Scampi is one of those confusing words that in America may refer to large shrimp or to a method of cooking different kinds of meat. When people hear the word “scampi,” they are probably thinking of shrimp scampi, but there are also versions of scampi made with pork, chicken or scallops. All of them feature a basic sauce made with butter, olive oil, garlic, wine and spices.
Some add Parmesan cheese, like my recipe for Scallop Scampi, while others, like our version of Chicken Scampi, add a few vegetables. However, every scampi recipe is light and flavorful with a suggestion of Mediterranean cuisine. Since “scampi” is the Italian word for small lobster-like crustaceans, it is easy to understand why the sauce tastes as it does.
It was created to enhance the flavor of a delicate seafood, and we honor the invention by using it to enrich our enjoyment of everything from barnyard hens to enormous Alaska prawns like my sister gave us not long ago.
My mother did not make scampi, but there were many good supper clubs in the Hayward area that included it on their menus. I am pretty sure that my first plate of scampi was at Club 77 where my date and I went for dinner after a spring prom dance. In any case, I have been hooked ever since.
Once you make shrimp scampi, you will probably add it to your repertoire of dishes that are easy to make but look elegant and taste wonderful. Just be careful not to overcook the shrimp.
1 lb. large raw shrimp
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
Salt (1/8 tsp. or to taste)
3 large garlic cloves
Scant half tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 T chopped parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Rice or pasta of your choice
If, like us, you live in the midwest, the shrimp will probably be frozen. If they are in a plastic bag, submerge the bag in a bowl of cold water until the shrimp have thawed. If they are loose, just put the shrimp in cold water. I like to stir them gently a couple of times to speed the thawing.
Peel and devein the shrimp once they have thawed. The vein is the dark tube running down the tail. Sometimes the shrimp supplier will have removed the vein by pulling it out before freezing. If you see a dark dot on the cut end of the tail, use a sharp knife to slice down the back of the tail to the vein and remove it. It is easy to do.
While the shrimp are thawing, put a large pot of water on to heat or get the rice ready to cook. It will take only ten or twelve minutes, from start to finish, to cook the shrimp, so you need to plan ahead to have the pasta or rice ready when the shrimp are done.
Chop the parsley and set it aside in a small bowl and juice half a lemon. Remove the paper from the garlic and mince the cloves while the butter and olive oil are heating in a skillet. Add an eighth teaspoon of salt if you are using unsalted butter. Sauté the garlic and red pepper flakes in the butter and oil for about a minute.
Add the shrimp and wine to the pan and cook for about two minutes. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and boil the wine for three or four minutes until it is reduced by a third. Return the shrimp to the pan and cook for another minute.
Remove the pan from the heat. Add the lemon juice, parsley and a grind of pepper. Toss the shrimp with the sauce.
Serve over rice or pasta with a green salad and good bread.
NOTES: If you use small or medium-sized shrimp, reduce the cooking time a little. For the wine we usually use sauvignon blanc, but a Chardonnay or dry vermouth would also be okay.
If you don’t have half a lemon handy, you can substitute one and a half tablespoons of bottled lemon juice.
If you don’t have unsalted butter in the fridge, use salted and don’t add any more salt.