Posts Tagged ‘Shrimp’

Garides Saganaki with Fennel

March 31, 2010

Ingredients: shrimp, tomato, fennel, breadcrumbs, feta, absinthe, fish stock, onion, garlic, chive, oregano, parsley, mint, bay leaf, sugar, olive oil, butter, black pepper, salt.

Served with: basmati rice.

I’d been wanting to try a dish with stewed fennel and tomato, as I happen to like fennel but don’t have a single “go-to” recipe for it. Part of the problem is that my mom never cooked with fennel, so its distinctive licorice flavor is not “intuitive” to me. What I mean is that I have to think pretty hard when I’m planning a fennel dish, because I can’t fall back on memories of what works and what doesn’t.

What I decided to make was a variation/bastardization of the Greek dish garides saganaki, which is basically jumbo shrimp in herby tomato sauce, topped with feta cheese and broiled. I figured it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to work some fennel into the tomato stew. I was also excited to accent the dish with flambéed absinthe (an analogue to the anise-flavored Greek liqueur ouzo).

I started by sautéing sliced fennel and onion in olive oil, then adding some crushed garlic and a bay leaf before emptying in a can of whole peeled tomatoes (plus a pinch of sugar to counteract the acidity). For some reason, whole tomatoes give me better results than diced, crushed, or puréed tomatoes, so that’s what I use exclusively.

While the tomatoes stewed, I prepped my tiger shrimp and tossed the shells into a pan with some butter, planning to rescue their flavor before discarding them. When the shells became pink, I added some fish stock, plus a splash of absinthe (the good stuff, not that neon green crap). Then, like a pro, I held a lighter to the pan to burn off the alcohol and develop the liqueur’s flavor. I also singed the hair off the back of my right hand. It was all on purpose, and it was way cool. I then strained the shrimp broth and added it to the tomato and fennel stew. I also removed the bay leaf, and added some oregano and parsley (which I like to postpone as long as possible, to preserve their flavor).

Next to prepare was the topping. I crumbled a block of feta into a bowl, and mixed in a handful of prepared breadcrumbs, plus some larger cubes from a slice of stale bread. I seasoned this mixture with salt, pepper, oregano, parsley, mint, and fresh chives, plus a tablespoon of olive oil.

I mixed the raw shrimp into the tomato & fennel, then poured it into a casserole and sprinkled the breadcrumb & feta on top. The dish was complete after about 10 minutes in the oven. I couldn’t wait to dig in!

Overall, this was very tasty. The tomatoes were warm and comforting, the shrimp tender and sweet-salty, the breadcrumbs crunchy and cheesy. I also loved the licorice accent from the fennel and absinthe, which kept making me think of Italian sausage. I would use twice as much feta next time though, and I’d skip the tiny breadcrumbs (the large ones were great) because they absorbed too much of the broth.

Okra & Shrimp Tempura

March 12, 2010

Ingredients: shrimp, okra, tempura batter mix, flour, peanut oil, salt.

The last time I cooked with okra was about 3 years ago. I made a huge batch of gumbo, into which I incorporated half a bag of frozen okra. That was some delicious gumbo… except for the okra. I liked its flavor well enough (reminiscent of roasted green pepper and eggplant), but I couldn’t get past the squishy/slimy consistency. It was totally gross. I hate wasting food though, so I attempted to bread & fry the remaining frozen okra, with no less unappealing results. [Was that a triple negative? I’ll leave it; seems appropriate.]

Now, I take some pride in my palate. Very few culinary ingredients turn me off, and I like it that way. But I couldn’t lie to myself: okra was not something I ever wanted to put past my lips again.

Then I saw this post for Indian stir-fried okra. It looked great (as do all of Sebastian’s posts), but what really piqued my interest was his tale of plucking fresh okra pods and snacking on them “like french fries.” Wow! That is some seriously appealing imagery. I had no idea that okra could be eaten raw, or that it could somehow not be slimy.

I have since looked into de-sliming technique, and I present to you a few pointers:

  1. Slicing releases the slime, so do as little of that as possible. Use a sharp knife to minimize bruising.
  2. Slime runs vertically through the pod, so horizontal slices are guaranteed to release all of it. Try julienning the okra instead, or leaving it whole.
  3. The longer you cook okra, the more slime will emerge.
  4. Slime is water-soluble, so avoid steaming or stewing the okra, unless you are also using plenty of acid (such as tomato or vinegar) to break it down.
  5. Conversely, frying or stir-frying in oil prevents the slime from leaching out.

In hindsight, it makes a lot of sense that frozen okra would lead to excessive slime. Freezing any vegetable leads to cell wall damage from ice crystals. In the case of okra, that means free-flowing slime. So, avoid frozen okra for everything but stewed dishes.

Soon after regaining the desire to consume okra, I had the good fortune to stumble upon a lovely unmarked package of fresh, firm okra at a Chinese market. I dove right in. The raw okra was indeed addictive, crisp and with a hollow little *snap* when bitten into. The seeds did have a slight raw-flour aftertaste, but this was easily covered up with a touch of mayonnaise (or any other salad dressing/dip).

But what to cook? I wanted to see how far I could push the slime prevention, and eventually settled on tempura: no slicing, no water, minimal cooking time. Plus, I still had french fries on the brain after reading that post over at INJI. As you can see, I also chose to batter fry some big juicy tiger shrimp along with the okra. I used a box mix, so there’s not much to report as far as preparation goes.

The tempura was crunchy and savory, heavier than anticipated but still (predictably) delicious. The okra was fleshy, not slimy. This felt like a huge victory, for which I credit the opportunity to work with fresh okra. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it in the future, and I recommend you do the same!

Cajun Shrimp & Polenta

September 19, 2009

shrimp_polenta

Cajun shrimp ingredients: shrimp, garlic, honey, lemon, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, thyme, oregano, paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper, salt.
Polenta ingredients: cornmeal, milk, butter, Grana Padano, black pepper, salt.
Served with: onion, red bell pepper, green peas.

Good lord it’s tough to resume blogging after a vacation!

I didn’t even cook anything for a week. I ate, of course, but fell prey each time to the temptation of cheese & pickle sandwiches and frozen dinners. Cereal was poured. Jars of pasta sauce clinked into the recycle bin.

Thankfully, a few loyal readers encouraged me to snap out of it and get back in the saddle. It wasn’t easy. I was out of kitchen-shape, and feared for my stamina come game time. This was not an unfounded fear, as it turns out, given the shakes I felt while cooking and the exhaustion afterward.

The other problem was that I’d had this particular dish in mind for a few days, but couldn’t commit to the exact details. I kept doubting flavor harmonies, consistencies, presentation ideas. I was fussing, but at least I got it out of the way before I started cooking. Decisiveness is key.

What I decided was to pair the juicy smokiness of grilled Cajun shrimp with the creaminess of polenta. (A similar pairing is found in the traditional US Southern dish of “shrimp ‘n’ grits,” which I have never actually had, but am eager to try now.) I circled the polenta in rings of grilled red bell pepper, which succeeded spectacularly in keeping the plate tidy. The green peas I added for color. I love them alongside mashed potatoes, so I figured they would go well with polenta too.

I was very pleased with my results, and incredibly relieved to be past my kitchen anxieties. Doing dishes afterward still sucked.

Shrimp & Snow Peas

July 22, 2009

shrimp_n_snowpeas

Ingredients: shrimp, snow peas, bamboo shoots, button mushrooms, scallions, corn starch, rice vinegar, dry vermouth, garlic, ginger, salt, white pepper, sesame oil, peanut oil.
Served with: white rice.

Growing up, some of my favorite dinners involved large brown paper bags fitted snugly with little Chinese takeout boxes. I loved every step of the process: scanning the menu, asking around the house for requests, balancing the order to make sure no two choices were too similar; waiting for the sound of the garage door, which heralded Dad’s arrival with our feast; unpacking the goods, setting the table; digging in; and lovingly storing the leftovers in the fridge for breakfast next day.

This is my comfort food.

In more recent times, I’ve made it a mission to recreate those tastes, smells, and textures in my own kitchen. Some of these are damn elusive, even with full access to Asian groceries and Internet recipes. Some are pretty simple, though. Shrimp & Snow Peas is one of the easiest Chinese menu all-stars to faithfully reproduce. Here’s how!

Get some large, good quality raw shrimp. Do not ever buy precooked shrimp, unless the store is out of chewing gum and you are coming down from a meth bender. Peel and devein the shrimp, saving the shells and discarding the “veins” (which are actually mud-filled intestinal tracts). Run the shrimp under ice-cold water for a few  minutes to firm up the texture, then marinate them for as long as possible in a mix of corn starch, rice vinegar, salt, and white pepper. As I have mentioned in other posts, this step protects the surface of the shrimp from scorching on the wok.

Meanwhile, boil the shells for a few minutes (plus a slab of ginger and a smashed garlic clove) to make a nice shrimp stock for the sauce. This is an optional step, but there’s flavor there and it’s a shame to waste it. After straining the shells, pour in a good splash of dry vermouth. Authentic recipes use Shiaoxing wine, but I’ve never seen it for sale. The vermouth tastes right anyway.

To guarantee perfectly-cooked snow peas, I like to blanch and shock them first. That means boiling them in salt water for a couple minutes, then quickly submerging them in ice water to stop the internal cooking process. A bit of their nutrition is lost through boiling, but vegetables prepared this way come out crispy and tender with amazingly vibrant colors. Try this at home, please!

Once all the components to the dish are prepped, get a wok or heavy pan sizzling hot and add a swirl of peanut oil. Dry off and toss in the slabs of garlic and ginger from the stock (to flavor the oil), then remove them once they start browning. Fry up the shrimp until mostly pink, then toss in the cold snow peas, canned bamboo shoots, canned button or straw mushrooms, and some roughly-chopped scallions. Let those sear a bit, then add the sauce. If doesn’t thicken up enough, add more cornstarch slurry. Drizzle some sesame oil on top when it’s finished, then serve with plain white rice.

Note that there is no soy sauce in this recipe, nor should there be.