Introduction: Simple Scampi

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I was stunned that there was no scampi dish entered in the first Robot Chef challenge.  Since it's the last day of the challenge, I guess I should enter one, especially since we happened to buy shrimp yesterday.

This dish is a simple, classic shrimp preparation.  There are lots of variations out there, but I prefer a recipe that highlights a few quality ingredients.  Some people use white wine or other herbs like oregano.  I like oregano, but I'm not fond of the combination of oregano and shrimp.  If you have good quality shrimp, you don't need to obscure the flavor with a bunch of other complex flavors.

You will need:

1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 T butter
1 lemon
1 clove fresh garlic
2 sprigs fresh italian parsley
black pepper, optional

I bought frozen shrimp that was peeled and deveined but still had the tails on.  I'd have preferred no tails, but the store didn't have that kind, and they're not difficult to remove.  If you're serving scampi (or any shrimp dish, really), please bear in mind that the tails should only be left on if the shrimp are meant to be eaten with fingers (like a shrimp cocktail).  If the shrimp will be covered in a messy sauce, it's improper to serve them with the tail on, because that requires diners to stick their fingers in their saucy food in order to remove the tails while eating.  Yes, some restaurants break this etiquette rule because their kitchen managers are too lazy to order different types of shrimp for different dishes.  Some etiquette mavens will send a shrimp dish back to the kitchen if they ordered, say, shrimp alfredo, and the shrimp in the pasta still have their tails on.

Do not buy cooked shrimp for this.  Look at the package.  Most raw shrimp will look translucent whitish or gray, while most cooked shrimp will be pink and white.  Scampi is cooked in butter and a tart liquid like wine or lemon juice.  If you prepare scampi with COOKED shrimp, your shrimp will be overcooked and rubbery.  Gross.


Thaw your shrimp if frozen.  The best way to do this is to put them in a colander and let cool or cold water run over them until they're thawed.  Warm water will put raw shrimp in the food borne illness danger zone, and it can start to cook the shrimp, which will lead to overcooked scampi.

My shrimp thawed in a bag in the fridge (fine if you have a day or so to wait), and I forgot to drain it before dumping it in the pan.  Don't forget to drain your shrimp if there's any water in the packaging.

Heat the butter in a wide pan.  While the pan is heating, finely mince the garlic, then zest the lemon.  I couldn't find my microplane tonight so I had to use a grater - it didn't work very well at all.  The butter should be bubbling when it's hot enough to add the garlic.  Stir the garlic as you add it, making sure you don't let it overcook.  Once garlic turns brown, it's burned and ruined.  The sound of the water escaping the garlic in the pan should sound like a hiss rather than a sizzle.  If it's sizzling, it's too hot and can easily burn.

The smell of the garlic should get stronger but less sharp after just a few seconds in the hot pan.  After about a minute, add the shrimp.  Stir every so often as it cooks, and don't walk away.  Shrimp cook very fast.  Add the lemon zest.  Slice the zested lemon in half and squeeze both halves into the pan.

Make sure there isn't much liquid; you don't want to boil or steam the shrimp here.

**If you accidentally dumped the melted ice from the shrimp bag into the pan like I did and realize halfway through that there's too much liquid, don't worry.  Remove the whole thing from the heat before the shrimp are completely cooked.  Heat a pan and add a little bit of butter.  Make sure the butter is hot, almost ready to start browning, then add the shrimp a couple at a time.  Let the butter give the edges of the shrimp a hint of golden brown before dumping them onto a plate and adding the next couple shrimp.  This should only take a few seconds, maybe 5-10 seconds per side, so GO FAST.**

Chop the parsley and add it to the shrimp.  Grind on some black pepper, if using.  Your shrimp will be cooked when they've just barely turned opaque all the way through.  


Some people like to serve scampi over bread, pasta, or rice.  I think it's lovely on a nice green salad.  Please excuse the iceberg lettuce in the pictures; it was a bad day for lettuce at the grocery store.  The good kind of greens for a salad like this would have a variety of leaves, nice and ruffled so a thin vinaigrette can cling to the leaves instead of sliding off the slippery, flat chunks of pale lettuce and pooling at the bottom of your dish.

...not that I'm complaining about iceberg lettuce... 

I took a couple spoons of the shrimp cooking liquid and added them to my favorite vinaigrette; you could add a little champagne vinegar and a touch of olive oil if you prefer.  I also added chopped almonds and sliced strawberries for a bit of brightness in the salad.  Yes, strawberries can work with shrimp if the other flavors are balanced properly.

Yes, I use a lot of words, but scampi is an incredibly simple, fast, delicious, and versatile dish.  Try it soon if you're into shrimp.

Thanks for reading!