07 July 2011

Shrimp Scampi and the Benevolent Omnivore

I did not realize how insulated I was from the lives of the animals I eat until I was denied the emotional distance (and convenience) provided by the American supermarket.

In theory, I am a great supporter of knowing from whence comes my food.  It is only logical that since I choose to be a meat and fish eater, I should understand my choice involves, you know-- living things.

Believe me, I do now.

Shrimp scampi is an easy meal for a hot summer night, right?  In Lisbon, it begins with whole shrimp.  Whole as in, fished-out-of-the-water-directly-onto-your-counter.  Whose heads I have to rip off.  And whose intestines come out in a thin little slimy thread.

I am a barbaric old school cook, y'all.

Living here has given me a respect for my food that I missed out on when I didn't see whole bunny rabbits and tiny pigs laying skinned and stacked in the butcher's case at my local market.  The Portuguese proclivity for using every part of an animal from chicken necks to pig intestine is still unappetizing, but I respect the respectfulness inherent in it.  We eat vegetarian at least 3 times a week these days, and I am on a first-name basis with lentils and chickpeas.

But there is no soapbox here.  Lord knows I am not vegetarian, nor likely to become one. Bacon makes me weak in the knees.  I will continue decapitating shrimp and butchering whole chickens in my kitchen. And I am still only about 36% on board with eating offal.

But can there such a thing as a benevolent omnivore?  Is awareness the first step?

Shrimp Scampi
adapted from the Pioneer Woman
Serves 4

1 pound of shrimp
6 tbsp of butter
2 tbsp olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup vinho verde or white wine
2 lemons
4 dashes tabasco
1/2 pound of spaghetti or other threadlike pasta
salt and pepper
chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

1. Boil the pasta water.  Cook the pasta according to package directions, and have it cooked and ready by the time you put the shrimp into the pan. (step 4) Reserve a cup of the cooking water.

2. If you are working with whole shrimp (cheaper!): Separate the head and bodies of the shrimp.  As you pull the head out, the shrimp vein (intestines) may pull out as well.  This is good, it will save you time later.  Once the heads are off, crack the backs of the shrimp and remove the tail and shells.  If you wish to devein the shrimp, cut a small slit in the convex part of the back and remove the little black slimy thread.

3. Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over a medium heat until just melted.  Add the garlic, and cook until the garlic is barely browned.

4. Add shrimp, and stir and cook for just a couple of minutes until the shrimp is starting to turn pink and before it has curled up. Squeeze in the fresh lemon juice, then add the wine, tabasco, salt and pepper. Stir and lower the heat, cooking for just a couple of minutes until the shrimp are fully pink and curled up.

5.  Remove from heat and toss the pasta with the shrimp mixture.  Add some reserved pasta water if necessary to lubricate the mixture.  Toss everything with the parmesan and cilantro, and serve immediately.

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