Cook's Country

In the Library with Toni Tipton-Martin: What Is a Scampi?

The real story behind the name of one of America’s favorite dishes.

Published Jan. 8, 2024.

Shrimp Scampi is a delicious Italian American restaurant staple, and its appeal is undeniable—shrimp simmered with lots of garlic in a sauce of white wine and butter.

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But how did it get its name? The term “scampi” didn’t have a direct link to this rich butter sauce until the 1920s. In fact, the term refers to langoustines—small, lobster-like creatures from the Northern Atlantic. But langoustines are not (and have not been) widely available in the United States. And according to chef and Italian cooking expert Lidia Bastianich, the dish shrimp scampi was an example of immigrants adapting Italian techniques to American ingredients. So these Italian immigrants swapped in readily available shrimp in an Italian dish that typically used langoustines, inspiring the name.   

Cooks Countrys Editor in Chief Toni Tipton-Martin gives a more detailed story about how shrimp scampi got its name in the video below. 

The next time you order shrimp scampi, smile knowing you’re really ordering “shrimp langoustines.” Or try our version of Chicken Scampi. There is no seafood in that dish, but the signature garlic butter sauce carries the day.  

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