In the life of any given classic recipe, you will find instances where it becomes caught in a backwater eddy and becomes a poor, grotesque thing far removed from its heyday, rather much like a fading star of stage and screen who can only find an audience where their celebrity is no more than their name (think Citizen Kane). Many recipes fall subject to this farce simply because their name on a menu is a draw: a pasta prima vera with frozen vegetables, for instance or a steak Diane with canned cream of mushroom soup. In capable hands classic recipes made with fresh, quality ingredients can be magical, but I’m here to tell you somebody’s bound to fuck up just about anything with alarming frequency.
I worked in a restaurant where the house recipe for scampi was particularly wretched. The sauce consisted of garlic powder, a commercial oil product (Whirl) and the remnants of whatever open bottle of wine the bartender on duty had available. 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. More often than not, the results were dry and chewy. Had our customers been more sophisticated, 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 likely defining this trash as scampi for many people.
To make proper scampi, sauté or broil the best shrimp available in a really good butter with 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, add scallions, or even chopped drained tomatoes, which I consider rather excessive. Scampi can be served as an appetizer or over pasta as an entree.