Friday, November 13, 2009
Day 241 - How to Peel and Devein Shrimp, Stir-Fried Shrimp and Sea Scallops with Black Bean Sauce, and Spicy Stir-Fried Vegetables
It's Chinese New Year! Well, not really. But I did make a Chinese banquet tonight! My guests were Ryan and Judith, who you may remember were my guests for miso soup and tempura vegetables way back when. Since our ritual excursion together for the past 18 years is to a restaurant in Chinatown called House of Vegetarian, I redubbed my dining room "House of Not-Entirely-Vegetarian" tonight. And I actually did my shopping for this meal in Chinatown, which is always an amazing experience. I could spend hours looking at all those exotic products and produce and sauces, etc.
How to Peel and Devein Shrimp (p. 122)
This is sort of a no-brainer. Peeling shrimp is really easy, especially with nice sized shrimp like these (16-20 is the size description, meant to imply how many there are in a pound's worth). It's easy to see the vein, make a precise cut, and get that thing out.
I noticed that with the peeling, sometimes I peeled right to the tail, and sometimes I left that last inch on. When I was eating the shrimp later, I'd wished I'd peeled right to the tail every time, which is what I'll do if I ever stir-fry shrimp again. The extra inch of shell is nice if you're going to be eating the shrimp with your fingers, but in a hot dish, who needs it?
Jeff: A- (should have removed all the shells)
Stir-Fried Shrimp with Black Bean Sauce (p. 265)
This is the book's original black bean sauce recipe that spawned the cubed pork variation that I cooked a few months ago. Tonight, I'm knocking out the original (shrimp) and another of the variations (sea scallops). They both call for the same sauce, so I'm making it easy for myself by doing them together. :-)
The funny thing about this dish is that while it takes a bit of time to chop and dice and mince the ingredients for the sauce, the actual cooking time is roughly 5 seconds. You get that pan so hot and the shrimp cook so fast, and then the sauce goes in for a blink of an eye, and then it's done!
This was definitely the highlight of the meal, according to all of us. There's something about this treatment of shrimp, i.e. a light coating in cornstarch and then a quick stir-fry in hot oil, that is just brilliant, and the sauce could not be a better accompaniment. This is quite a simple recipe with a very authentic tasting result. Try it! Your friends will be amazed at your Asian flair!
As Martha warns you in the book, there's no extra sauce here. It's almost dry. But while there may not be sauce, there is a TON of flavor. Fabulous!
Spicy Stir-Fried Vegetables (p. 337)
This was Ryan and Judith's other favorite dish of the night. I was luke warm on this one.
This preparing of this dish is a little more labor intensive. Again, there's a lot of washing and trimming and chopping and slicing: snow peas, mushrooms, scallions, ginger, garlic, jalapeños, plus a sauce and a slurry (cornstarch mixed with water). All the vegetables get cooked individually, then the sauce gets heated and they all go back in at the end.
Now, THIS dish is very saucy! And spicy! It calls for something called doubanjiang, i.e. broad bean paste with chili. When I asked for it at the Chinatown supermarket, the guy looked at me quizzically, and then he figured out what I was trying to say, and he flat out laughed at my pronunciation. Well, I tried.
It's a tricky thing, shopping for Asian products, because there are a million ways to spell everything. The thing I ultimately bought was called Toban Djan, which I'm guessing is another way of spelling doubanjiang.
Martha called for 1/2 cup of the stuff, and I started out with 1/4 cup, because I'm a spice wimp, but then I thought, that's not in the spirit of this project, and I put the other 1/4 cup in.
Now here's the big mistake I made, entirely my own fault. There was so much happening at the time (excuses, excuses) and I got distracted. The overview of the recipe is that you cook each vegetable separately, then you put them all together at the end. Well, I was reading haphazardly, and I thought it said to put all the oil in the skillet and cook the snow peas. What it really said was "put 1 Tablespoon of oil in the skillet..." but it was too late. I was cooking the snow peas in four tablespoons of oil.
Luckily, I was able to mitigate it somewhat by leaving much of the extra oil behind, so I didn't add the next tablespoon of oil to cook the scallions. Still, by my calculations, there were two extra tablespoons of oil in this dish, and that's never good.
I was using a skillet, not a wok, and I wasn't able to get the seared, browned-in-spots, quality that Martha was pushing for with the snow peas and scallions. I had the heat turned up pretty high, but I'm guessing it would have to have been up all the way for some browning action.
Once the snow peas and scallions are cooked, then you soft up some cut up ginger, garlic, and jalapeños, then add the very thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms, cook that for a while, then you make the sauce.
Like any well-prepared cook, I had my whole mise en place going, i.e. everything was chopped, washed, measured out, and waiting in little bowls all around my stovetop. I had made the slurry, i.e. water and cornstarch, earlier, however when I went to use it, it had separated into a solid lump of chalk and water. I frantically broke up the lump and revived it quickly, but it was a scary minute there. As I mentioned, this dish has lots of sauce: about two cups of liquid go into the mushroom mixture, and then the slurry thickens it up into one of those classic Chinese sauce consistencies. It really works!
Ultimately, the dish was a crowd pleaser. (Crowd=Ryan and Judith) It was a little spicy for all of us, but not too spicy for any of us. (We're all spice wimps. I removed all the seeds and ribs from all chile peppers used tonight.) I think I would have liked it better if it had had more substantial vegetables in it (broccoli, zucchini, etc.). But all in all, it was an entirely credible, Chinese dish.
Jeff: B (for not reading the recipe more carefully, re: oil)
Stir-Fried Sea Scallops with Black Bean Sauce (p. 266)
These are the scallops made with the same sauce used with the shrimp above. I have to say, the scallops paled in comparison to the shrimp. I think it has to do with how they took to this particular cooking method.
While the shrimp browned right up, the scallops would not sear. They cooked fine, but they never developed any brown. I had dried them well, because I know that scallops have to be dry to sear, but maybe I didn't dry them well enough?
In any case, once the sauce went on, you couldn't tell that they weren't browned. And they tasted well-cooked, i.e. not over or under cooked. But they just weren't as fabulous as the shrimp.
Incidentally, I made two other things for this meal.
When I was shopping in Chinatown, I was intrigued by so many things, and I thought, I'm going to buy something unusual and find a recipe for it. So I bought long beans, which are these crazy 20 inch long green bean type things. I used this Jean-Georges recipe with a couple of variations (no bell pepper, shallot instead of onion), and I had another mise en place incident, when I mistakenly added salt instead of sugar. (Didn't get too far before I figured that one out.) The beans came out well, but I think I overcooked them a little, and they weren't a crowd favorite, although I preferred their dryness to the sauciness of Martha's veggie dish.
Also, I finally made Jeffrey's (who's this other Jeffrey?) Sticky Rice, a recipe from Martha's website that I've been dying to try. I remembered it when I was in the Chinese supermarket, and I grabbed a bag of Thai glutinous rice.
To get that sticky rice taste and texture, you soak the rice overnight, then you literally steam it to cook it. Lo and behold, it's sticky rice, just like in the Vietnamese restaurants!! I wrapped it in cheesecloth to steam it, and a fair amount stayed stuck to the cheesecloth. I'm wondering if anyone has another idea of how to wrap it for steaming....
Finally, let me mention that cooking a meal like this definitely calls for some ventilation. I wish I had opened a window or two beforehand, because it's a day later, and my whole apartment and all my clothes smell like the kitchen at Shun Lee at the end of a busy night.
Until we eat again....
That's Ryan with the spicy veggies and Judith with the beloved shrimp.
And now Ryan has the scallops and Judith has the long beans.
Posted by Jeff Blumenkrantz at 7:06 PM