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What is the sauce of shrimp scampi made of?

Shrimp scampi is a classic Italian-American dish that consists of shrimp sautéed in garlic, white wine, lemon juice, butter or olive oil, and fresh herbs. The star of the dish is the quick, flavorful sauce that coats the shrimp as they cook. So what exactly goes into this iconic scampi sauce?

The Main Ingredients

While recipes can vary slightly, the basic components of shrimp scampi sauce are:

  • Butter or olive oil: The foundation of the sauce is a good amount of melted butter or olive oil, which will coat the shrimp as they cook.
  • Garlic: Lots of minced, pressed, or grated garlic gives the scampi sauce its quintessential flavor. Two or more tablespoons is not uncommon in recipes.
  • White wine: A splash of white wine adds acidity and complexity to the sauce.
  • Lemon juice: Freshly squeezed lemon juice brightens up the sauce with citrus flavor.
  • Parsley and other herbs: Chopped fresh parsley is commonly used, but other fresh herbs like oregano, basil, or thyme can also be added.
  • Salt and pepper: Salt and ground black pepper round out the flavors and season the sauce.

So in summary, the most essential components are butter/oil, garlic, white wine, lemon juice, and herbs. Adjusting the amounts of these key ingredients will impact the sauce’s overall flavor profile.

The Step-by-Step Process

To turn these core ingredients into a pan sauce for shrimp scampi, the process usually goes like this:

  1. Heat the butter or oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Take care not to brown the garlic.
  2. Pour in the white wine and allow it to reduce down slightly, about 1 minute.
  3. Add the shrimp to the pan and cook on each side until pink, 1-2 minutes per side.
  4. Once the shrimp are nearly cooked through, add the lemon juice and herbs and stir to incorporate.
  5. Remove pan from heat and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  6. For serving, mound the shrimp over pasta or rice. Spoon over plenty of the garlic-butter pan sauce.

This quick sautéing technique allows you to infuse the shrimp with big flavors in under 10 minutes. The acidic white wine and bright lemon juice cut through the richness of the butter or oil. And the fresh herbs add vibrance and color to the final dish.

Key Tips for the Best Sauce

Here are some top tips for nailing the ideal shrimp scampi sauce:

  • Use high-quality ingredients. Splurge on fresh shrimp, real butter, and good olive oil. Avoid pre-minced garlic.
  • Let the garlic infuse into the butter or oil without browning it. Burnt garlic will make the sauce bitter.
  • Reduce the white wine slightly to cook off the alcohol taste before adding the shrimp.
  • Cook the shrimp just until opaque and cooked through, no longer. Overcooked shrimp will be rubbery.
  • Brighten up the sauce with a generous amount of lemon juice.
  • Keep the herb quantities modest so they complement rather than overwhelm the sauce.
  • Season thoughtfully with salt and pepper to enhance flavors.


Once you’ve mastered the classic preparation, there are many ways to put your own spin on shrimp scampi sauce:

  • Use olive oil instead of butter for a lighter sauce.
  • Add crushed red pepper flakes for a bit of heat.
  • Use shallots or onion instead of garlic.
  • Substitute vermouth, champagne, or white wine vinegar for the white wine.
  • Garnish with chopped tomato before serving.
  • Mix up the herb blend with tarragon, chives, basil, or mint.
  • Stir in a tablespoon of capers for a briny note.

The possibilities are endless for improvising with bold new flavors. However, it’s best to start with the classic recipe and get it just right before branching out with inventive twists.

Making it a Full Meal

While shrimp scampi sauce shines when simply tossed with pasta or rice, you can expand it into a hearty main course meal:

  • Serve over creamy polenta or risotto instead of plain grains.
  • Add halved cherry tomatoes and chopped arugula for a quick salad.
  • Mix in a vegetable like blanched broccoli, asparagus, or green beans.
  • Top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for more richness.
  • Make garlic bread on the side to soak up extra sauce.
  • Add a protein like chicken breast or Italian sausage.

Taking shrimp scampi from a saucy side to a well-rounded entrée can be as easy as combining it with a few choice ingredients for a satisfying one-pan dinner.

Shrimp Scampi Sauce FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about making shrimp scampi sauce:

What kind of white wine works best?

Dry white wines such as Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chablis complement the briny shrimp and buttery sauce nicely. Avoid oaked Chardonnay which can overpower the other flavors.

Can I use frozen shrimp?

It’s best to use fresh shrimp if possible, but frozen and thawed shrimp can work too. Just don’t overcook them or they can become rubbery. Remove them from the pan once opaque.

Is shrimp scampi keto-friendly?

Yes, shrimp scampi can definitely be adapted for a keto diet by using olive oil instead of butter and cutting back on any starchy sides. Be sure to get your carbs only from low-carb vegetables.

What are the best sides for shrimp scampi?

Buttery garlic bread, risotto, or pasta are classic pairings. Steamed broccoli, asparagus, or a leafy green salad also balance the richness nicely.

Can I make this sauce with chicken or scallops?

Absolutely! The garlic, wine, lemon and herb sauce works great with boneless chicken breasts, sea scallops, or fish like halibut, cod, or salmon. Adjust cook times as needed.

Shrimp Scampi Sauce Recipes

Here are 3 must-try shrimp scampi sauce recipes to suit any occasion:

Classic Shrimp Scampi

This no-frills recipe sticks close to the traditional Italian-American version with garlic, butter, white wine, and parsley.


  • 1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute until fragrant but not browned.
  2. Add wine and lemon juice and let reduce by half, about 1 minute.
  3. Add shrimp and cook 1-2 minutes per side until opaque.
  4. Remove pan from heat. Toss in parsley and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve shrimp over pasta or rice with sauce spooned over the top.

One-Pot Shrimp Scampi with Orzo

Cooking the pasta right in the sauce makes this a convenient one-pan meal.


  • 1 lb shrimp
  • 1 cup orzo pasta
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cook orzo according to package directions until al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute.
  3. Add wine, lemon zest, and juice. Let reduce 1 minute.
  4. Add shrimp and cook 1-2 minutes per side until opaque.
  5. Add cooked pasta and parsley to skillet. Toss to coat in sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

Shrimp Scampi Baked Ziti

For this creamy baked pasta casserole, shrimp scampi sauce provides a double dose of garlicky flavor.


  • 8 oz ziti or penne
  • 24 oz marinara sauce
  • 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • Chopped parsley for garnish


  1. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain and return to pot.
  2. Meanwhile, melt 1 tbsp butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute until fragrant.
  3. Add wine and let simmer 1 minute. Add shrimp and cook 1-2 minutes on each side until opaque. Remove shrimp to plate.
  4. Add marinara sauce and remaining 2 tbsp butter to pasta. Stir well until combined.
  5. Pour pasta mixture into a greased 9×13 baking dish. Arrange shrimp on top. Sprinkle with Parmesan.
  6. Bake at 375F 15-20 minutes until hot and bubbly. Garnish with parsley.


A quality shrimp scampi sauce is all about mastering the fundamentals – garlic, butter or olive oil, white wine, lemon, and herbs. Pay attention to cooking each component properly and seasoning thoughtfully. Once you’ve nailed the technique, experiment by adding your own flair to this seafood favorite. Just a few ingredients can quickly transform shrimp into an impressive restaurant-worthy meal.