Almost every Italian restaurant menu in the United States features shrimp scampi. The name sounds Italian, but, in reality, it doesn’t make much sense. The word scampi refers to a species of crayfish found in the Adriatic, not the buttery, herby, garlicky, lemony sauce we think of as a natural partner to sautéed shrimp. Despite the questionable origins of this dish, we love its simplicity and bold flavors.
The perfect shrimp scampi is surrounded by an ample amount of sauce flavored with garlic and lemon. I find that most recipes are too oily and that the garlic (which generally goes into the pan first) burns by the time the shrimp have cooked through. Most sauces are too thin, and there’s not near enough to sop up with a chewy piece of bread. In addition, most recipes overcook the shrimp.
To start, I sautéed the shrimp quickly in batches. This prevented them from overcooking and becoming rubbery while helping retain their natural juices so they wold not dry out. With the shrimp cooked and reserved, I built a sauce in the empty pan. Beginning with butter, I simply heated the garlic through before adding the lemon juice and a little vermouth, which gave the sauce a nice depth of flavor. Adding the liquid also kept the garlic from burning and turning bitter.
The sauce was delicious but thin. For body, I added more butter and finished it with parsley, then added a pinch of cayenne. I returned the shrimp and their juices to the pan, and the dish was done. Nothing complicated, and perfect.
Serves 4 to 6
Serve scampi with plenty of chewy bread to soak up the sauce.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 pounds extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined, if desired
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
- 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon dry vermouth
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- Salt and ground black pepper
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until shimmering. Swirl to coat the pan bottom. Add half the shrimp and cook stirring occasionally, until opaque and just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a medium bowl. Repeat with the remaining oil and shrimp.
Return the now-empty skillet to medium-low heat. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in the pan. When the foaming subsides, add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Off the heat, add the lemon juice and vermouth. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, add the parsley and cayenne, and season with salt and black pepper to taste. Return the shrimp and accumulated juices to the skillet. Toss to combine and serve immediately.
Shrimp Scampi with Cumin, Paprika, and Sherry Vinegar
This dish is deeply flavorful but has slightly less heat than either of the other two versions.
Follow the recipe for Shrimp Scampi, sautéing 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 2 teaspoons paprika with the garlic, substituting an equal amount of sherry vinegar for the lemon juice, and omitting the cayenne.
Shrimp Scampi with Orange Zest and Cilantro
Because it is spicy, this dish is best served with white rice.
Follow the recipe for Shrimp Scampi, sautéing 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest and 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes with the garlic, substituting 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves for the parsley, and omitting the cayenne.