It’s handy to have a few dishes up your sleeve that can be prepared in several different ways depending on how you are feeling, or more importantly, how your fridge, freezer, or pantry are stocked at that very moment.
Shrimp scampi is one of those dishes. The recipe brings a few ingredients together to create a deeply familiar and deeply delicious flavor. Eaten alone with some bread to sop it up, mixed with a favorite pasta, dished over polenta or rice and you’ve got yourself dinner. It’s important to mention that when I write about main dish ideas (aka center-of-the-plate) I always, always serve a vegetable or two on the side. (I am constitutionally incapable of just serving meat, fish, or pasta without a good helping of vegetables.)
This shrimp recipe was first published in Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys, and was drawn from my Italian-American roots. But there are many different variations on simple, sautéed shrimp preparations. I especially love the way it’s cooked in Spain: sizzled with olive oil in a small ceramic dish called a casuela or in a small cast iron skillet with lots of garlic, and served as tapas or pintxos. My friend Theresa Barrenechea served the most delicious version at her erstwhile NYC restaurant Marichu, and the recipe is published in her book, The Cuisines of Spain: Exploring Regional Home Cooking.
As long as you have shrimp, olive oil, garlic, and salt you can pull off either my simplified Italian-ish recipe or Theresa’s authentic Spanish one. Use the best, freshest shrimp you can find and remember: it’s perfectly fine to use frozen (USA) shrimp, I keep a bag in my freezer for exactly this purpose.
Most commercial shrimp are frozen on the boats at sea. A few years ago I visited Grand Isle, Louisiana with a crew to photograph and tell the story of a 5th generation shrimper. My brother Jim who lives down there helped us out and also lent his delicious barbecued shrimp recipe to that magazine story. Unless you can pull up to a dock along the Gulf of Mexico or some other such location, don’t be afraid to buy frozen shrimp!