“Maude is a giraffe…. George is a goat.”
When I was in high school, my geometry teacher wanted to impress upon us the importance of having all the facts. He wrote on the board, “Males are taller than females. George is male. Maude is female. Therefore, George is taller than Maude.”
He then turned around and asked us if this was a reasonable supposition. We, of course, all nodded in agreement. He then turned back to the board and wrote, “Maude is a giraffe. George is a goat.”
I was reminded about Mr. Budnitsky’s teaching, when I received an email this evening asking a funny question. Someone had purchased the recent Cook’s Illustrated magazine and wanted to know what I thought about their recipe for shrimp scampi. The friend hadn’t liked their version but since Cook’s Illustrated is supposed to be the expert for proper cooking, she wanted to know my thoughts.
First, I want to say that if one is going to spend money on a cooking magazine, you cannot go wrong with a magazine like Cook’s Illustrated. The folks who create the recipes are from America’s Test Kitchen, and this means they actually do test their recipes, over and over and over again, and not only that, but they tell you all about it which gives you plenty of food for thought — pun intended.
That being said, I do agree with my friend that I sometimes find myself wondering, too, about the presumptions that the testers/cooks make about people’s palates, because occasionally I actually disagree with what they say is the best way to make a certain dish. There are presumptions the testers/cooks make about what people like or dislike.
For example, they frequently comment that overdone poultry is not tasty. This fails to take into account, that for some cultures, the only “tasty” way to eat poultry is what Cook’s Illustrated would consider overdone. Does that mean those cultures are “wrong” about poultry? I would say, “No.” Rather, it means palates and tastes differ from person to person and culture to culture.
Shrimp Scampi is no different. Ironically, the name is a redundancy because scampi means shrimp, so we’re really saying Shrimp Shrimp. That fits, though, because it implies an abundance, and the number of different types of recipes that exist for scampi is quite abundant. Do you want prefer olive oil or butter? Do you like only garlic or garlic and onions? Do you want a thick sauce to coat the shrimp or a thinner sauce to run over noodles? Do you even want noodles or do you prefer scampi plain or with rice? Do you coat the scampi with bread crumbs? Do you want to season it with basil or thyme or something completely different? Do you like a lemony sauce or more of a white wine taste or a balance? However you answered each of these questions, I guarantee you, you’ll find a recipe to match your palate.
I have a simple recipe I use which you can vary to your hearts content….
- Shrimp, 12 to 16 ounces (Decide whether you want to use raw shrimp or cooked shrimp. Raw means you usually have to peel and devein the shrimp. If you have cooked shrimp you can usually just throw them into the sauce at the end. Either way, about 12 to 16 ounces of shrimp is usually a good amount for dinner for four with leftovers. If you use raw shrimp, you’ll simmer the shrimp midway through the recipe. If you use cooked, you’ll just add the shrimp at the end.)
- Olive oil or butter, 2 tsp (Do you prefer a buttery sauce or an olive oil sauce? I usually use a combination where I saute with olive oil in the beginning and then add vegan butter at the end.)
- Aromatics: Garlic Cloves, thinly sliced – 1/4 to 1/2 cup; Onions, diced, 2 tbsp to 1/4 cup (Think about the taste you’re going for: Do you want a deeper, mellow garlic flavor in which case you should roast the garlic before preparing your scampi. Or do you want more of a garlic bite which means you should saute fresh garlic as you begin preparing the scampi. Do want just a garlic taste or do you like onions, too. How much of one or the other or both flavors do you want? Vary the combination and amounts to match your tastes.)
- Flavorings: White wine or chicken broth or a “shrimp” sauce, 1 cup (What is your taste preference? Some folks like a wine sauce; others prefer just to use broth. Many folks want the broth to taste “shrimpy”, in which case you should use raw shrimp and simmer the shrimp in wine or broth to flavor it.)
- Seasoning: Basil, thyme, oregano? 1 tsp dried or sprigs of fresh; red pepper, black pepper? 1/4 to 1/2 tsp (What do you like for seasonings? If you prefer one over another, choose that. If you use dried, you should begin the scampi with the dried herbs. If you use fresh, don’t add the herbs until midway. Do you like the bite of red and black pepper? How much? Vary the additions and amounts to your liking.)
- Lemon juice, 2 tbsp to 1/4 cup (Do you like a lemony sauce? if so, how lemony? Vary the amount to your liking or omit altogether.)
- Cornstarch, 2 tsp (If you want a thicker sauce, you should mix 2 tsp of cornstarch with the lemon juice or if you’re omitting lemon juice, with the same amount of water. If you like the sauce to be more of a liquid, then omit the cornstarch and simply cook down the sauce until it’s reduced.)
- Vegan Butter, 1 to 2 tbsp (If you want a buttery sauce, you can add butter at the end. Many recipes will call for 1/4 cup or more of butter. I find that one to two tablespoons is more than sufficient.)
- Prepare shrimp if raw by peeling and deveining. If using cooked shrimp, make sure it’s defrosted and tails are removed.
- Put olive oil or vegan butter into a large pan, along with the chosen aromatics (garlic, onions or both) and seasonings if they are dry (basil or thyme or oregano). Saute over medium low heat for one to two minutes if the garlic is roasted and if onions are frozen, two to three minutes if using fresh garlic and onions, stirring continually.
- Add the flavoring (white wine or broth). If using raw shrimp, add the shrimp and cover the pan. If using already cooked shrimp, simply simmer the liquid. Either way, you’ll simmer for about five minutes. If using fresh herbs, add them now to the simmering sauce. If using raw shrimp, remove the now cooked shrimp from the liquid before proceeding with the next step.
- Mix the lemon juice, cornstarch, red pepper and black pepper and add to the liquid. Stirring continually, cook until the sauce begins to thicken. This will only take about a minute or two. If you’re going for a buttery sauce, as soon as the sauce thickens, add the pat of vegan butter and stir until it dissolves.
- Add the cooked shrimp to the sauce and coat them well.
- Serve the scampi over broccoli, rice, or pasta, or serve it as is.