Monday, April 26, 2010

Thai Shrimp Stir-Fry

I originally planned to post a lot more recipes to this blog than I've been doing, so today I'm fixing that somewhat by posting this recipe, especially since it uses FOUR ingredients from my garden (garlic scapes, carrots, cilantro, and multiplier onions).

The inspiration for this dish came from Thai Spicy Basil Shrimp from Tigers and Strawberries, but altered to fit what I had on hand. Stir fries are nice that way. Once you have the basics down you can play with them quite a bit and they'll still come out yummy.

Tigers and Strawberries is where I learned my stir-fry technique. Before that stir-frying was overly complicated because I felt I had to cook each ingredient separately to make sure each was done the right amount. Now I know what order to put the ingredients in so they all cook together harmoniously.
If you want to become a serious stir-fryer, one thing you gotta do is get a REAL wok. DO NOT get one of those non-stick Teflon ones from the nearest bigbox store. You should go to a specialty store and get a CARBON STEEL one (or do like I did and ask for one for Xmas).

You need a wok that can stand up to as much heat as you can pump into it. Hopefully you know that Teflon is not good for high heat cooking. Not only does it break down the Teflon, causing your pan to not last nearly as long, but that hot Teflon also releases toxic chemicals into the air, enough that people with pet birds are always told to not cook with Teflon because the fumes can kill the bird. Now, I'm not a bird, and birds are more sensitive to air pollution than mammals, but if it can kill a bird, I doubt it's good for me.

That said, I do have a set of Teflon pans. I only use them for low-heat cooking, mainly eggs and pancakes. They were a gift, so might as well use them for something.

As you can see, my carbon steel wok is pretty dirty looking. It's supposed to look like that. Carbon steel woks get "seasoned" in a similar way to cast iron pans. I won't go into the details of that now, but if you do go ahead and get a real wok, you'll have to season it. You can look up instructions on how to do this on the Internet. After that, the wok just gets better from use. Mine has been pretty well loved.

My wok also came with a little stand thingy to go on the stove, since the bottom of the actual wok is round. This works just fine for me, but some woks have flat bottoms so you don't need a stand. I think the round bottoms are more traditional, since it makes stirring more easily, but I'm sure the flat bottomed ones work fine too.
When you cook in a wok you should always have the heat at least at medium-high, if not cranked all the way up. You want that wok absolutely SEARING HOT. Food thrown in this wok flash-cooks, preserving nutrients and giving you that authentic wok flavor. Yes, you will need your vent fan on. I do OK cooking on my electric stove cranked all the way up, though gas would be better. The very best wok cooking I have done is outside on my charcoal grill. Once the coals are glowing hot, remove the grate and put the wok directly on the coals. Plus it's outside so you don't have to smoke up the house.
You also should have all your ingredients ready before you begin. With slower cooking methods you can afford to be chopping more veggies while other ingredients are already in the pan, but with stir frying you should have everything chopped up and ready to go before you heat up the wok. Once the wok is hot, things move really fast, so you should be prepared to just dump each ingredient in right away and keep your attention on the wok. It's really easy to burn something if you're not paying attention.
OK, so enough blabbing about wok technique. How about the recipe? Remember, stir fry recipes are just guidelines. Eyeball measurements, use what you have, substitute freely, and adjust to your own tastes.
I only made enough to serve 2, so double if you need to.

1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and de-veined

Shrimp Marinade:
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp Thai fish sauce
1 tsp. honey

About 2 tbsp oil or fat with a high smoke point, such as canola, peanut, lard, or schmaltz leftover from the last time you made chicken stock (that's what I used). Don't use olive oil. It can't stand the heat.

2 shallots, minced (I used a handful of my multiplier onions)
1 thinly sliced fresh Thai or cayenne chili - OPTIONAL (I left it out, Daniel has bad heartburn)
3 elephant garlic scapes - ended up about a cup cut into bite sized pieces
2 carrots, julienned
*Here you can substitute any vegetable you want. Green beans instead of garlic scapes would be good. Red bell pepper instead of carrots. Maybe some mushrooms. If you don't use garlic scapes, add some minced garlic in with the shallots.

For the sauce, about a tablespoon each of
fish sauce
lime juice
chicken or shrimp stock
*But really, I just squired/splashed some in.

A handful of fresh cilantro (or Thai basil if you have some, or some of both), or frozen if yours has bolted, like mine has (that is, if you had the foresight to freeze some cilantro before that happened).

Mix shrimp with cornstarch, fish sauce, and honey. Let marinade for at least 30 minutes. While you're waiting, cut up all your vegetables and have them ready to go. You can mix the shallots and chile together in the same bowl and the scapes and carrots together in another bowl since they'll be going in the wok at the same time.

When shrimp is done marinading, heat up your wok until it starts to smoke. Add about a tablespoon or two of your oil or fat, and then add your shallots and optional chiles. Stir them around a bit until they've gotten fragrant, and then add the carrots and garlic scapes. If you were stir frying with a less delicate meat, like chicken or beef, you would add that before the veggies, but shrimp cooks very quickly, so you add the veggies before it.

Once the veggies have turned brighter colors and maybe have a few browned spots on them, dump in the shrimp along with all its marinade. Stir fry and cook until the shrimp has curled up and started to turn pink. Next add more fish sauce, some lime juice, and some chicken or shrimp stock to de-glaze the pan and make a sauce. You don't want stuff floating in sauce, just a little bit to coat the food.

Throw in the cilantro, and stir until the liquid has dissolved any browned stuff off the pan and thickened into a nice sauce, and the cilantro has wilted. Dump it into a serving bowl and immediately rinse out your wok while it's still hot (much easier to clean that way).

Serve over rice or rice noodles, unless you're cutting carbs like Daniel is. Sprinkle with Sriracha sauce if it's not already spicy enough for you.

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