How to Make The Perfect Shrimp Scampi Every Time

As Christmas approaches each year, I get more and more excited for one of my favorite southern Italian traditions: The Feast of the Seven Fishes (Festa dei sette pesce). There are many variations of this feast and the number of fish can even vary, up to as many as thirteen different kinds! Regardless of how many fish appear on the table, it’s an amazing way to celebrate the holidays with family, friends, and a huge assortment of delicious food.

For the past few years, we’ve been celebrating the Feast of the Seven Fishes at my in-laws’ home. Family comes in from near and far and we start eating as soon as everyone has arrived and we don’t stop until it’s nearly Christmas morning. And, let’s be honest, after we open presents we start in on the leftovers.

One of my favorite recipes from this annual meal is shrimp scampi. It’s so simple, but manages to be extremely decadent at the same time. I love the rich buttery sauce paired with the tangy zest of freshly squeezed lemons and a healthy splash of white wine. It’s the perfect intermezzo between appetizers of fried calamari and baked clams and an entree of hearty pasta in a creamy crab sauce.

When I’m serving shrimp scampi with pasta or rice, I like to use a smaller shrimp – for this recipe, I used one pound of 31/40 count shrimp. That number means there are between 31 and 40 shrimp to a pound. If the shrimp are going to be served with only a vegetable or you really want them to stand out on your plate, choose a larger size. You’ll need to increase your cooking time accordingly.

Shrimp cook very quickly and have a tendency to seize up and get tough when cooked on very high heat. Try to keep your heat between medium and medium high and resist the urge to leave them in the pan longer than necessary. They will continue to cook a little after you take them off the heat and they will be much more pleasing to eat if they are tender. I remove the tails because someone in my family doesn’t like to have shells on his plate, but leaving them on will add more shrimp flavor to your final dish.

Don’t be afraid of how much garlic is in this recipe, either. It’s a delightful accompaniment to all of the butter and wine used. It adds a complex, spicy flavor without being overwhelming for your palate. Mincing is the best route for this fast cooking dish as it will bring out the garlic flavors quickly without the risk of over- or under-cooking it.

There is also a generous portion of butter in this dish. If you follow the directions to emulsify the butter – instead of just letting it melt – you will end up with a rich and silky sauce instead of a greasy mess. The constant, fast movement while the butter is added coupled with the butter being divided into tablespoon-sized portions for easy melting is really important to avoid an oil-slicked plate.

And please, only use fresh parsley for this dish. Dried parsley just does not pack the flavor punch of the fresh stuff. I tend to prefer flat leaf to curley because I think it adds a more intense parsley flavor. However, don’t I know it, sometimes the grocery store only has the curly variety, and that will be just fine. Chop it up really fine with a really sharp knife (to avoid bruising the leaves) and remember to reserve some extra to sprinkle over the plates before serving.

I also like to be extremely generous with my lemon juice. This recipe calls for the juice from one half of a large lemon. Don’t be afraid of that zing! By the time you add the lemon juice, the acidity from the white wine has largely been cooked away. The lemon will give the dish that bright, forward lemon flavor that is the mark of an extraordinary shrimp scampi. By mixing in some of the lemon zest at the end, you’ll add a layer of sweeter lemon flavor for a more complex final product.

What’s your favorite holiday meal? If your family celebrates the Feast of the Seven Fishes, which fish dish are you most excited for?

Perfect Shrimp Scampi Recipe

Serves 4


1 lb 31/40 count shrimp, peeled and deveined, tossed in 1/4 tsp salt (leave the tail on if you want, the shells do add more flavor to your sauce)

5 Tbs olive oil, divided

4 Tbs unsalted butter, divided into tablespoon portions for easy melting

2/3 cup dry white wine, like sauvignon blanc

5 cloves garlic, minced

juice from one half of large lemon

zest from one half of large lemon

2 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped

1/4-1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, optional

salt to taste


  1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium pan until shimmering.


2. Add half of the shrimp and cook for about two minutes, tossing with a spatula. Remove them from the pan when they have just turned pink and are not cooked all the way through. This will help you avoid over-cooked, hard and chewy shrimp.


3. Add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil in your pan and allow to heat until shimmering again. This will happen quickly.

4. Add the remaining shrimp and remove when just turning pink and barely cooked.


5. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to pan and heat. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the garlic is fragrant.

6. Add the white wine and simmer until it’s reduced by about half. This will take about 4-5 minutes depending on how wide your pan is.


7. Add butter. Shake and stir vigorously to emulsify. You can add a little bit of water if your sauce breaks and stir it quickly to re-emulsify if needed.

8. Remove from heat to add the lemon juice. Stir in and return to heat.


9. Stir shrimp and accumulated juices back into sauce along with parsley and lemon zest. Cook 1-2 minutes until shrimp are just cooked through and serve immediately.


10. If serving with pasta, reserve some of the pasta water to toss with the shrimp and sauce when you combine them. This will help keep the pasta from sticking and the starch from water will help keep your sauce creamy without being too loose.


Serving suggestions:

  • I like to serve shrimp scampi or pasta or wild rice, but it’s just as good over sauteed vegetables or as an appetizer with crusty bread for sopping up all of the delicious garlicky-lemony sauce.
  • Try subbing out the white wine for a sweeter liquor like vermouth or sherry.
  • Depending on your access to herbs, incorporating some fresh tarragon or oregano will liven up the herbal palate in this dish.
  • I have subbed out parsley for cilantro and lemon for lime for a Mexican-inspired scampi that was quite the hit at our dinner table.
  • Try serving this sauce over chicken, tilapia, or scallops. You can’t really go wrong with a lemon-butter sauce.

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