According to John F. Mariani’s Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, scampi is a Venetian term that dates back to the 1920s. It refers to shrimp cooked in butter, white wine and lemon juice –– but a small lobster or prawn is preferred.
Shrimp scampi first became popular after World War II when many Italian dishes became mainstream. Today, the definition of scampi continues to expand including other proteins as operators get more inventive, serving scampi items alone or plated over pasta, rice, salads and pizza.
Scarpas Brick Oven Pizza in Albuquerque, New Mexico, capitalizes on shrimp scampi’s popularity. The Pesto Pasta with Shrimp Scampi combines garlic sautéed shrimp, roasted red peppers and pine nuts with a creamy pesto sauce over penne; while Pasta Scarpas pairs shrimp scampi with basil, capers, parsley with pesto garlic butter over penne. The Shrimp Scampi Pizza is topped with a garlic cream sauce, mozzarella and Fontina, sun-dried tomatoes, chives and sautéed shrimp.
“Scampi gives people protein options. We get requests for shrimp scampi on items other than pizza –– for example people add scampi to their salads,” says Joe Sommers, general manager, Scarpas Brick Oven Pizza, who estimates that the Shrimp Scampi pizza has a 30-percent food cost.
Joe Moore, owner of Tortora’s in Owens Cross Roads, Alabama, initially only offered shrimp scampi (made with deveined tail-on shrimp, fresh squeezed lemon juice, unsalted butter, salt, pepper, white wine, chopped garlic, chopped parsley, shrimp stock, olive oil and cooked spaghetti) on the special’s menu during spring and summer. “On Friday nights during Lent, they sold at their absolute peak,” he says.
In June he added shrimp scampi to the permanent menu since scampi dishes provide broader menu appeal to attract and satisfy customers. “Even though the actual food cost for shrimp scampi is slightly higher than my standard food cost, it provides substantially greater contribution margins than standard menu items,” says Moore. “This is of even more value when you consider the make/ cook time on a shrimp scampi dish (6 to 8 minutes) versus the make/ cook time of an equally priced medium-sized specialty pizza (8 to 10 minutes).”
While Mark Muscoreil, executive chef of Vero Amore Restaurants in Tucson, Arizona, feels his Shrimp Scampi sells better as a special. “Our daily specials are to please frequent guests. Offering a dish as a ‘special’ encourages the server to talk about it, and recommend it, which ultimately increases ticket sales,” he says.
His Vero Amore Shrimp Scampi sells for $16. To prepare, Muscoreil combines clarified butter with oregano, basil, garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper in a sauté pan. Then he sautés butterflied tail-on shrimp. Once cooked, he deglazes the pan with white wine and tosses in cooked linguini. Muscoreil says the food costs versus profit margins on the dish are approximately 78 percent.
Scampi doesn’t have to mean shrimp. Other types of shellfish such as lobster or prawns and proteins such as chicken or veal can easily be prepared scampi-style.
Chef/owner Jim Esposito of Esposito’s Pizza & Pasta in Matawan, New Jersey, offers a sesame-seed crust Margherita pizza topped with mozzarella and chicken scampi, made with pan-seared chicken that’s chopped up and sautéed with garlic, lemon, butter and white wine.
“We sell a lot of shrimp scampi pizza, but I have a seafood allergy so I created an alternative for myself and started offering the chicken scampi pizza,” he explains. “We sell a lot of specialty pizzas and this is among the top five.”
Esposito estimates that the food cost is about 35 percent. “We use a high-quality fresh mozzarella, and the sesame seeds are expensive because half of the seeds fly off while we hand-toss the dough,” he says.
Despite that, Esposito encourages operators to menu scampi. “It’s is a great menu item because most places already have all of the ingredients needed to make it in-house,” he says.
Muscoreil agrees. “Serving scampi is a great way to increase sales due to its high profit margin,” he says. “It’s a hearty, fulfilling meal that people think of as a ‘treat’ when dining out.”u
VERO AMORE SHRIMP SCAMPI
Recipe courtesy of Mark Muscoreil, executive chef, Vero Amore Restaurants
Yield: 1 serving
1 ounce clarified butter
½ teaspoon mixture of dried basil and oregano
½ teaspoon mixture granulated garlic, salt and pepper
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, chopped
Pinch, crushed red pepper
5 large shrimp, butterflied, tail-on
½ cup dry white wine
9 ounces linguini
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
Combine butter with dry ingredients in sauté pan. Add shrimp. Sauté until tails turn pink on edges. Add white wine.
Prepare linguini in pasta drop, drain, add to pan. Gently toss all ingredients.
Transfer to bowl. Garnish with parsley.
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Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and lifestyle trends.