Lemony, buttery shrimp for when you're short on time

Both freshly squeezed lemon juice and finely grated zest emit enough sunshine to require sunscreen

Published June 11, 2021 3:18PM (EDT)

Prop stylist: Andrew Foti. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. (James Ransom / Food52)
Prop stylist: Andrew Foti. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. (James Ransom / Food52)

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Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer — not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Psst, did you hear we're coming out with a cookbook? We're coming out with a cookbook!

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This is not shrimp scampi, but it's also not not shrimp scampi. Because if you grab a shovel and dig into it, this saucy, satisfying dish, which took off in the U.S. in the wake of World War II, has so many meanings, it's almost meaningless.

"In an effort to get an unromantic, unbiased definition of the word, Italian dictionaries of all sizes were consulted," wrote Nan Ickeringill in 1964. "Unfortunately they were peculiarly silent on the subject, except for an occasional phrase such as, 'Dio si scampi!' which is translated as 'God forbid!'"

What everyone can agree on is that scampi is the plural of scampo, the Italian word for a type of shellfish, as well as a type of dish using said shellfish. This is not uncommon. Think of callaloo: the greens of the taro plant and also the Caribbean dish using those greens. Or muffuletta: the round, sesame-speckled Italian bread and also the New Orleanian sandwich on that bread.

But all of that begs the question: If scampi is a crustacean and a preparation, what does that preparation entail?

If you read enough recipes, you'll notice a pattern. Garlic, butter, olive oil, lemon juice, white wine, parsley, and red pepper flakes are regulars. And yet, bread crumbs, tomatoes, and just about any herb you can think of make appearances, too. Often it's a skillet and stove situation. And yet, don't count out a sheet pan and oven, or air fryer, or grill.

Discussing shrimp scampi's murky definition in 2007, Melissa Clark wrote, "As I saw it, this meant I was free to interpret shrimp scampi pretty much any way I wanted." And that's what I'm doing, too.

Like many scampis, this shrimp dinner is speedy enough for a weeknight and saucy as heck, equal parts buttery and bright. But beyond the shrimp, beyond the butter, the ingredient list takes all sorts of swaps and skips, yielding something all its own.

Instead of achieving acidity with white wine and lemon juice, we'll ditch the former and accomplish the same feat. Both freshly squeezed lemon juice and finely grated zest emit enough sunshine to require sunscreen. Then humble water effectively stretches that yield, because if there's not enough sauce for bread-dunking, there's not enough sauce.

Instead of savory garlic and spicy red pepper flakes, we're calling in one of my favorite ingredients of all time — savory, spicy prepared horseradish. Adding a dollop at the start infuses the sauce with a world of oomph. Adding another dollop at the end delivers a vinegary dropkick amid all the richness, like a shake of hot sauce or dab of wasabi.

And instead of flat parsley, we're turning to frilly dill. For greenery and freshness, yes, but mostly because I could devour this herb by the handful. If you don't feel the same way? Go back to parsley. Or try cilantro or chives or basil. After all, it's your shrimp not-scampi — whatever you want to call it.


Recipe: Speedy Shrimp With Horseradish Butter

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Serves: 2


  • 2 lemons, preferably organic
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, plus more to taste
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound large to extra-large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 handful chopped dill
  • Crusty bread, hot pasta, or whatever starchy thing you want, for serving


  1. Finely grate the zest of 1 lemon and set aside. Now juice both lemons into a liquid measuring cup — you should get about 6 tablespoons. Add enough cold water to reach 1/2 cup of liquid total. 
  2. Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon of horseradish, the lemon water, and a big pinch of salt. 
  3. As soon as that comes to a boil, add the shrimp and another big pinch of salt. Simmer for 2 to 4 minutes, flipping each shrimp halfway through, until pink and firm. 
  4. Stir in the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of horseradish. Taste and increase the horseradish, if you'd like. 
  5. Top with the lemon zest and dill, plus a sprinkle of salt (flaky is nice if you've got it), and serve with crusty bread for mopping up the sauce.

By Emma Laperruque

MORE FROM Emma Laperruque

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