Having spent most of my 20s in Hawaii, we regularly made trips to Giovanni’s shrimp truck in Kahuku to enjoy their signature dish: garlic shrimp. The shrimp is pan-fried in an aromatic scampi sauce, and served with a cubic ton of garlic. I have regularly tackled this dish since moving to the mainland in 2008, but it wasn’t until this past year that I really figured out how to recreate the dish at home.
My process includes marinating and par-cooking the shrimp in butter, then reducing the marinating liquid and garlic until it’s crispy, and finally returning the shrimp to the pan to finish everything off. I have made a couple adjustments over the years that ended up making a big difference in the final product. In order to prevent the butter from burning, I used clarified butter (or ghee) which has a higher smoke point than butter (previously I used olive oil, which I don’t like using at high temperatures). Also, by using tail-on (or even shelled) shrimp, the marinating liquid better penetrates the shrimp, making for a more flavorful (and less messy) experience.
For clarification (no pun intended), there is a difference between clarified butter and ghee, although the two are often confused. Clarified butter is butter with its milk solids removed, generally scraped from the surface of the butter as it gently simmers. Ghee, on the other hand, is made when the milk solids are allowed to fall to the bottom of the butter and brown as the butter simmers. Ghee has a more toasted flavor than the more neutral clarified butter.
Garlic Shrimp (Hawaii Style)
2 lbs raw shrimp (peeled or tail-on preferred)
~50 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup white wine
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
3 tbsp clarified butter (or ghee)
2 tsp lemon juice
lemon wedges to serve
1. Combine the shrimp, garlic, wine, olive oil, salt and pepper in a resealable plastic bag. Place in the fridge to marinate for 2 hours.
2. In a wok or skillet, add the clarified butter and melt it over medium heat. Strain out the liquid from the marinade and add the liquid to the butter; bring to a simmer. Add and cook the shrimp, in batches, until mostly cooked through (mostly pink and opaque). Fish out the shrimp with tongs (be careful not to remove the garlic) and set aside in a colander that’s placed over a bowl (to keep the shrimp from getting soggy). Repeat this process until all of the shrimp is partially cooked. You should have a bunch of liquid and garlic left in your wok/skillet at this point.
3. Increase the temperature to high, and reduce the sauce until the liquid evaporates and the garlic becomes golden brown and crispy, stirring constantly so as to not scorch the garlic, about 15 minutes total. This part takes patience; trust the process. You’ll know the garlic is ready when it’s crispy and when the oil starts to accumulate at the top of the liquid.
4. Return the shrimp to the wok/skillet and stir-fry, tossing often, until fully cooked, about 2 minutes. Squeeze on a bit of lemon juice, serve over rice and with lemon wedges.
** Serve with a quality hot sauce like Tabasco for a little extra kick.
** The marinade isn’t a total dealbreaker, but definitely enhances the shrimps’ flavor. If you’re looking for a quick weeknight meal, skip (or shorten) the marinade – it’ll still be awesome.