You’ll often find classic recipes caught in a backwater eddy rotting into poor, grotesque things far removed from former splendor, like a fading star of stage and screen who’s reduced to dinner theater, falling subject to farce for the same reason: their name is a draw. So you’ll find prima vera with frozen vegetables, for instance, or steak Diane with condensed cream of mushroom soup.

I worked in a restaurant where the house recipe for scampi consisted of garlic powder, a commercial oil product (Whirl), and the remnants of whatever open bottle of white wine the bartender had. That’s it. This concoction was poured over a dozen medium-sized shrimp arranged in a small circular metal dish and placed in a salamander.

The results were dry and chewy; had our customers been (in the least bit) savvy, no doubt they would have complained with vigor and frequency, but the very fact that they didn’t led to the recipe becoming entrenched on our menu and–what’s even more tragic–likely defining this travesty as scampi for hundreds of people who’d never eaten at a restaurant with tablecloths.

To make a good scampi, sauté the best shrimp available in a really good butter with a slash of olive oil, plenty of fresh, finely-minced garlic, a fruity white wine, salt and white pepper. Before serving, add a jolt of lemon juice and a sprinkling of parsley. Some thicken the sauce with starch or lightly bread the shrimp,  add scallions, or even chopped drained tomatoes, but I don’t. Scampi can be served as an appetizer with bread or over pasta as an entree.

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