In capable hands, classic recipes made with fresh, quality ingredients can be magic, but I’m here to tell you somebody’s bound to fuck up anything with everything.
You will find instances where classic recipes become caught in a backwater eddy and rot into poor, grotesque things far removed from former splendor, like a fading star of stage and screen who’s stuck reenacting a famous role in a cowtown. Many recipes fall subject to this 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 cannned 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.
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–what’s even more tragic–likely defining this trash as scampi for hundreds of people.
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, 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.