Tag Archives: shrimp

Obsession: the Excessive Preoccupation of the Mind

Harissa Shrimp

I consider myself fairly good at controlling emotions, thoughts, desires, and cravings. As a methodical and emotionally conservative individual I equate obsession with weakness. Unfortunately, as an avid food lover I am no stranger to it.

Someone once told me that cravings only last for a set period of time and if you manage to deny yourself the craving it will eventually go away. That person was a liar! My cravings don’t dissipate until satisfied. My ridiculously gorgeous, man-eating, sister once told me that if she ever finds herself obsessing over a boy she recalls a single flaw of his that irked her, and then replays that over and over in her mind until she’s rid of her infatuation. While this method may work for getting over crushes, I haven’t been able to come up with a single flaw to cure me of my obsession with French fries or hay smoked salmon belly. Read more…

Advertisements

Chef’s Day Off

I’m afraid that I have a Chinese Tiger Mother living in my head. I strive for perfection. I love lists, schedules, benchmarks and goals. There is very little time for detours or “smelling the roses”. That’s for people with safety nets and back up plans. I have one plan… be wildly successful at everything.

With that in mind, let’s look back at the last year and a half… I jumped off a solid career track to pursue a passion for food. Miraculously, I found myself in one of the top kitchens in the city, worked my butt off, learned a huge amount… and then finally admitted to myself that becoming a chef wasn’t my long term goal and left. No surprise then that on my bad days the Tiger Mama in me lashes out, questioning my life choices and asking what I’ve gained from the decision to detour off the more obvious path. Unfortunately, I haven’t come up with a solid answer quite yet. But this past Sunday I came pretty damn close.

A year and a half ago I sat down to the most nerve-wracking interview of my life with Eric Ziebold (Gasp! I’ve finally given you his real name. I feel like the creators of Sex & the City revealing Mr. Big’s real name for the first time) at CityZen in Washington D.C., but on Sunday I was standing beside Eric (a.k.a. “Chef“) and his fiancé Celia, in the kitchen at my in-laws house sipping wine and making dinner. So, the answer to that question is that over the last year and a half I’ve gained confidence and some pretty wicked friendships.

Had I stayed on the safer career path I might be managing an Asian policy program, or getting ready to graduate with an MBA. But I’d also still be going to restaurants and staring at the cooks in the open kitchen and wondering what could have been. So, I’m glad that I traded the locked and loaded cocktail party drivel of my “very important DC job” for the culinary knowledge and friendships that I’ve since gained. Because honestly, in 30-40 years job titles will be a mere footnote in the story of your life. But a friend who will come over, on his one day off in months, with plates of fried chicken, grilled shrimp, freshly baked focaccia and sangria laden with liquor-soaked blueberries—I think we can all agree—is a rare and wonderful treasure.

Dinner is served

Dill potato salad. Green beans with garlic and toasted almonds. Glazed baby carrots. Guacamole

Fried Chicken 

Grilled focaccia. Shrimp and cherry tomatoes tossed with a yuzu vinaigrette and purple basil

From right: Eric, Celia, Chad & Ben 

Sangria with cherry and apricot brandy macerated fruit

Shrimp & Pork Fried Rice

I knew I’d get at least one request for fried rice when I emailed my siblings asking about their favorite childhood dishes. Sure enough, the following reply came from my older brother, “I would say a proper Chinese/Japanese fried rice is a staple comfort food for me. It’s simple but always takes me back to childhood food”.

Disclaimer: I am a HUGE snob when it comes to fried rice, as is my older brother, which is why I understood when he prefaced his choice with the word “proper”. But what is proper Chinese/Japanese fried rice? For starters, Japanese fried rice is really Chinese fried rice. I’m not looking to veer off into touchy foreign policy issues here. It’s not an invitation to begin debating Japanese history textbook revisionism or who really owns the Senkaku islands…  This is just a simple statement; good Japanese fried rice is really Chinese fried rice.

I am willing however, to argue over what goes inside said fried rice. Perhaps it’s best to start with what should NOT be included. There shouldn’t be any chunks of softened pineapple dominating the dish with its sweetness. No bean sprouts poking out like tadpoles from a mound of rice. And no bright green broccoli florets with their promise of nutrition. As for the protein component this is not the time to start defrosting those questionable items in the back on the freezer. The rice shouldn’t be yellow from curry powder, or red from ketchup. And it should definitely not be brown from thickened soy sauce.

For me the best fried rice is flavored with both shrimp and pork; the rice is still white rather than stained brown from soy sauce, and the vegetables are uniformly cut and cooked.

The first really great fried rice I remember eating with my older brother was at the Seagull Hotel in Shanghai when he was six and I was four. We had just travelled with our parents, two-year-old brother and one-month old baby sister by ship, from Japan to China (that’s right, I said SHIP). At the hotel my brother and I would alternate between ordering the fried rice and fried noodles. I’m sure we ordered other dishes as well, but none stuck in my memory like those two big starchy plates of food.

Nowadays our massive family has a system for ordering when we go out for Chinese food (imagine the mayhem without one). Two or three of us will scan the menu and call off suggestions for the others to reject or accept, while another sibling furiously scribbles the orders on a scrap of paper. Fried rice with its salty nuggets of ham, just-cooked pink shrimp, and delicately scrabbled eggs always gets a round of head-nods and an enthusiastic “definitely” from the whole family. I’m hoping that the version below gets the same unanimous stamp of approval.

Ingredients:
Neutral oil for cooking
½ cup diced onion
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp. minced ginger
3/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup diced carrots
1/3 cup diced celery 
5 shiitake caps, diced
1 tsp. oyster sauce
1/3 cup cooked peas
¾ cup diced ham or Canadian bacon
10 small or 5 large (cut into 3rds) peeled and deveined shrimp
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups cooked white rice *cook’s note I*
1 tsp. chicken bouillon *cook’s note II*
¼ tsp. white pepper
½ cup sliced scallion
2 tsp. sesame oil

*As with all Chinese food timing and speed are the keys to success. Make sure you have everything prepped and ready to go before you turn on the stove.

 
  • Heat a wok or large skillet and 1 Tbsp. of oil over med-high heat. Once wisps of smoke begin to appear add the diced onion. Cook for 1 min. Add the garlic, ginger and ¼ tsp. of salt. Cook for 1 minute more.
  • Add the diced carrots. Cook for 1 minute. Turn the heat to high. Add the celery and diced shiitake caps. Add 1 tsp. oyster sauce. Cook for 1 min. Add the peas, stirring through. Remove and set aside.
  • In the now empty wok/skillet heat 2 tsp. of oil. Add the diced Canadian bacon or ham (I prefer Canadian bacon for its fat content). Fry quickly over high heat until lightly brown and fat begins to render. Remove. Turn the heat down to medium-high and add the shrimp to the pork fat. Add ¼ tsp. of salt. Cook for 2 minutes, or until shrimp are pink and no longer translucent. Remove shrimp, leaving any remaining fat behind.
  • Turn the heat down to medium and add the lightly beaten eggs to the center of the hot wok/skillet. Cook as you would scrambled eggs for 15 seconds, add the rice to the pan. Mix well with the partially cooked eggs. Sprinkle in 1 tsp. chicken bouillon, ¼ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. ground white pepper. Continue stir-frying for 1 minute.
  • Add the cooked vegetables, pork and shrimp. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring well to evenly distribute all the ingredients. Add the scallions and sesame oil. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
  • Remove from heat and serve.

Cook’s note I: To get the best results the rice needs to be cold. Freshly steamed rice is too sticky to fry properly. Use leftover rice or cook it early in the day and let it cool for a while in the refrigerator.

Cook’s note II: In an effort to develop a recipe as close to the version my older brother remembers from his childhood I’ve used chicken bouillon. I doubt it comes as a surprise to anyone that this is an ingredient frequently used for seasoning in Chinese food. It received a bad rap for a while due to its MSG content, but these days it’s pretty easy to find a MSG-free version.