Isn’t it pretty? This recipe — the third part of this very short series — is delicious, vibrant, and somehow, fitting for the start of spring. I even planted my own Chinese chives this week, with hopes that they would get an early start this spring. The chives are a perfect match for these gorgeous shrimp: the chives’ subtle hint of flavor only serves to enhance the richness of the shrimp’s pink flesh. It reminded me of how serious people were about fresh seafood in Beijing. They wanted it brought to their table, live and thrashing, before the preparation could begin.
This dish is dead easy to make. The most labor-intensive part of the whole process was shelling the shrimp, but since I save my shrimp shells for stock, it was worth the hassle.
As an aside, there’s something rather fulfilling about using as much of any ingredient as you possibly can. If you roast a chicken, save the bones. If you cut into a leek, keep the green parts. As for fish? Buy them whole, and save the heads and bones. Store the bits and pieces in a big container or two in the freezer, and when you have the time and inclination to make stock (fish, chicken, vegetable, beef, or pork), transfer the ingredients to a large pot, cover with water, add a few seasonings, simmer for a couple of hours, and strain. Your effort will pay off; that I can promise you. You’ll have amazing stock at hand, in the freezer, for that next gorgeous dish you hope to try. Oh, and paying the extra money for the organic/ free-range/local ingredients won’t hurt quite so much.
Next time: I’ve been dying to play with this.
Fisherman’s Shrimp with Chinese Chives (yu jia chao xia qiu)
Serves 2-4, depending on hunger.
This recipe has been adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province. I chose to cut down the amount of oil used in this dish considerably, for a healthier version of the dish, and skipped an egg white in the marinade, as I was out of eggs. This ended up being fine; the shrimp was stir-fried rather than essentially battered and fried, and I think I preferred it that way.
If you must, you can substitute regular chives for the garlic chives, though the flavor profile of the dish will change. Chinese markets are a good place to source the chives for this dish. As an added bonus, they come with edible white flowers, which you can use as a garnish for a salad.
- 1/2 lb. fresh large shrimp, peeled. Try to avoid tiger shrimp / prawns, or white shrimp. They’re on the list of seafood to avoid at the moment. The large pink variety I used in this dish were delicious and colorful, and lend a particularly cheerful air to the presentation.
- 1.5 oz Chinese chives, cut into ~1-1/4″ segments.
- 1 t. finely chopped garlic. (~1 large clove).
- 1 dried red chili, sliced and seeded. The original recipe called for chopped salted chiles and a fresh red chili, which I didn’t have on hand.
- 1 t. rice vinegar. If you have Chinkiang vinegar on hand (a mellow brown rice vinegar), this would be a good dish to use it in. I had some seasoned rice vinegar in the house, which is actually used for making sushi, and it worked well enough.
- 1/2 t. sesame oil.
- 2-3 T. canola oil. The original recipe calls for 1/2 c. of peanut oil(!)
- 1 t. salt.
- 2 t. potato starch.
- 3 T. stock (or left over mushroomy water from this recipe).
In a small bowl, toss the shrimp in 1 t. salt and set aside. In another small bowl, mix the stock and potato starch together. Set aside. Prep all the other ingredients if you haven’t already done so; you should have everything chopped, cut, and / or measured out before you start cooking.
Heat up the wok until it starts to smoke, then add the oil. Swirl the oil in the wok quickly, so the inner well is coated thoroughly (at least halfway up the sides). Add the garlic and chiles. Cook for 1 minute, stirring continuously, until the chili starts to tickle your throat. Add the shrimp and vinegar, and cook for another minute or so, until the shrimp turn pink. Add the chives. Cook for half a minute or so, until the chives barely start to wilt. Add the broth mixture, cook for another minute, and then serve over rice, while the shrimp are still sizzling.