I have eaten at a Red Lobster restaurant a grand total of once. Ever. It was years and years ago, and I don't remember much of it. I think we sat in a booth. My mother was there. And I ate shrimp scampi for the first time, and fell in love. Honestly? I don't remember much about the dish except that it was rich and garlicky. But shrimp and garlic were (still are) two of my favorite foods, and that simple marriage was a revelation to me. I have thought longingly about that dish ever since, but oddly never eaten or ordered it again. Until last night.
It's shrimp season here in Maine, which, aside from the fact that it falls in the middle of winter, is a really lovely season. It's short and sweet (just like the shrimp themselves), and living as we do in a coastal fishing town, wriggling just-off-the-boat shrimp can be had for under a dollar a pound from trucks set up along roadsides. We buy pounds and pounds of them, thinking that if we freeze them we'll have enough to last a couple months, at least. Instead, if we're lucky, our stash barely gets us past the end of shrimping season. We just love them so!
Last night, I decided to make shrimp scampi. Mostly because the recipe was quick and called for very few ingredients, but also because I have been forever haunted by my memory of that long-ago first taste. It was so, so easy to make, and more than worth the initial hassle of de-heading and peeling 1 1/2 pounds of laden-with-eggs shrimp. (Hmm. All those eggs, washing down the drain. Has anyone tried some sort of shrimp-egg-caviar thing? Maybe next time . . . )
One of the best parts of the whole endeavor was the aroma that filled the house. Lots of garlic, slowly cooking in a big glug of olive oil, and then the sudden burst of oceany-goodness as the shrimp hit the pan and added their delicious juice. A couple minutes later, with a splash of fresh lemon juice and some parsley, dinner was done. And just as quickly, we devoured it all.
We ate the shrimp on their own, with slices of gluten-free boule to soak up the liquid. And, when the bread was gone, I'm not ashamed to say that fingers and spoons were utilized to get every last glistening drip out of the pan. It was that good. Intensely garlicky (I tend to add more garlic than called for) and rich, with the clean, high notes of brine and sweet shrimp finding just the right balance. I do believe it was A Perfect Dish. Thanks, Cook's Illustrated. And thanks even more so to the anonymous fisherman who caught these heavenly morsels two days ago. They rocked our world.
And finally, I have had a shrimp scampi experience truly worthy of my deepest longings.
Shrimp Scampi - this yielded enough for one adult and two small, shrimp-lovin' boys
adapted from The Best Recipe
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4+ garlic cloves, minced
1.5# Maine shrimp, de-headed, peeled and rinsed (or the shrimp of your choice)
2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Heat oil and garlic in 10-inch skillet over medium heat until garlic begins to sizzle. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until fragrant and pale gold, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp, increase heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp turn pink, about 2-3 minutes (or up to 7 minutes, for larger shrimp). Be careful not to overcook! Off heat, stir in parsley, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.