Monday, May 21, 2012

Salted Egg Shrimp

shrimp, Malaysian, dinner, salted egg, deep fried, crab, seafood, wokEach year in May,  soft-shell crab season hits and these delightful little crustaceans show up at seafood purveyors all over the city,  lined up neatly in little boxes.  Inevitably,  my father-in-law shows up in Brooklyn with a hankering for them.  Emails fly back and forth between us for weeks beforehand - we discuss ways to cook them,  we discuss ingredients.  He makes trips to the many Chinese,  Vietnamese and Indian groceries that have popped up all over his town and the neighboring townships in Massachusetts.  I list ingredients he's never heard of or had the need for before. I've never personally seen him at one of these stores but I believe he is like a kid in a candy store simply because it's such an adventure to him.  TamarindGalangalFresh turmeric,  please!!  Curry leaves!  He sets out for these as if he were on his own personal quest for the Holy Grail,  then dutifully reports back to me by email - Galangal: yes  Curry leaves: no.
Last year,  we made Soft-Shell Chili Crab - you know that dish that is claimed equally by Singaporeans and Malaysians as their very own invention?!  I'm not in the mood for an argument,  so we'll call it Singapore Chili Crabs for the sake of world peace.  Usually made with giant mud crabs,  we decided we would adapt it to suit the season and chili up those soft-shells.  I'll have to rescue that blog post from my previous blog so I can share it with you here.  They were spectaculicious!  I wish I had enough for the whole block!  This year we decided on a salted egg yolk sauce - butter,  the yolks of salted duck eggs,  spicy bird eye chilies, curry leaves and milk.  A brilliant creation of some unsung Malaysian-Chinese chef and available at most fine seafood establishments back home. 
Last Saturday,  Dad-in-law arrived with bags of groceries for me (he never arrives at our door without a giant bottle of Sriracha!)  On Saturday night,  we went out to dinner as we always do at Michael's Restaurant in Brooklyn.  We spotted soft-shell crabs on the menu and nodded with satisfaction that they were indeed available.   On Sunday,  after brunch we went to my favorite seafood place.  No soft-shells.  We were incredulous!!  What?  We tried a second place.  No soft-shells.  On our way to our third stop,  we did something we've never had reason to do together before - we had our fingers crossed.  Two people from completely different backgrounds, religions, ages, genders, and from absolute opposite corners of the globe were united with one mission. Sadly however, no amount of togetherness and kumbayah-ing was going to help us.  NO SOFT-SHELLS! Our hearts fell ever-so-slightly in unison.  We then discussed our next steps.
We could have had crab,  but that was much too close to our original thwarted plan.  Instead,  we opted for jumbo shrimp.  They would be deep fried just as the soft-shells would have been,  then coated with a spicy butter and salted duck egg yolk sauce.  Not soft-shell crabs,  but it would do!
Father-in-law: How many lbs?
Me: One
FIL: One?  I want leftovers for lunch tomorrow!
Me:  Okay then... two?
FIL:  You're not eating leftovers for lunch tomorrow?
Me: Okay, three!

Here's the recipe.  Of course,  if you find soft-shell crabs at your local seafood place,  you should make this recipe with them.  Just don't break my heart and tell me about it.  Oh okay,  DO tell me about it.  Take pictures.  Blog about it. 

Salted Egg Shrimp (serves 4 - 6)
3lbs jumbo shrimp
1 cup cornflour
1/2 teaspoon powdered turmeric
1 teaspoon chili powder
Peanut oil for deep frying
4 tablespoons butter
4 large cloves of garlic - chopped
5 - 8 green bird eye chilies - chopped
Small handful of curry leaves
4 salted duck egg yolks - beaten
1/2 a cup of evaporated milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Cornflour, chili powder, powdered turmeric, Malaysian, batter, shrimp, crab, seafoodJumbo shrimp, Malaysian, cornflour, powdered turmeric, chili powderIn a Ziploc bag,  combine cornflour,  powdered turmeric,  and chili powder.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Wash and dry shrimp and add to the flour mixture.  Zip it closed and give everything a good shake to coat the shrimp evenly with the flour mixture.  You may have to do it in batches unless you have a huge Ziploc bag.  I did it in a large bowl,  but the bag method is less messy.  
Jumbo shrimp, fried, Malaysian, dinner, seafoodJumbo shrimp, shrimp, wok, frying, deep-frying, seafoodIn a large work,  heat enough oil to deep fry the shrimp.  Depending on the size of your wok,  add 8 - 10 shrimp at a time and fry until golden brown and slightly curled up.  The curl tells you when the shrimp is cooked.  Don't let your shrimp come to a tight curl as you don't want to overcook them - nothing worse than rubbery shrimp,  right?  Once cooked,  remove from the pan onto paper towels to drain some of the oil.  Repeat with the rest of the shrimp,  adding oil and letting it come up to frying temperature as needed.  Once all the shrimp is fried,  dump out all the oil from your wok and clean the wok with a couple of paper towels.  Please be careful with hot oil - don't get any water near it or you run the risk of it spattering everywhere.  
Bird Eye Chilies, cut up, choppedOver medium heat,  add the butter, garlic,  bird eye chillies and curry leaves.  This is heaven in a wok!  Seriously.  Let this cook until fragrant,  about 3 minutes.  Add the beaten salted egg yolk,  stirring constantly for about two minutes until the yolk is cooked which happens very quickly.  Add the evaporated milk,  and salt and pepper to taste.  I like a lot of freshly ground pepper - it adds another layer of "heat" to the bird eye chillies and chili powder.  Give this a good stir to combine,  then add the fried shrimp back into the wok.  A couple of good turns to coat the shrimp with the gorgeous, creamy, salty, spicy sauce and it's time to eat.  Don't make the mistake of letting the shrimp cook in the sauce for too long ie: 3 minutes is too long.  You risk losing that deep-fried crunch.
Serve immediately with white rice and simple blanched or stir-fried greens.  If I knew who created the incredible combination of ingredients that make this dish I would kiss them!  
Shrimp, Deep-fried, seafood, Salted egg, duck egg,  Malaysian, dinner, spicy, creamy sauce

Malaysia, seafood, prawns, shrimp, East Ocean Restaurant, head-on shrimpA note on shrimp:  This dish requires whole shrimp - this means heads,  tails, shells, everything.  I do take the time to chop off the eyes and beards with a very sharp cleaver,  however in Malaysia shrimp are always served whole and either eaten that way or peeled by each individual.  Because the shrimp in this recipe are deep-fried,  I eat them whole - nothing like a yummy shrimp head that's soaked up all that delicious sauce.  The only part I do not eat is the tail shell as it remains too tough.  Here's a picture I took on our travels back home last December.  This dish was part of our dinner at a Chinese banquet-style restaurant called East Ocean Restaurant in Ipoh,  a VERY famous food and foodie town.  People in Ipoh really know how to eat well!  As for this picture - see what I mean?  The shrimp in the foreground on the right is looking directly at you! If this turns you off or gives you the heebie-jeebies,  I'm sorry to say that this dish is not for you.  Shrimp cocktail, anyone? 

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tapioca Pearls with Cantaloupe & Coconut Milk

tapioca pearls with cantaloupe and coconut milk served in cups
Even though it's only May,  we enjoyed a little taste of summer last weekend here in Brooklyn.  80 degrees and sunny both Saturday and Sunday - who could ask for a more perfect weekend?  The warmer weather inspired me to make this light dessert that I've been thinking about and craving all week.
In Malaysia,  this dessert is made with sago pearls.  Since it's near-impossible to get sago pearls here in the US,  I decided to give it a go with tapioca pearls.  Sago and tapioca are interchangeable in most recipes,  however I did find one major difference.  With sago,  as the little pearls cook and lose their opacity,  one finds a lot of extra starch in the pot.  When my mum cooks sago,  as soon as all the pearls become clear,  she transfers it into fine-mesh sieve and runs it under a cold tap while mixing it with a wooden spoon to wash away all that extra starch.  If this step is omitted,  what you end up with is a dessert that is much too....... starchy, for lack of a better word.  Ok,  I'll try a little harder - gluey,  sticky,  and lumpy!  I can't imagine anyone wanting a mouthful of glue with their dessert,  can you?  Tapioca pearls, on the other hand,  cook without releasing much, if any, additional starch,  and all one is left with are the dainty little tapioca pearls.  I still rinsed the cooked tapioca with cold water,  but this was primarily to stop them from cooking further and turning into mush.
Back home,  this dessert is usually made with honeydew melon.  You can imagine my dismay when,  after going to every fruit vendor in Chinatown and in my own neighborhood in Brooklyn,  I realized there was not a single honeydew melon to be found anywhere!  Time for Plan B - I noticed lots of beautiful ripe cantaloupes everywhere I went.  I wondered if it was possible to make this dish with cantaloupe instead of honeydew?  After all,  a melon is a melon,  right?  Right,  but somehow I just couldn't imagine this recipe working with watermelon - much too high water content and just not enough flavor.  I decided to give it a try with the cantaloupe.  If it didn't work out,  at the very least I would know not to be so reckless with my melons in the future!
It turned out perfectly and left me thinking about what other fruit I could use in this recipe.
I hope you'll make the trip to an Asian supermarket near you to get the tapioca pearls and try this dessert.  It's a perfect sweet for the coming hot summer days, and a lovely,  light, refreshing end to a spicy meal.  Try it with honeydew and mango as well.  And here's a bonus - it's gluten-free!

Tapioca Pearls with Cantaloupe & Coconut (serves 10 - 12)

2 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 pandan leaves,  knotted (optional)
One can coconut milk (or 2 cups if you have fresh coconut milk)
A pinch of salt
1 cup small tapioca pearls
1 ripe cantaloupe

pandan leaves in simple syrupCombine the water, sugar and pandan leaves in a medium pot.  Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar is melted,  about 2 minutes.  Here's a picture.  The ingredients list above calls for the pandan leaves to be tied in a knot - see how decidedly unknotted my pandan leaves are?  Somewhere in Malaysia,  my mum is shaking her head at me!  I believe the reason for tying them in a knot is merely to make it easy to remove them once they have served their purpose.  What is their purpose,  you ask?  Pandan imparts a distinct, sweet, unlike-anything-else aroma to Malaysian favorites such as coconut rice,  desserts and egg jam.  Egg JAM?  What's THAT?  That's yummy material for another blogpost!
Turn the heat down to low, add the coconut milk and a pinch of salt.  Cook on low for another five minutes,  then set aside to cool.
tapioca pearls cooking in potIn a large pot,  bring a quart and a half of water to a rolling boil.  Add the tapioca pearls,  and stir gently to make sure they don't stick to the bottom of the pot.  Continue to cook,  stirring constantly for about five minutes.  Turn the heat down to medium low and cook for an additional fifteen minutes,  stirring frequently.  The goal is to get the pearls to turn clear.  Here's a picture of my tapioca pearls half-cooked - see all the ones that are still opaque?  That tells me that I need to keep this cooking.

rinsing cooked tapioca pearls under a cold tapOnce most of the pearls are no longer opaque,  transfer the tapioca into a fine-mesh sieve,  and run cold water over it so that it cools down and stops cooking.
You want cooked tapioca pearls that still have a pleasant bite to them and that are not just falling apart in your dessert.  It's just like having al dente pasta instead of overcooked pasta!
cantaloupe balls made with melon baller
cantaloupe in blenderSlice cantaloupe in half - using a melon baller,  make as many little melon balls as you can (or if you prefer,  cut half the melon into little chunks).  It doesn't matter if you end up with one cup of these or two.  I ended up with about three times as many as you see in this picture.  Scoop the remaining cantaloupe out of the rind,  and purée in a blender until liquefied. 
Once the syrup and coconut mixture is fully cooled,  remove the (hopefully knotted) pandan leaves and combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Serve in small cups - your guests will come back for more!  Happy cooking!  

cooked pearl tapioca
Cooked and rinsed tapioca pearls - no bothersome opaque ones!
* Here in NYC,  frozen banana leaves and pandan leaves can be bought at Bangkok Center Grocery,  104 Mosco Street in Chinatown or online here.

** Small tapioca pearls can be found at pretty much any Asian supermarket and even from most health food stores manufactured and packaged by Bob's Red Mill. Pin It