Sunday, August 19, 2012

Shrimp Prepared Scampi Style: The Recipe

Shrimp Scampi may be the biggest misnomer in the culinary world (except for sweetbreads--eew). As a linguist, I was fascinated to find out that scampi are not shrimp at all but actually the tail of a type of shellfish called Langoustine, Nephrops, or Dublin Bay Prawn. So when we say "shrimp scampi," it's kind of like we are saying "shrimp prawns," which is as silly as Chai tea ("tea tea") or ATM machine. 

But I digress. Real scampi were traditionally prepared by Italian immigrants in the style that we now know as scampi, but the immigrants' Italian-American descendants now use common shrimp instead of the elusive Nephrops. Complex history, no? If you are learning this for the first time, don't worry--you are in bloody good company. Apparently in 2011, "What is scampi?" was the second most common "What is?" Google search among Britons. Who knew that the UK has such a fascination with esoteric shellfish?


List courtesy of BBC News and Google Zeitgeist
Since scampi as we know it is not quite as traditional as we may have thought, it was tough to find a traditional recipe for it. The two biggest questions for me: 

  1. To breadcrumb or not to breadcrumb?
  2. To bake or to pan fry?

Thanks to NY Times food writer Melissa Clark, I was led to Lidia Bastianich's expertise on the matter. Since she is the only chef I found who used the proper terminology in her recipe ("Shrimp Prepared in the Scampi Style"-- so precise!), she won my trust, meaning I had my two biggest questions answered: no breadcrumbs, and definitely bake.

Before we get to the classic recipe, I have to tie up one loose end. I will not be able to sleep through my guilt tonight if I don't send some culinary love to Ina Garten, whose breadcrumb-positive version of this dish inspired my love for the scampi style. Her recipe is sinfully buttery and well worth the indulgence.

My college roommates are coming to NYC on Wednesday from Los Angeles and Denver, and before we go out and paint the town red, we'll be coming together to eat like we used to so often at our old house. I can't wait to see them and add another recipe to my Walking Cookbook collection!


Lidia's mantra is "Everyone to the table to eat."
This will be a great dish for large groups.
The Recipe: Shrimp Prepared Scampi Style, adapted from Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen
Yield: 6 servings
Ingredients:
  • 36 shrimp (about 3 1/2 lbs)
  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tbsp shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp fresh Italian parsley, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh tarragon, minced
  • salt and pepper
Preparation:
  • Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. 
  • Add the garlic and cook until pale golden, about 1 minute. 
  • Stir in the shallots, season generously with salt and pepper, and continue cooking, shaking the skillet, until the shallots are wilted, about 2 minutes. 
  • Add 1/4 cup of wine, bring to a boil, and cook until about half of the wine has evaporated. 
  • Transfer to a small bowl and cool completely. 
  • Add the butter, parsley, and tarragon and beat until blended. 
  • Spoon the flavored butter onto a 12-inch length of plastic wrap and roll it into a log shape, completely wrapped in plastic. Chill thoroughly. 
  • Place the rack in the lowest position and preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. 
  • Peel, devein, and butterfly the shrimp, leaving the tail and last shell segment attached. 
  • Using some of the flavored butter, lightly grease a shallow baking pan into which the shrimp fit comfortably without touching.
  • Arrange the shrimp, tails up, on the prepared pan.
  • Cut the remaining flavored butter into 1/2-inch cubes and disperse the cubes among the shrimp. 
  • Mix the remaining 1/4 cup wine and 1 tablespoon lemon juice and add to the pan. 
  • Scatter the thyme sprigs over and around the shrimp. 
  • Season with salt and pepper and place the pan on the oven rack. 
  • Roast until the shrimp are firm and crunchy and barely opaque in the center, about 5 minutes. 
  • Transfer the shrimp to a hot platter and drain the pan juices into a small pan. 
  • Bring juices to a boil over high heat and boil until the sauce is lightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. 
  • Spoon the sauce over the shrimp and serve.
Time to Memorize: 3 days (eek!)

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