Sunday, July 13, 2008

Learning Chinese

When we finally decided to venture across the country to Portland, I had some misgivings about leaving the food of New York. This is not to say that I didn’t think I would be getting a great deal of amazing food in return, but I was deeply attached to many of the ethnic cuisines that are readily available in NYC - namely Korean, Indian, Middle Eastern, and perhaps most importantly, Chinese.

Court grew up in the New York Chinese restaurant community, and we had spent many a day together going to the different NYC Chinatowns to eat amazing roast chicken, pork, duck, and I can’t even get started on the wonder that is Xiao Long Bao (a.k.a soup dumplings). Up to this point, I had been fairly disenchanted with American Chinese food, mostly stemming from the Chinese food I’d eaten in my youth. This all changed with the forays south of Canal to New Green Bo, Joe’s Shanghai, and of course, Big Wong.

So, in light of our impending departure I gave Court a Chinese cook book for Christmas in the hopes that we would both use it to recreate some of the dishes we loved—though I have to say that I am alone in my love of thousand year old/soy sauce eggs! After much perusing, I settled on Kylie Kwong’s Simple Chinese Cooking both for the simplicity of the recipes and the beautiful images. We have tried a few recipes so far (with mixed results) but both very much enjoyed her “Steamed Shrimp with Ginger and Scallions” so I thought I would share.

First off, I love having frozen shrimp around because it pretty much assures me that I can make a great dinner with just the shrimp and whatever else I have on hand at the time. The steaming worked beautifully, and as always the only real caveat with shrimp is to take care not to overcook!

My complaints here were mostly with the sauce—it quite simply lacked the brightness and balance of flavors that signifies much of Chinese cooking. I have altered the recipe according to my tastes, which are heavier on the garlic, ginger and acid, but I think it is still a very clean, balanced, subtle dish. We served it with steamed rice and devoured the entire thing in one sitting! I also love to slice some Kirby cucumbers and dress them with sesame oil, lots of rice wine vinegar, a generous pinch of sugar and some Sriracha hot sauce. The acid of the crunchy pickles complements the steamed shrimp beautifully!

Steamed Prawns with Ginger and Scallions

Adapted from Simple Chinese Cooking by Kylie Kwong

1 lb large uncooked shrimp
1/3 cup shao hsing wine or dry sherry
2 ½ tablespoons julienned ginger
2/3 cup scallions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Sprinkle the ginger, wine and scallions evenly on top of the shrimp in a ceramic bowl or plate.

Carefully transfer the dish with the shrimp to a rack in a skillet (or steamer) and cover tightly, then steam over moderately high heat until they are just cooked through, 7 to 10 minutes.

Combine soy, garlic*, sugar, sesame oil and vinegar in a bowl and drizzle over the steamed shrimp. In a small skillet, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons of peanut oil over moderately high heat, then pour it over the shrimp before serving.

*If you are not as fond of raw garlic as I am, you may want to add it to the shrimp at the same time as the scallions and ginger.