Shrimp scampi is quite deceptive. It sounds decadent, luxurious, and potentially difficult to make. You can serve this meal to anyone, and they will most likely be impressed, and feel sort of spoiled. In truth, shrimp scampi is what I like to call an “affordable luxury.” It is actually entirely affordable, and can be ready in less than thirty minutes. When I was in college, I referred to shrimp scampi as “my go-to meal.” By this I mean that, with a little thought, I generally had all of the necessary ingredients, so even when I was super busy, I could whip it up after a long day, and be perfectly content. While my definition of “super busy” has certainly changed since my college days, this meal will satisfy, regardless. Unfortunately, I forgot about this gem of a recipe until a couple of weeks ago. Apparently, I missed it thoroughly, because I have made it three times since the shrimp graced my freezer.
Frozen, raw shrimp are the key to the convenience and ease of my shrimp scampi recipe. They usually come in one-pound bags, which is perfect for four portions. Not only is this an easy item to stash in the freezer, but it is the most expensive ingredient, and it will cost you less than 10 dollars (i.e. less than $2.50 a plate). In addition to the shrimp, you need pasta, garlic, a lemon, and some parsley. Despite my warped perspective on parsley, I can say with confidence that it is mandatory in this dish. Without it, you are eating a big plate of blonde. Besides the crucial color element, parsley is used as an ingredient, not as a garnish. It’s freshness and brightness round out the flavor of the whole dish. Plus, where I shop, a bunch of flat leaf parsley costs fifty cents, so you have no excuse not to use it. And the flavor of this dish is truly perfect. Granted, shrimp scampi basically consists of all of my favorite ingredients on one plate, but I am yet to meet someone who doesn’t love it. Lemon and garlic were practically made for each other, and the flavor of the shrimp infuses the whole sauce. Even if you were feeling very generous and gave all of your shrimp to your friend, and only ate the pasta, you would still notice a distinct difference in flavor between this and lemon-garlic-parsley pasta, which, of course, I have nothing against. However, the presence of the shrimp elevates it to entirely different place.
The following recipe is for one portion, and it can be easily doubled, tripled, etc. Also, it must be noted that this recipe is fairly spicy, and lemony, and depending on your tastes, you may want to tone it down.
¼ lb. of frozen, raw shrimp
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon hot pepper flakes
Zest and juice of half a lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ pound of linguine pasta (of course the type of pasta is up to you, but I ALWAYS use linguine here. But it also happens to be my favorite long pasta)
¼ cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional and controversial)
§ Allow frozen shrimp to sit in a large bowl of cold, but not frigid, water, for 5-10 minutes, or until thawed. Remove shells and tails, and devein, if necessary. Pat dry. Meanwhile, put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta.
§ Preheat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes, or until hot. Add pasta to boiling water.
§ When the skillet is hot, add garlic and hot pepper flakes, and sauté for 30 seconds or until garlic is fragrant.
§ Add the shrimp to the pan. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with lemon zest (it’s easiest just to zest the lemon directly into the pan). When they start to curl and look pink on the bottom edges (about 3 minutes), flip the shrimp, and allow them to continue to cook.
§ The shrimp are done when they are pink and the sides look opaque, not translucent (underdone shrimp are just as bad as overdone).
§ When the pasta and shrimp are done, add the lemon juice to the pan, and then the pasta. Reserve ½ to 1 cup pasta cooking water. Toss the pasta with the shrimp and parsley. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper if necessary. If the pasta seems dry, add pasta water (a couple tablespoons at a time) until you reach the desired consistency. An extra drizzle of olive oil is also nice.
§ Plate the pasta and shrimp, top with Parmesan, if desired, and enjoy!
§ Note: at high altitudes, the shrimp and the pasta will take about the same amount of time to cook. At sea level, the shrimp will usually be done faster, but it all depends on how high your heat is. If the shrimp are done before the pasta, remove the pan from the heat until the pasta is ready. If the pasta is done, and the shrimp are mostly cooked, add the pasta to the pan, and kept the heat on low. The heat of the pasta will help them finish cooking.
Comments: I think it’s fairly clear that I love this, and you will, too. I also love to shower it in feathery shavings of Parmesan cheese. This is fairly controversial: Italian cooking lore states that cheese and seafood do not pair well. I disagree. This does not mean that I will be melting cheddar on Chilean sea bass; however, I feel that hard cheeses, like Parmesan and pecorino, are appropriate in certain seafood situations. I love it on shrimp scampi, but each chef must make this decision for him or herself.
Now that the great cheese debate it settled, I will present you with another option for this dish. If you’re pockets are feeling flush, you may want to add some white wine to your scampi. To do so, start to cook the shrimp before you add the pasta to the boiling water. When they are just shy of done, remove them from the pan, and set them aside. Add about ½ cup of dry white wine to the pan. Increase the heat, allow it to reduce by about half (2-3 minutes). When the pasta is just shy of al dente, add the shrimp back to the pan, and the lemon juice, then the pasta. Do everything else the same. This really provides some lovely additional flavors, but for broke grad students like myself, the other way is cheaper and still perfectly delicious. It’s just too bad for me that white wine and vodka aren’t interchangeable in the culinary sphere. Oh, well. Even if it doesn’t work well with shrimp scampi, it still pairs perfectly with ice.