How Shrimp Scampi Really Got Its Name

Do you like eating shellfish? If you don't have a shellfish phobia, you probably love them. According to The Rusty Spoon, shellfish come in many shapes and forms such as lobsters, crabs, shrimp, oysters, mollusks, and scallops. Of course, the most popular type of shellfish is the modest shrimp, which is beloved for its flavor, affordability, and versatility, as shrimp can really be used in a wide range of dishes. The Guardian claims that in the U.S., the average American eats 4.4 pounds of shrimp annually. However, around 90% of shrimp is imported to the U.S. from other countries. But that doesn't stop anyone from indulging in tasty shrimp-based dishes. 

For example, take ebi furai, a Japanese take on fried shrimp. The shrimp are coated with panko breadcrumbs and fried to golden-brown perfection before they're served with tonkatsu or tartar sauce for dipping (via Just One Cookbook). In the American South, people love to pair their shrimp with grits, and what was once a humble breakfast dish can now be found in upscale restaurants (per Serious Eats). 

Suppose you're in Spain and visit one of their tapa bars, famous for small bites of (usually) traditional food. In that case, you probably won't miss gambas al ajillo, one of the most popular tapas consisting of garlic, shrimp, and olive oil (via Spanish Sabores). And back in the U.S., there's one shrimp-based dish with a pretty unusual name: shrimp scampi. But how did it get its name?

Italian immigrants in the U.S. replaced shrimp with scampi, but kept both words when naming the dish

Shellfish connoisseurs must be baffled by the name of this Italian-American dish – shrimp scampi. What is shrimp? What is scampi? What's prawn? According to Our Flexitarian Kitchen, in the U.S., only small to medium sized shrimp earn the moniker of shrimp. Meanwhile, people call the larger variety prawns or in some cases scampi. And if you've never had shrimp scampi, it might not be a bad idea to make it in your own kitchen. But first, one must know what the dish really consists of. 

New York Times reports that shrimp scampi was at the height of its popularity in the 1970s, and it's an Italian-American classic that's quite versatile, meaning it doesn't have a fixed list of ingredients. In Lidia Bastianich's cookbook "Lidia's Italian-American kitchen," the famous chef says that Italian immigrants in the U.S. first made the dish by sautéeing scampi (instead of shrimp) with garlic, onions, white wine, and olive oil. They kept both the word "prawn" and the word "scampi," and that's how the dish was subsequently named. 

Of course, over time, shrimp scampi was often enriched with additions such as breadcrumbs, tomatoes, and tarragon. What's best is that you can add anything you like to your shrimp scampi, so it might be a good idea to start experimenting right away. You can also serve the dish over pasta or stick with the classic ingredients. The results will undoubtedly be tasty.