Big Little Recipes

Lemony, Buttery Shrimp for When You're Short on Time

June  8, 2021

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer—not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Psst, did you hear we’re coming out with a cookbook? We’re coming out with a cookbook!


This is not shrimp scampi, but it’s also not not shrimp scampi. Because if you grab a shovel and dig into it, this saucy, satisfying dish, which took off in the U.S. in the wake of World War II, has so many meanings, it’s almost meaningless.

“In an effort to get an unromantic, unbiased definition of the word, Italian dictionaries of all sizes were consulted,” wrote Nan Ickeringill in 1964. “Unfortunately they were peculiarly silent on the subject, except for an occasional phrase such as, ‘Dio si scampi!’ which is translated as ‘God forbid!’”

What everyone can agree on is that scampi is the plural of scampo, the Italian word for a type of shellfish, as well as a type of dish using said shellfish. This is not uncommon. Think of callaloo: the greens of the taro plant and also the Caribbean dish using those greens. Or muffuletta: the round, sesame-speckled Italian bread and also the New Orleanian sandwich on that bread.

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Top Comment:
“The flavors in this recipe are astounding. The tangy horseradish nearly disappears as the sauce comes together, providing a subtle base to the dominant flavors of the lemon and dill. It's a dish I'll make for company - but with a couple modifications. First, boiling the U 12-15 shrimp I used in the lemon-water-horseradish-butter mixture, even for just 3 minutes, rendered them rubbery and almost tough, especially once the second round of horseradish and lemon zest was added. Second, the sauce is bright and summery, but seems to need a bit more body. Here's how I'll make it next: I'll add the butter and horseradish to the skillet and quickly sauté the shrimp for about 90 seconds on a side, or until just turning orange, then remove them to a plate. I'll whisk together the 2nd Tbsp of horseradish, lemon juice and a quarter or so cup of heavy cream with the additional salt then reduce for a minute or so. I'll add the shimp back in for a minute or so to warm them before plating over fettuccini then top with the lemon zest, dill and some crumbled feta. Yum!”
Comment

But all of that begs the question: If scampi is a crustacean and a preparation, what does that preparation entail?

If you read enough recipes, you’ll notice a pattern. Garlic, butter, olive oil, lemon juice, white wine, parsley, and red pepper flakes are regulars. And yet, bread crumbs, tomatoes, and just about any herb you can think of make appearances, too. Often it’s a skillet and stove situation. And yet, don’t count out a sheet pan and oven, or air fryer, or grill.

Photo by James Ransom Prop Stylist: Andrea Foti Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog

Discussing shrimp scampi’s murky definition in 2007, Melissa Clark wrote, “As I saw it, this meant I was free to interpret shrimp scampi pretty much any way I wanted.” And that’s what I’m doing, too.

Like many scampis, this shrimp dinner is speedy enough for a weeknight and saucy as heck, equal parts buttery and bright. But beyond the shrimp, beyond the butter, the ingredient list takes all sorts of swaps and skips, yielding something all its own.

Instead of achieving acidity with white wine and lemon juice, we’ll ditch the former and accomplish the same feat. Both freshly squeezed lemon juice and finely grated zest emit enough sunshine to require sunscreen. Then humble water effectively stretches that yield, because if there’s not enough sauce for bread-dunking, there’s not enough sauce.

Instead of savory garlic and spicy red pepper flakes, we’re calling in one of my favorite ingredients of all time—savory, spicy prepared horseradish. Adding a dollop at the start infuses the sauce with a world of oomph. Adding another dollop at the end delivers a vinegary dropkick amid all the richness, like a shake of hot sauce or dab of wasabi.

And instead of flat parsley, we’re turning to frilly dill. For greenery and freshness, yes, but mostly because I could devour this herb by the handful. If you don’t feel the same way? Go back to parsley. Or try cilantro or chives or basil. After all, it’s your shrimp not-scampi—whatever you want to call it.

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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles on the fly, baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in October 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

7 Comments

Margot M. June 11, 2021
This was everything I hoped it would be: simple, quick, and delicious. I wouldn’t change a thing. Thank you, Emma and Food52!
 
[email protected] June 10, 2021
The flavors in this recipe are astounding. The tangy horseradish nearly disappears as the sauce comes together, providing a subtle base to the dominant flavors of the lemon and dill. It's a dish I'll make for company - but with a couple modifications.

First, boiling the U 12-15 shrimp I used in the lemon-water-horseradish-butter mixture, even for just 3 minutes, rendered them rubbery and almost tough, especially once the second round of horseradish and lemon zest was added. Second, the sauce is bright and summery, but seems to need a bit more body.

Here's how I'll make it next: I'll add the butter and horseradish to the skillet and quickly sauté the shrimp for about 90 seconds on a side, or until just turning orange, then remove them to a plate. I'll whisk together the 2nd Tbsp of horseradish, lemon juice and a quarter or so cup of heavy cream with the additional salt then reduce for a minute or so. I'll add the shimp back in for a minute or so to warm them before plating over fettuccini then top with the lemon zest, dill and some crumbled feta. Yum!
 
Molly D. June 10, 2021
I dislike horseradish. Any substitute you can think of to use in this recipe?
 
ankit123 June 10, 2021
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Deborah June 9, 2021
what do you think about subbing some nice olive oil for some of the butter? would be a little healthier, no?
 
Shadrick R. June 9, 2021
I'm Loving this recipe! The shrimp dash look very good. I Love me some butter. I'm going to try this one day If I'm not busy.
 
Rrickina June 9, 2021
Loving this recipe! Also loving the “where’s the seeds” it should be a campaign really bc it’s so hard to find locally grown non GMO food anymore