Each year, April 29th is known as National Shrimp Scampi Day in the United States.
Historically, shrimp scampi and other Italian dishes were not common in American restaurants until the post-World War II era. Italy struggled to rebuild economically after the war, leaving many citizens impoverished. This period was when many Italian immigrants sought work in the United States. Those who decided to immigrate to the United States saw hope and opportunity to provide for their families.
Thus, Italian food started to gain traction in American culture. Italian immigrants had come to the States before this time, but the garlic in their recipes was a major turn-off for many Americans back then. Can you believe that? As a personal fan of a lot of garlic in many of my dishes, I have trouble, no doubt.
After doing a little research, information regarding exactly how National Shrimp Scampi day began is a little bit of a mystery; however, from what I understand when authentic Italian restaurants were making this dish in the United States, they actually had to substitute shrimp for prawns. They referred to it as scampi-style prepared shrimp, but the term “shrimp scampi” was the one that eventually stuck. Classic Italian versions of scampi do not include cheese since cheese and fish typically do not pair well together. Typically, cheese has a strong enough flavor that it drowns out the delicate flavors of shrimp or prawns, for example.
Fresh prawns are the ideal choice, but frozen shrimp will also work for scampi. Buy a peeled and deveined variety of frozen shrimp to reduce your preparation time. To thaw the shrimp, place them in a colander and run cold water over them for about 5 minutes. After thawing them, pat them dry with paper towels, and they are ready to go. Take out only as much shrimp as you will be eating because leaving it thawed in the fridge for more than two consecutive days can possibly make you sick from a food safety standpoint. If you are unsure if your shrimp has gone bad, a sour smell or slimy texture indicates that the shrimp has spoiled.
Shrimp is simple to work with because you can instantly tell when shrimp is ready to eat. When raw, shrimp has a grayish translucent color; once cooked, they turn a pinkish color and are opaque. If you keep the tails on, these will turn a bright red hue, which is another indicator that your shrimp is ready to eat. If you want to make a scampi dish at home, here is a simple yet wonderful recipe to try:
1 to 1 ½ pound peeled and deveined jumbo shrimp
¼ cup olive oil or can use butter, if preferred
¼ cup freshly chopped parsley
⅓ cup Sauvignon Blanc or any dry, white wine works
3 cloves minced garlic or about 1 Tbsp total if you are cheating with the store-bought jar of garlic
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Lemon zest from one lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
First, bring a large pot of water to boil if you are serving the scampi with pasta. Then, get a large saucepan and turn the stove to medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add the oil or butter, as desired, followed by the shrimp and let it cook for about 2 minutes. Toss in the garlic and sauté for a minute, then flip the shrimp over to start cooking the raw side. Cook your pasta according to the package directions once your water is boiling and drain, which is typically about 9-10 minutes.
Stir in the wine, salt and pepper, and let it come to a boil quickly. Next, turn your heat down to low and let your scampi dish cook for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Lastly, add the parsley and lemon juice and toss everything together. Cook for two more minutes and serve immediately with your pasta and garnish it with lemon zest, if desired. Overall, as you can see, this is a very quick dish to make, and the vast majority of people risk overcooking it rather than undercooking, but more on that later.
You may also add crushed red pepper flakes or even a touch of paprika to the scampi at the end if you want to add a little spicier element to your dish. Yes, please.
Other variations of this recipe include breadcrumbs or a sprinkling of parmesan cheese on top. Shrimp only need about 6 minutes to cook through all the way, so do not overcook the scampi to avoid an unpleasant rubbery texture. As said previously, you risk over cooking this more than undercooking it, or at least most people tend to do so.
On behalf of The Lintonian, we hope you enjoy celebrating National Shrimp Scampi Day this year. Consider ending your meal with some delicious cannoli, gelato, or tiramisu dessert as an homage to Italian cuisine too. After all, we would not even have shrimp scampi if it weren’t for our international friends in the boot-shaped country located within the Mediterranean Sea.