The past week I have been taking a online writing workshop called Romancing The Palate. Some of you know I am working on a foodie based romance . The whole genre is new to me and I’m learning a lot from a great group of writers. The teacher of the workshop is “Becca” , who I really got to know this fall as we entered a Mills and Boon competition. She’s a wealth of info with some great blogs.
I decided to post one of my assignments , a piece about eating one of my favorite dishes ,Salt and Pepper Shrimp and the process of eating it. Debate is rampant on the best way eat this dish. I’m old school and like it the traditional Chinese way with the head on. Because any good chef knows the flavor is in the shells, bones, and other nasty bits. Look at this beautiful oil after I fried the shrimp. That’s all that inner roe and shell in the head infusing the oil with flavor. If you want to be a wimp , take off the head, but keep that shell ON! First the story and then the recipe.
It’s Better With The Head On
“Come on” Alexandre pulled Sidra up from the bed. It was Sunday and they were lazing around after a particularly brutal Saturday evening service at Le Boite. Normally either Alexandre or Sidra would make some breakfast and French pressed coffee, to be in bed. Classic traditional continental breakfast with the best pastry and breads from the best restaurant in London.
“We need to do some research in Soho, Chinatown for a new concept I’m working on.” Alexandre said playfully with a hint a promise.
“New concept?” Sidra pulled the sheets up over head, reluctant to leave the confines of the billowy goose down bedding. She could still smell the sandalwood scent of him on the sheets as she squinted against the sun beaming onto the room. They had been serious about each other for some months now, and she loved their normal laid back ritualistic Sundays. As their romance was not yet public, Sidra had reservations about being seen with the hottest playboy chef in London, traipsing around So Ho. Anyone could spot them as Alexandre was a household name. She could just envision the Daily Mail.
Alexander and Sidra quickly got dressed. Their style was a pared down elegance that the French mastered for eons. Sidra, a quick study, followed suit. She needed no makeup as she glowed. She was in love and just where she wanted to be. Work, love, all conjoining into the perfect flow. It showed on Alexandre too. He felt alive, inspired, and for the first time, really in touch what and who he wanted. No room for games or ego here. Could it be Sidra tamed the fiery chef?
They entered a small nondescript restaurant called Madame Changs. The sounds of various dialects of Chinese filled the air, and the menus written on the wall were not in English. The clanks, whooshes of steam, and sizzling hisses from the kitchen, could be heard at their table. An elderly lady, who was perhaps Madame Chang herself, greeted Alexandre warmly. They seemed to be old friends.
“You let me choose what you will eat today Alexandre?”, said Madame Chang.
“My taste buds are in your hands”, said Alexandre with relish.
The first dish was presented with flourish. To start, large fried shrimps with heads on were seductively arranged on bed of chilies and peppers. Each shrimp is fried and coated in a crispy batter, with the shells and head left intact, with a sprinkle of some spicy Schezwan salt and cracked black pepper.
“I have had salt and pepper squid, but the shrimp always wins as my favorite.” Alexandre said excitedly as he waved his hand in a flourish to take in the garlicky aroma of the sizzling shrimp that just left the wok.
Sidra’s mouth started to water. She could just taste the tiny bits of fried garlic and hot chilies of the red and green varieties are tossed with shrimp and finished with a boost of briny soy sauce. With her bare fingers, she took a shrimp straight from the dish, ignoring the white rice just being served. Alexandre looked at her as she licked the entire shell and suck off the crispy fried batter and pieces of the peppers sticking to it.
“I see you are no stranger to Salt and Pepper Shrimp? “, he grinned at her sexy yet youthful appreciation of the food. “Finally a woman who is not afraid to eat and enjoy”, he said as he dug in.
Sidra took the head off gingerly with her fingers and sucked at it. The taste of salty garlic with a tinge of spice overwhelms her mouth. She then ripped a solid lump of mild sweet white flesh of the shrimp from the shell. Each piece of fried morsel is a gem to her mouth. Before she could repeat the process, she licks her fingers clean, not wanting to waste a bit of it all. Oil, salt and spice cling to them. Forget the chopsticks.
All Alexandre could do was beam with pride. Someone not afraid to tackle salt and pepper shrimp with the heads on.
Madame Chang came over to check on her favored guests. She looked down at the discarded heads of shrimp with respect.
“I like her Alexandre. The flavor is in the head”, she purred.
“She eats it like a true Chinese person.” she said with a wink as she brought the rest of the Dim Sum .
Salt and Pepper Shrimp
Serves 2 as main course or 4 as a starter
- 1 lb fresh shrimp with the head on. ( If you choose to leave the head off, leave the shell intact but cut down back to de-vein)
- 1 1/2 cups rice flour
- Peanut or vegetable oil for frying
- 2 jalapenos peppers or chili peppers sliced and chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped sweet red peppers sliced and chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- Kosher salt and Black Pepper or Sichuan peppercorns
- Prep your space with all the ingredients ready to go and chopped.
- Toast peppercorns in a dry skillet to release flavor. Crush with fingers or use a food grinder to blend with your Kosher salt.
- Cut the long ‘whiskers’ off the shrimp. Wash shrimp.
- In a Ziploc bag add the rice flour and shrimp. Shake to coat.
- Heat your oil until high in your wok.
- At the frying point add the shrimp and few at a time. Fry until pink and remove with slotted spoon to a platter.
- The oil will start to turn pink as the inner shrimp and shell infuses the oil with flavor and color.
- Once all shrimp are fried, remove all but a few tablespoons of the oil.
- In the hot wok with the reserved bit of oil , toss in the chopped garlic, onions, peppers/chilies. Stir Fry for a bit.
- Add some peppercorn and salt mixture to taste.
- Add shrimp back into skillet and adjust with more peppercorn and salt. Toss until the shrimps are coated with the garlic, onions, peppers/chilies, salt, etc
- Serve with rice or on a bed of shredded lettuce.