When I lived in the United States, it was in the mainland city of Saint Louis, and nowhere near a sea coast. However, Americans are practical sorts, and where’s a will (and demand), there’s a way – and so there was excellent seafood offered in many restaurants around town. One of my most favorite dishes to eat – back then, and to this day – is a dish Americans call “Shrimp Scampi“.
Before I go any further, I would like to use a Wikipedia term here. Disambiguation: I know that the word “scampi” refers to a species of lobster, and not actually to prawns or shrimp, and I also know that in the UK there is a revolting tendency to make “reformed” scampi – also sold as “king prawnies” (note the “alternative” spelling – they are not legally permitted to be called prawns). Those leftovers-scraped-off-seafood-factory-floor and food coloring are not, however, what I am talking about at all.
The real, gloriously garlicky and lusciously buttery preparation of real, fresh prawns or shrimp, is.
As with many popular dishes, there are as many shrimp scampi recipes out there as there are cooks who make them, but I have found that I don’t like most of them, because they overcomplicate the issue. Really good, fresh (or at least defrosted) shrimp or prawns – either work great with this as does almost any imaginable seafood – need very little embellishment. I love seafood in general – for its gastronomic and health properties, and because it is so easy to prepare, but the marriage of wine, butter and garlic in this sauce makes it simply irresistible. And this way of cooking is both, festive and very very simple and easy.
What you need: (serves 2)
- An ovenproof dish – ceramic or metal, large enough to hold your seafood in a single layer
- ~400-500g raw jumbo tiger prawns or jumbo shrimp (defrosted is ok), deveined. (I like them shell-on as that makes them juicier to eat, but does make for messier eating)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup (120ml) dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon dry sherry OR 1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- Chili flakes to taste
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme or parsley (can be substituted with 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves)
- 4-7 garlic cloves (depending on size of cloves and your liking of garlic)
What to do:
- Rinse your shrimp or prawns under running cold water and let drain well in a colander.
- Press or crush+chop garlic and put into a mixing bowl.
- Add your wine, salt, pepper, chili flakes (if using), sherry and/or lemon juice (if using) and thyme (if using dried) and olive oil to the garlic and whisk well to combine.
- Add drained seafood to the marinade and shake or mix to coat. Cover with cling film and let stand for 30 minutes.
- In the meantime, preheat your broiler (top grill) to 220°C.
- After 30 minutes of marinating, pour the seafood and marinade into a shallow baking dish. Add cubes of butter around the dish, and place in the oven.
- Broiler intensities vary, and seafood cooks fast to very fast depending on its temperature when it goes into the oven, so I recommend simply not leaving the oven unattended for the duration of broiling these – they can be done in as little as 10 minutes, though in some ovens it can take 15+. Shrimp are ready when they have curled up, the shells or meat turns opaque and pink/red, and the edges of shells or tails begin to char (see photo above). Sauce should be bubbling at this point.
- Remove from oven and sprinkle with chopped thyme or parsley (if using fresh).
Serve with crusty bread in bowls (to easier sop up the sauce with bread), or over some fettuccine or linguine pasta. And if you’ve got some good white wine around, do, by all means, have a glass alongside this. I would.