another cornstarch slurry or an extra tablespoon of nonfat cream cheese to thicken the sauce back up.
If you prefer a thinner pasta sauce, you could add an extra splash of milk or reach for a few tablespoons of chicken broth or reserved pasta water.
For a gluten-free version, use gluten-free noodles. I recommend rinsing them with water after they cook to keep them from becoming gummy.
A Cajun shrimp pasta restaurant serving from Chili’s contains an estimated 1190 calories! Conversely, this healthy Cajun shrimp pasta contains just 340 calories per serving.
Cajun Shrimp Pasta
- 8 ounces whole wheat linguine noodles or pasta of your choice
- 1 pound large shrimp peeled and deveined*
- 3 teaspoons Cajun seasoning divided, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder divided
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt divided, plus additional to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper divided
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter divided
- 1 medium red bell pepper thinly sliced and halved
- 1 medium orange or yellow bell pepper thinly sliced and halved
- 1 medium green bell pepper thinly sliced and halved
- 8 ounces sliced baby bella (cremini) mushrooms sliced
- 1 small bunch green onions thinly sliced, divided
- 14 ounces fire-roasted diced tomatoes drained (1 can)
- 1 1/4 cups nonfat milk
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 4 ounces light cream cheese softened to room temperature
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare pasta according to the package instructions for al dente.
- Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Place the shrimp in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Toss to coat.
- Once the oil is hot but not yet smoking, add the shrimp.
- Cook just until they turn from gray to pink, are lightly firm, and fully cooked through, about 3 to 5 minutes. (Be careful not to overcook!) With a slotted spoon, immediately remove them to a large plate or large bowl. Reduce the skillet heat to medium.
- Heat 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add the red, orange, and green bell peppers. Cook 3 minutes, then add the mushrooms and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Sauté until the mushrooms are tender and have given off their liquid, about 5 additional minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until most of their liquid has cooked off, about 3 minutes.
- Add two-thirds of the green onions. With a large spoon, scoop up the vegetables into the plate or bowl with the shrimp.
- In a large liquid measuring cup, whisk together the milk and cornstarch until well combined.
- Grab a whisk and heat the final 1 tablespoon butter over medium. Pour in the milk mixture and whisk until smooth. Add the cream cheese in small pieces. (I usually tear and drop it right in with my fingers.) Whisk constantly and bring the mixture to a steady (but not violent) simmer, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the sauce is slightly thickened, whisking all the while so that you have a smooth, creamy sauce. Stir in the final 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning.
- Return the vegetables and shrimp to the skillet. If there are a lot of juices that have collected in the bottom of the bowl, you can choose to add it if you want a thinner sauce or omit it if you prefer a thicker sauce. Drain the noodles and add them to the skillet.
- With a long pair of tongs, toss to fully combine and coat every bit with that yummy, creamy sauce. Taste and adjust salt, pepper, and Cajun seasoning to taste. Sprinkle with remaining green onions. Serve hot.
- *For the speediest possible prep, purchase peeled and deveined shrimp. (Easy-peel and deveined would also work.) I buy frozen and let them thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Tails on or off is your preference.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate pasta in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days.
- TO REHEAT: Gently rewarm leftovers in a Dutch oven on the stovetop over medium-low heat or in the microwave.
- TO FREEZE: Freeze pasta in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
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