Today’s lesson: Patience in the kitchen is not just a virtue, it’s a necessity. More on this below.
Spoiler alert: I'm not always the most patient person.
In activities I enjoy or that matter a lot to me, I have all the time in the world. In other areas of life, I move fast so I can move on.
And now that I've written that, I realize this may be the balance that's keeping me sane.
Either way, being impatient in the kitchen means I'm naturally attracted to faster, fewer-ingredient recipes. So, when I stumbled upon this 20-minute, 6-step ditty in the New York Times Cooking app, I thought it looked right up my galley.
Anything with “sheet-pan” in the title promises simplicity. Right?
From Fresh to Frozen
If the internet is to be believed, the Italian "scampi" refers to small, shrimp-like creatures in the lobster family (also known as Dublin Bay prawns, Norway lobsters or langoustines). So the name "shrimp scampi" actually makes no sense? The concept likely originated as "shrimp prepared scampi-style" as Italian chefs tried to adapt a dish in America without the proper seafood ingredients found back home.
I can relate. I love seafood of almost all kinds, and I’m pretty adventurous about it (though there are a few species I won’t touch, like razor clams, which taste like sweatsocks).
But I learned to love seafood living abroad. Growing up in the States, I didn't eat a lot of variety of fish. A typical oxymoron heard in these parts is that people don’t want fish that tastes “too fishy.”
In Spain, I was exposed to the delights of conservas, or canned fish. My favorite is calamares en su tinta, squid pieces in their own inky sauce. The fishier the better! Seafood became a staple of my diet, stocked fresh in markets and widely served on menus. From hake to seabass to cod to octopus, I learned to love it all.
Which is why I am sometimes hyper-critical of the seafood sections in my local stores today. These sad affairs often feature limp white filets slouched atop yellowing ice. Even the peppy lemon wedges can’t liven up this situation.
Okay, maybe I'm overstating for effect, but it's true that most of the seafood I eat on a regular basis now comes from the frozen section.
That's how I found myself with an opened 2-pound bag of raw shrimp in my freezer. Knowing I needed to feed some hungry mouths later that eve, I popped what was left of the bag into the fridge to defrost, and I started scrolling Cooking’s database.
Planning & Patience
One thing I’ve seen more mild-mannered home chefs do that I’ve never, not once done myself is to get all the ingredients measured and ready before they even start cooking.
I am beginning to see how this can be useful. In my kitchen, things have been known to bubble over or burn while I’m frantically skimming instructions or chopping and measuring next ingredients. I think the challenge entertains me, but the truth is I'm not always fast enough.
On this recipe, I got everything out of the fridge, measured the wine and washed and peeled the shrimp – all before starting. Yeah, me!
I did not cut the butter, chop the herbs or get the needed saucepan ready. Whoopsie.
This turned out to be especially foolhardy because, had I slowed down and read the recipe again more closely, I would have realized that I only had 6 to 12 minutes to do all this while the lemons flirted with disaster under the broiler’s flames.
Step by Step
Thankfully, I managed not to burn the lemons, though I’m not sure the wine reduced by half, as the recipe called for. I’ve found in my life that a little extra wine never hurts, so I went with it.
As an aside, why is broiling so exciting?
Here’s where my impatience could have sabotaged my scampi – again. When my butter melted, I poured it over my cold shrimp, rather than mixing the shrimp into the butter in its warm pan, as the recipe advised (though not clearly enough for us beginners, IMHO).
The result, of course, was congealed butter. Determined, I pivoted and used a utensil to spread the butter, now a paste mixed with my thinly-sliced garlic, over the shrimp, which I carefully layered on top of my decoratively charred lemons.
I don’t think I’ve ever cooked shrimp in the oven before. But why not? They plumped up surprisingly fast and turned a gorgeous pink.
Making a Meal
One thing I haven’t mentioned is that among the items I did not measure before beginning this recipe was the actual quantity of shrimp I had left in my 2-pound bag.
The recipe called for a pound, and the bag looked about half full, so I went with it. (Yes, I'm seeing the pattern.)
I also hadn’t thought too much about the fact that one pound of shrimp and a few lemon slices, no matter how exquisitely broiled, weren’t going to feed all the people in my house (on this day, me plus two teens and several of their friends).
I decided to turn my pan-sheet scampi into a pasta dish. Pasta fills tummies and everyone likes it. Feeling smart.
Now, most pasta shrimp scampi recipes online call for a long noodle, like spaghetti. Okay, not most – apparently all, according to a quick Google search (mocking me with its uniformity).
You guessed it: I didn’t have spaghetti on hand, which I discovered during the roughly 5 minutes the shrimp were in the oven. So, I substituted mini-penne.
It might have been unconventional. It might not have fit in on Google. But I believe it tasted just as good!
The kids agreed. Gabi and Teresa both gave it a thumbs up, and their friends approved. One dared eat a lemon slice. Another sprinkled nutritional yeast on top, though I’m not sure how the NYT would feel about that.
Being a little impatient caused some preventable stress and meant more dishes to clean than necessary, but it didn’t ruin this quick, elegant, tasty and relatively simple recipe.
I learned from the process that preparation in the kitchen – doing your reading, thinking, chopping and measuring in advance – isn’t just showing off.
Does that mean I’ll always do it moving forward? Probably not. But I’ll go with it.
How about you? What favorite quick-n-easy recipes do you have up your chef’s apron? Do you have a shrimp scampi recipe worth sharing?
Also: Do you get everything ready before you start cooking? Has improvising ever worked well for you?
Lastly, is cooking going to make me a more patient person?