This was the ostensible main course for our Christmas Chinese food feast. Delicious though the potstickers were, they do not a meal make; so to fill us out, I made a simple stir-fry of ingredients that looked good at the store.
I used to half-ass my stir-fries. It’s seductively easy to just dump a bunch of ingredients in a pan, stir until the slowest-cooking thing is cooked, and dump the whole mess onto a plate. But that way lies mushy vegetables and funky-textured meat, and after a while I wondered if I simply couldn’t stir-fry as deliciously as my favorite greasy takeout spot. It made me sad–and a good deal less frugal–to surrender to my laziness.
So over the past year or so, I’ve made an effort to be more deliberate. I’ve started thinking in terms of how quickly vegetables and proteins cook, how high I can take the heat under my pan, and how saucy or sticky I want the final product to be. I’ve learned when to add liquid to the pan, and when to let the heat and oil do the work. I discovered velveting over the summer, which has totally changed my relationship with meat in stir-fries. I’ve begun to relish the process of meticulously laying out a mise en place, and then tossing things into a hissing hot pan one after the other. And, surprise surprise, my stir-fries have gotten a lot better.
This was one of the best ones I’ve made. Not much to it, really: a pound of shrimp, a heap of baby bok choy torn into leaves, snow peas, aromatics, and a handful of toasted cashews. I decided I wanted a light sauce, no cornstarch, just soy sauce and rice vinegar and chili-garlic paste. I prepped the veggies lazily while the shrimp marinated in their cornstarch and egg white slurry, then poached the shrimp and stir-fried everything together right before we wanted to eat. It was the perfect unfussy dinner dish, with perfectly tender veggies and plump shrimp in a delicate but spicy sauce. As usual, I was too lazy to make rice; as usual, I wished I had.
Here’s an easy one for Cinco de Mayo: chili-lime shrimp.
Not much to it, really. Start with big shrimp, shell-on but deveined. Mix a simple marinade of lime juice, chili flakes, garlic, and scallion. Let the shrimp mingle with the marinade for a few minutes, just long enough for the lime juice to penetrate the meat without turning it ceviche-mushy. Cook. Eat, preferably with fingers. It’s one of those deeply satisfying party foods, a reminder of how much shrimp and chili and lime adore each other.
I’ve recently gotten into cooking shrimp with the shells still on. There’s an obvious flavor boost, for one thing–the shells make the shrimp taste sweeter and sharper and altogether shrimpier, and they help hold some of the marinade against the surface of the meat. The shells also protect the delicate flesh, keeping it tender and moist and preventing the surface from picking up that odd rubbery stiffness. The shells are edible, if they’re cooked right–lightly charred and crisp all over, giving the shrimp a light papery crunch. But even if you overcrowd your shrimp, like I did, and end up with floppy pink shells, you can just peel the shrimp as you eat them, licking the marinade from your fingers as you go. The shrimp will still taste better than if the shells were never there.
Once the shrimp are marinated–if you can even call it that–there are a couple ways to cook them. Here in California, where we’ve been sweating through an August-strength heat wave, grilling is the obvious choice. Just wiggle the shrimp onto skewers, slap them on a moderate-hot grill, and serve with plenty of cold Mexican beer. In other places, where I’ve heard tell there’s still snow, grab a cast iron skillet and sear the shrimp over medium heat, then mix up a pitcher of margaritas and pretend you’re somewhere warm. Eating chili-lime shrimp will make that much easier.
Jet lag is a cruel mistress. After two weeks on Eastern Standard Time, I’m having serious trouble clicking back over. For the past three days I’ve been crawling through the early evening, passing out as soon as it’s seemly, then bolting wide awake in the wee hours. It’s a grinding adjustment, as always, and I’ve been alternating between manic bursts of energy and limb-dragging bouts of inertia.
I missed my little kitchen terribly, but I haven’t had the follow-through to do more than the simplest of cooking projects. Like this one, borrowed from Bon Appetit: shrimp sauteed in Sriracha-spiked butter, with a splash of lemon and a shower of basil and mint. It’s spicy, but not overly so; the butter rounds out the rough edges of the hot sauce, and the herbs give it an unexpected sniff of sophistication. The whole thing comes together in a whopping 10 minutes–15, if you peel your own shrimp.
This is a dish that sauces itself. The shrimp as they cook give off a burst of liquid that mixes with the chili-infused butter and the lemon juice to form a rich lipstick-red slick in the bottom of the pan. I served the shrimp over soba noodles, to catch all of those wonderful fatty-spicy juices; the original recipe suggests a mound of steamed artichokes. I’m convinced this would be just as great over rice, quinoa, couscous, spaghetti squash, or any sauteed vegetable you like–just make sure you catch every last bit of sauce. I wished I had bread to swab out the pan.
Oh, and a confession: despite my overwhelming love of Sriracha, I had none on hand when I made this. So I used the dregs from a jar of chili garlic sauce, and the shrimp came out terrific. Darned pretty, too.
Oh, paella. I love you so.
From the moment we clicked “Confirm” on our plane tickets till we first set foot in Barcelona, I thought of nothing. but. paella. Paella when I woke up every day. Paella while I conditioned my hair in the shower. Paella at work. Paella at home. Paella in the morning, paella in the evening, paella at suppertime…
And then we arrived. And ate paella. And it was GLORIOUS. And I immediately began plotting how to make it for my very own self.
This week has been INSANITY. Sheer, near-unmitigated insanity. So, instead of something eloquent and carefully-crafted, here’s a soup I made up.
This is the perfect example of what happens with a bunch of odds and ends and a lot of time on my hands. I had shrimp shells in the freezer, left over from my last lemon-caper experiment. I had a powerful hankering for a bowl of soup with pesto on top. And I had a germ of an inspiration, thanks to a video about Tex-Mex chowdah.
Guys, I’ve run out of steam today. It’s a Monday. I didn’t sleep enough last night, I had a nasty encounter at work with a Blue Screen of Death, and Netflix has decided it doesn’t like my roommate’s Wii anymore. First World problems. Grump grump grump.
And, oh, one other thing. Considering that my last post was all mad-sciencey and eco-friendly and fabulously delicious (I’m still snacking on kimchi straight out of the jar), I’ve been really afraid to follow it up with a letdown. So what did I do this weekend? I went to the store, bought some ingredients that I thought looked good, came home…and made a sauce I’ve already blogged about. Whoop de freaking doo.
But before you click the little red X in the corner and make me and all my Monday problems disappear from your life, check out the real reason I decided to do a redux of a recipe that hadn’t quite worked the first time.