Category Archives: Difficulty – Sous Chef

Lamb & Date Tagine with Saffron Almond Couscous

I find that this recipe works equally well for a celebratory feast with guests as it does as a comforting meal with the family.  I’d not call this an easy recipe, but neither is it complex.  It is, however, rather time-consuming. This recipe was originally shared with me by my friend, Chef Pippa Calland, and now I am pleased to share it with you.

Lamb and Date Tagine

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds boned lamb shoulder (bones reserved), cut into cubes
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, finely diced
  • 1 thick slice (or two) of fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp. freshly ground cinnamon
  • cayenne pepper
  • 2 quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade or low sodium
  • 4 oz. sliced, dried dates, preferably Medjool
  • 1 bunch cilantro, picked, stems reserved, washed, dried and sliced
  • 1 bunch parsley (flat), picked, washed, dried and sliced

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F; when it is hot, place the reserved lamb bones in a cast iron skillet (or other heavy-duty pan or tray) and drizzle lightly with extra virgin olive oil.  Roast until boned become golden and caramelized.  Remove from the oven and set aside.
Season the lamb cubes abundantly with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Heat a large skillet on medium flame.  When the pan is warm, add a scant amount of olive oil to the pan and allow to heat.  When the oil is warm add the lamb to the pan to brown.  Be careful not to overcrowd the pan (or the meat will steam rather than sear). Repeat as needed until all the lamb has been browned.  Pour off the oil and discard. Put the pan back on the flame and add a scant amount of fresh oil to the pan and heat gently.  Add the chopped onions to the pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any caramelized meat juices combining them with the onions.  Cook the onions over a low flame until the just begin to brown and then remove them from the pan.
Heat the chicken broth to a simmer.  Place the lamb, lamb bones, onions, and ginger in a cazuela (a clay cooking pot, Spanish in origin) or tagine pan* and sprinkle with the freshly ground cinnamon and cayenne to taste. Add reserved cilantro stems and enough warm chicken broth to cover the lamb.  Simmer, covered tightly, until the lamb is completely tender, about an hour and a half, adding more chicken stock and turning as needed.
When the meat is cooked, add the dates. Cook the tagine for an additional 15 minutes.  Reduce the sauce to the desired consistency. Add reserved cinnamon to taste and garnish with parsley and cilantro.
Serve with couscous and a big fruit-forward Greek or Lebanese red wine.
Saffron Almond Couscous
Ingredients:
  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups Israeli couscous
  • 2 quarts chicken stock, simmered
  • 6 threads saffron
  • unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup oil-toasted, salted, blanched almonds
  • cilantro and parsley, washed, dried, and sliced

Instructions:

Place a large, heavy gauge skillet on the stove and heat until warm.  Add enough oil to abundantly cover the bottom of the pan and heat gently.  When the skillet is warm, add the chopped onion and sweat it over a low flame until soft and opaque – about 15 minutes.  When the onion is ready, turn up the flame and add the couscous.  Toast the couscous over a high flame, stirring continuously, until it is a homogenous golden color and well-toasted.

Add the saffron to the couscous and ladle in enough warm chicken stock to cover by 1/4 inch. Season with salt and pepper.  Stir to ensure the couscous doesn’t stick to the bottom.  Turn the flame to low.  Cover the pan with a lid or parchment and cook until the stock has been completely absorbed.  Add more stock until the couscous becomes completely tender and then remove from the heat.

Add butter to moisten and season the couscous.  Check the seasonings and correct as needed.  Just before serving, add the almonds, cilantro and parsley.  Stir gently to combine.  Enjoy!!

 

*cook’s note – Sadly I have no clay cooking pots, but my heavy Calphalon skillet proves to work very well.

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Filed under Difficulty - Sous Chef, Dinner, Lamb, Mediterranean

Noche Buena!

Feliz Noche Buena!

You can take the girl out of Miami, but you can’t take the Miami out of the girl.

Even though I now reside ‘across the pond’, in the lands of my ancestry, my cultural heritage is more than a little Cuban. One of the traditions I picked up that I still love is Noche Buena – the Cuban Christmas Eve, which is filled with friends, great music, dancing, and some of the best food you’ll ever taste.

The typical British Christmas dinner involves a turkey, which for me of course is Thanksgiving food. So I like to do the Noche Buena, then join friends for their Christmas Day meal and avoid a second round of turkey leftovers (though I have been known to make a lovely Drambuie soaked roast beef – I’ll do that one for New Years this year). Instead, my leftovers will be lechon (roast pork marinaded in mojo), moros y cristianos (black beans & rice), yuca con mojo (boiled cassava root topped with a garlicky sauce) tostones (fried green plantains), maduros (fried sweet plantains). Que rica!

So, as my little Christmas treat, I decided to put all these recipes here, which I’ve gathered from various sources, mostly of the friend (or friend’s old Cuban Abuela) variety. And this Cuban feast isn’t just for the holidays, but can be made at ANY time of the year. Enjoy!

DISCLAIMER: I don’t measure. I’ll give rough ideas for things though!

Essentials: lots of garlic, lots of onions, cumin, orange juice, lime, olive oil salt & pepper. Everything uses some variation on this.

Mojo: What the heck is this? Well it is the essential Cuban marinade. You can buy it bottled if you are in the right part of the country, but homemade is best. There are various recipes on the net, but it is basically made from naranja agria, or sour orange (if you don’t have this available in your neck of the woods, you can made it by combining orange juice with a bit of lime juice). Mix this with lots of garlic (chopped or pressed), olive oil, chopped onion, oregano, and cumin. Why not make a whole bottle of it and store it in the fridge? For these recipes, though, I tend to mix it up for each thing I make, as needed.

Now, on to the recipes…

LECHON

Ok, the first important thing to know is that a REAL Christmas lechon is made by digging a pit in the back yard and slow roasting a whole suckling pig. And yes, it is amazing. However, not entirely necessary for a huge gathering. And the alternative is REALLY easy.

You want:

  • A fatty cut or pork for roasting – butt is recommended (and then you can snicker), but I usually find shoulder is more often available.
  • Stuff for mojo.
  • More onions.

Cook it:

Marinade that pork at least overnight in mojo. I tend to stab the pork all over (it falls apart when it cooks, so you don’t have to worry about it being pretty – plus it’s good for letting out Christmas frustration!), then rub it down with pressed garlic and olive oil, cumin, oregano (you can make a paste of this if you want, but I just go for it), salt & pepper. If you have a Adobo spice available at your local store, you can use this too, but I like fresh! Then, put it in a large ziplock bag, and add your juice. Now, this is where I personally mix up my recipe a bit – instead of the naranja agria, I use some kind of tropical juice, like orange & mango, or a blend that includes pineapple. Always Tropicana! Be generous with your marinade, you want to have plenty left for roasting too. Marinate for at least 12 hours, but the longer the better!

Lechon marinaded and ready for the oven.

When you are ready to roast (more on how long in a sec), coat your pan in a little olive oil, and layer sliced onions all over the bottom. Lay your lechon on top of that, all spread out. Pour the remaining marinade all over, sprinkle the fat cap with some more salt (important for making chicharrones later!), then cover with aluminium foil, with a tight seal.

I’m going to quote a friend for roasting instructions here: ‘Low and slow until you can’t stand to smell it and not be eating it.’ The idea is that this becomes so tender it just falls apart (which is why you want to make sure there is some extra marinade in the pan). You can broil it for about 10 minutes at the end so the top get crispy – chicharrones baby! No one ever said this was a heart healthy dish… but then again, you’ve got the wonderfully healthy black beans to go with it!

Lechon! Fat cap removed and pulled apart into the marinade. It was awesome.

Moros y Cristianos

Yes, that does in fact mean Moors & Christians. Black beans, white rice, get it? It’s all about the multi-cultural love, baby.

So, if that lechon was easy, the Moros (as we can say for short) is even easier. Especially with a crock pot! You want:

  • Bag of black beans
  • onions
  • green peppers
  • honey(!)
  • bacon (optional)
  • cumin, salt, pepper, garlic.. you get the drill

The night before, soak your beans in twice the water it takes to cover them. I throw in half an onion and half a pepper too. Now, some say to discard the water and add fresh to start cooking, but as I’ve already rinsed my beans and picked out the stones (oops, I forgot to say, do that first), I see no need. In fact, I’ve been known to turn on the pot low from the start and just go to sleep. But because we’ll be eating late, I soaked, then turned the pot on early this morning. Then left them alone. For hours.

Peppers and onions smells so good in olive oil and garlic!

So, here’s how you finish them. First, once they’ve softened up, I add salt, pepper, cumin and… the secret ingredient… about a tablespoon of honey to the pot. Then just keep em cooking over low. Can you overcook them? Sorta… but soupy beans are yummy. About an hour or so before you want to eat, sautee the following in a couple tablespoons of olive oil: a chopped onion, a chopped green pepper, about 4-6 cloves of chopped garlic, and some cumin. You can also include bacon or pancetta here, but I’ve found it is just as good without, and makes this a bit healthier AND vegetarian for your more high maintenance friends. Add that sautee to the pot, let it simmer for a while. Later, season to taste.

Black beans simmering.

Cook some long grain white rice. I’m going to tell you how, because I’ve seen more people boil and strain rice like pasta, and it makes me mental. No matter what anyone (or any box) tells you, ever, here is how to make rice. 2 cups water, boil, add 1 cup rice. Or 3 cups water, 1.5 cups rice. ALWAYS 2:1. Boil the water, add the rice, cover, turn heat to lowest setting, and WALK AWAY and do not lift the lid for 20 minutes. That’s the basics. Now, you can do things like add some butter or olive oil, or spice, or substitute half the water for stock or white wine. You also want to be aware of your stove (for instance my burners stay so hot I need to turn mine OFF rather than low). But that’s the basics on how to cook rice. You’re welcome.

Serve up a scoop of rice, and drown it in some beans. YUM! Leftovers? Put your beans and rice in skillet and cook ’em together! Yes, you can even add lechon! DOUBLE YUM! Also, you can add your raw rice to your beans at the cooking stage, but that’s a bit crazy for beginners, so try it the separate way first.

Yuca con mojo

Cassava root is ugly. It is a long, brown, waxy thing that look inedible. But when you peel it, it reveals a lovely white flesh, which you chop into large chunks and boil like a potato (just boil until soft when tested with a fork). In fact, that’s kind of what it tastes like – a starchier, stringy potato. Some don’t like it because of the stringy bits (which is found at the centre, but you can remove the larger ones, it isn’t as bad as it sounds). But here is what makes Yucca REALLY yum: the mojo, of course!

Cassava. Not pretty.

Now I make mine a little differently for this: I slice an onion (half then slice so you get half rings), and simmer it in about a cup or so of olive oil (yes, that’s right, a cup or so! maybe even 2 cups!) with garlic, a LITTLE cumin, and some lime juice. You are basically making a hot, tangy infused olive oil. Simmer til the onions are soft, and try not to burn the garlic.

Mojo for yucca

When this is done, put your strained yucca in a bowl, use tongs to top with the onions, then spoon a lot of that olive oil over the top, but don’t DROWN the yucca in oil. Reserve the oil that is left, you’ll use it!

Tostones y Maduros

Plantains are like big, hard bananas, but do NOT eat them raw. They are starchy and yuck. Also unlike bananas, they are best cooked unripe (green) and overripe (black). The yellow is just an inbetween stage.

Tostones

Green plantains are for tostones, crispy savory fried plantains. Peel the plantain by trimming each end then gutting a long slice down the skin. These are tougher to peel than bananas. Once you’ve peeled, then cut them into about 1.5 inch chunks. Heat some canola oil in a pot or pan, you want about 3 inches or so. Fry each piece til it is just turning golden on each side, turned if the oil doesn’t cover it. Remove with a slotted spoon to a dish with paper towel to soak up the oil.

Let them cool (remove the oil from heat and set aside). Once they have cooled enough for you to handle them, you want to smash them into disks. There are special devices you can buy for this, and if you live in Miami you might have one. But it is just as easy to do with a mallet (place them on a cutting board and cover with cling film), or I simply place it on the board and press with a bottom of a cereal bowl. They will be soft inside now from the cooking. This part can be done in advance.

First fry of plantains. I didn't get a picture of the finished ones as we ate them too fast.

You want to serve these hot, so finish them right before you want to eat (they can accompany the meal, but I like them as a starter). You are now going to fry the smashed discs again til they are golden. Drain on a plate (fresh towel!) and salt them. When they are all fried, transfer them to a dish and top with some of that leftover garlic oil from the yucca, and squeeze some lime over them. DIVINE.

Maduros

These are sweet, and make a great side dish for your lechon y moros. Instead of slicing these plantains in straight chunks (you’ll notice they are more ripe, too), slice them at an angle so you get nice, long, thin pieces. Shallow fry these in some FRESH vegetable oil, 2 or 3 minutes per side til the get tinged in dark but not burnt. Some recipes will tell you to coat them in sugar first, but they are sweet enough on their own I think!

There you have it, your Cuban feast! Flan makes an excellent desert, btw. But I think we’ll be too full for that!

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Filed under Cuban, Difficulty - Sous Chef, Dinner, Long but worth it!, Meat, Mediterranean, Spanish, Winter

Gumbo z’herbes

I have, sadly, never been to New Orleans, nor am I Catholic, but when a friend gave me a huge bagful of fresh greens the other day, my first thought was to make that Creole Lenten specialty gumbo z’herbes. I did my usual Internet recipe research and discovered, as I expected, that there was a great deal of variation in how to make the dish–no consensus even on such basics as whether to thicken it with a Creole-style roux or with file powder. In fact, some of the recipes didn’t seem all that Lenten to me, containing impressive amounts of meat and sausage.

The one common denominator: greens, and lots of ’em–everyone recommended using a variety, preferably seven different kinds for luck. I was good for that: my friend had given me kale, beet greens, turnip greens, Asian mustard greens, and three different colors of swiss chard. A quick supermarket trip turned up no Creole sausage, but I got some Mexican longaniza that stood in quite well.

And then, on to cleaning and chopping all that vegetation. Every recipe said to discard all the stems from the greens, but I hate throwing out good food, which the stems are if you treat them right. I did remove them all, but only so I could simmer them separately, putting a little extra heat under them to get them as tender as the leaves. The chard stems especially were a great addition, as they’re so tender to start with; but even the kale stems got nice and soft with my treatment.

Cooking greens are notorious for hiding grit in all their nooks and crannies. To wash them properly: pile them all in a sink, fill with cold water, agitate the greens in the water as best you can, then pull them out and pile in a colander before draining the sink. Drain and rinse away all the grit left in the bottom of the sink, then repeat at least one more time, or until there is no more grit left in the sink when you drain it.

Ingredients:

  • Several generous bunches of fresh cooking greens, preferably seven different varieties, but in any case as many as you can manage–anything from collards, kale, and mustard greens to cabbage and lettuce counts
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup light-flavored vegetable oil (I used canola)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced fine
  • 3 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 lb. spicy sausage, cut into 3/4″ slices
  • 1 dried red chile pepper
  • several whole black peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 heaping tsp. poultry seasoning (I was out of marjoram)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. Thoroughly wash all the greens as described above, then roughly chop into 1-inch strips. If you’re also using the stems, chop them into 1-inch segments too, and keep them separate.
  2. In a large heavy pot with a well-fitting lid, bring about a quart of water to a high rolling boil. Turn it down to a still very active simmer, and then add the greens (just the leaf parts). If they won’t all fit at the first go, don’t panic; just put the lid on the pot and let the first batch cook down a bit, then unlid and chuck in more greens, repeating till you get them all in. Turn the heat to low, cover, and let simmer until very tender, at least an hour. If using the stems, bring some more water to a boil in another pot, place the stems in, cover, and turn heat to medium-low, letting them cook till they too are tender.
  3. Drain the cooked greens and stems, reserving all the cooking liquid (the “pot likker”). Chop all the greens and stems finely and reserve.
  4. Rinse out and thoroughly dry your large heavy pot, and place back on the stove. Add the oil and heat on high until you can see the surface of the oil rippling. Add the flour gradually, whisking thoroughly after each addition so that all the flour is incorporated with no lumps. Cook this roux on medium-low, whisking continuously and watching that it doesn’t scorch, until the roux turns a golden peanut-butter brown, which can take a good 20 or 30 minutes.
  5. When the roux is ready, start adding the greens cooking liquid gradually, again whisking in each addition thoroughly so as to prevent lumps. Once all the liquid is incorporated, turn the heat up to medium, stirring frequently, until the thickened liquid bubbles but is not yet boiling. Now add all the rest of the ingredients, stirring as best one can so that everything is well combined. Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer at least another hour.
  6. Stir again and adjust seasonings. Serve in large soup plates over mounds of steamed white rice. Makes 8 servings.

Notes: Feel free to use more or other meats (ham, pork, veal, a ham-hock or ham-bone, etc.), and to vary the seasonings. You can also leave out the meat altogether to make this vegan, in which case I’d up the seasonings even more, and maybe add some of that vegan soy-chorizo to preserve a sausage-y note. The flavor will also change depending on which kinds of greens you use–because of the kale in mine it tasted very green-y, which since I love greens is a very good thing. For a smoother texture, you can run some or all of the simmered greens through a food processor before adding to the thickened cooking liquid.

Denny

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Filed under Difficulty - Sous Chef, Dinner, Southern, Spring

Lemon Chicken with Jerusalem Artichokes

Every 2 weeks I get a fresh veg box delivered. So on occasion I have the chance to get unusual veg that I’ve not tried before. My last box had Jerusalem Artichokes in it. That name though is a bit of a misnomer; they aren’t artichokes. They’re a root veg and have a similar texture when raw to radishes. They’re often also called Sunchokes.

So since I didn’t have a clue about using them I hit up the internet for a few ideas. In the end I came up with Lemon Chicken with Jerusalem Artichokes.

Ingredients:

  • 6 Chicken Thighs
  • 2 cups Chicken Broth
  • 1/8 cup Lemon Juice
  • Pinch Saffron (optional)
  • 4 Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), peeled and diced
  • 1 cup Double Cream
  • 1 Tbsp Herbes de Provence
  • Cooked white rice (enough for 3 people)

In a large deep skillet heat 1 tbps of oil. While this is heating, sprinkle the chicken thighs with a bit of salt and pepper on each side.  Once the oil is hot, place the thighs in skin side down and brown each side, turning only once. Once browned place on a plate and set aside.

Add the lemon juice and chicken stock to the pan. If you’re using the saffron, add it now also. Bring this to a boil and scrape off any stuck chicken bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the Jerusalem Artichokes and the Herbes de Provence to the mix and return the chicken to the pan with any accumulated juices.

Reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook for about 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the Jerusalem Artichokes are tender.

Now stir in the cream. It may be easier to do this if you again remove the chicken from the pan so it is easier to stir and then put it back in. Taste and adjust any seasoning and simmer for another 15 minutes.

Serve over rice.

If you don’t have any Herbes de Provence, you can use basil and thyme as a substitute. Any herb that goes with chicken will work with this recipe.

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Filed under Chicken, Difficulty - Sous Chef, Dinner, Lunch

Lamb & Couscous with Minted Yoghurt

So for my first recipe, just a little something I whipped up. I tend not to measure when I cook, I wing it a lot, so this recipe will be a bit conversational – more art than science.

Here is what you need:

  • Some lamb (I used lamb leg steaks, cut up into cubes)
  • Olive Oil
  • Lemon
  • Mint
  • Red wine
  • Honey
  • Garlic
  • Couscous
  • Raisins
  • Onion
  • Chicken stock cube (or a cup of chicken broth with another 1.5 cups water)
  • Greek yoghurt

Put your lamb into a bowl, and then sprinkle liberally with salt (I have sea salt in a grinder) and fresh cracked pepper, then add to marinate: about 2 tbs olive oil, juice of half a lemon, some chopped mint, and about a tablespoon or so of honey. Oh yeah, and chopped garlic!  Very important. And some red wine! Ok, let it sit at least 15 minutes (the longer the better, I say). Notice there is enough here for lots! You could use some for this dinner, then cook the rest tomorrow as kebabs. Or cook it all an enjoy leftovers for a while. Or invite friends!

Meanwhile, take some more mint,chop it up, and add it to about 1 1/2 cups of greek yoghurt with a quarter of lemon, salt and pepper. Set it aside.

When you are ready to cook your lamb, add some olive oil to a non-stick skillet (or, if you like, a nice cast-iron pan), and add half the onion. Sautee for a few minutes, then add the lamb, trying to hold back on the marinade (but reserve it!).  Simmer the lamb over medium high, but pour off any liquid (back into the marinade) that builds up. You want to sautee your lamb, not boil it.

Meanwhile…

In a pot with a tightfitting lid, sautee the rest of the onion in some olive oil, along with about a quarter cup of raisins (golden is preferred, but I used Sunmaid California and it was delicious!). Cook for a few minutes, then add 2 cups couscous and stir to coat. Add 2.5 cups water and a chicken stock cube (make sure it dissolves!). Bring to a boil, stir, cover, and remove from heat.

You’ve been watching your lamb, right? Is it getting nice and golden? Great! Pour the liquid back in, and let it simmer down til it caramelises, it should only take a minute or so. Serve the lamb over the couscous with a nice dollop of that yoghurt-mint sauce (which, btw, also makes a lovely dressing for a spinach & tomato salad).

Bon appétit!

Rowan

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Filed under Difficulty - Sous Chef, Dinner, Grains, Greek, Lamb, Mediterranean, Spring, Summer

Tom Yum Goong (Thai Hot-and-Sour Shrimp Soup)

One of the first things one discovers when getting into a food-geek conversation with me is that I am a huge fan of Asian cuisines. I’m not quite sure how it happened, as I have never (yet) lived anywhere in Asia. But I did grow up in the suburbs of New York City, the proverbial cultural melting pot, and the cuisines of all those cultures made a huge impression on me. Since then I have lived in a number of other US cities with a variety of Asian emigre communities, including Boston, Seattle, and now San Diego. With the aid of cookbooks, patient friends both online and real-life, and innumerable visits to shops and restaurants, I have taught myself a few things about cooking in these delightful food traditions. And one of my favorite learnings is how to make a good authentic tom yum goong.

There are two ingredients that really “make” this soup: the head-on shell-on shrimp and the nam prik pao (one of the many varieties of Thai seasoning pastes). It is undeniably labor-intensive to remove the heads and shells from all those shrimp, but one taste of the heavenly broth you make from the heads and shells and you’ll know it was worth it. Do make sure you get the absolutely freshest shrimp you can, preferably buying them the same day you will be making the soup and storing them on a well-drained bed of ice in the fridge until you’re ready to prep them.

The challenge with the nam prik pao is for non-readers of  Thai to identify it in their local Asian grocery store. You will find jars labeled something like “Tom Yum Paste” — that’s not what you want, however, but a short-cut “instant” soup base. Alas, what you do want is a little harder to identify, because the English labeling will say something insufficiently clear, like “roasted chilli paste.” Fortunately, I discovered that Pantainorasingh makes a popular and very tasty version of the stuff, and their label is easy to pick out–it has a long dragon boat on it, plus the English text “chili paste with soya bean oil” (picture here). The Pantainorasingh brand actually has only a mild chile kick–mostly it’s super-savory, and a bit sweet, and incredibly addictive (yes, I have gleefully eaten it by the spoonful).

One other ingredient note: palm sugar typically comes in rock-hard lozenges about 2 inches in diameter. Use whatever method you can come up with to break up the lozenges. I’ve resorted to putting a few inside a clean pillowcase and pounding them with a hammer till pulverized. You can substitute brown cane sugar if you prefer not to be whacking at your ingredients, but the palm sugar has a distinctive tang that I think really adds something to the final product.

Servings: 8 as the soup course of a full dinner, or 4 as a main entree

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 lb large shrimp with heads and shells intact
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 3 to 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 chunk ginger or galangal root the size of your thumb
  • 4 fresh kaffir lime leaves
  • The juice of 4 limes
  • Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce, to taste
  • palm sugar, to taste (approx. 2 to 3 tbs; )
  • fresh Thai red chilies, to taste (caution, extremely hot–as few as 1 or 2 might do unless you’re a chile freak)
  • nam prik pao, to taste (approx 2 to 4 tbs)
  • 2 15 oz. cans straw mushrooms
  • Extra chicken, fish, or vegetable broth as needed
  • 1 big handful cilantro leaves (removed from stems)

Special equipment:

A small sharp pointed scissors is very helpful in shelling and deveining the shrimp a little more quickly.

Directions:

1. Remove the heads and shells from the shrimp: Work over a bowl to catch the juices, taking care not to get your hands stabbed by the sharp points on the shrimps’ heads and tails. To remove the head, grasp the shrimp’s body in one hand, the head in the other, and just snap or pull the head off. To shell and devein in one step, insert one blade of the scissors right at the point where the vein peeks out from the body and snip right through the shrimp’s back, shell and all, the full length of the shrimp; then pull the meat free from the shell and tail.  The vein is left exposed for easy removal; pull it free with the tip of the scissors and discard. Rinse the cleaned shrimp briefly in cool water, pat dry, and return to the fridge until you’re ready to use them. Reserve the heads and shells, as well as the juices you caught in the workbowl.

2. Put the heads, shells, and shrimp juices in a stockpot with water to cover. Add one stalk of lemongrass, sliced (discard the straw-like top part); 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed; and a chunk of fresh ginger or galangal root the size of your thumb, sliced (don’t bother to peel this). Bring to a boil, back it down to a low simmer, cover, and let simmer for a good hour or so, stirring occasionally. Strain the broth through a fine sieve, smooshing the shells and heads a bit to get at least some of the remaining liquid out. Discard the shells and other detritus.

3. Measure the resulting broth, and add some of your backup broth as needed to bring the total volume of broth up to about 8 cups. Drain the straw mushrooms; discard the liquid, as it will probably be too tinny-tasting to use in the soup. Halve the bigger shrooms lengthwise so they better match the smaller ones; add them to the soup. Also add 4 to 8 kaffir lime leaves, depending on size, and the second stalk of lemongrass, sliced up, dry top discarded. Bring up to simmering temperature, cover, and let cook together for awhile till the lemongrass and lime leaves have had a chance to release their flavors.

4. You’re now going to do a flavor-balancing act with the fish sauce, limes, palm sugar, nam prik pao, and chiles, adding and tasting till you like the combo of  salty/sour/sweet/spicy. My suggestion would be to start with a big spoonful of the nam prik pao–make sure it’s well dissolved into the simmering soup–and maybe one or two chiles, sliced and deseeded. (Wear gloves when cutting up the chiles–and if you’re a chile-head, by all means add more than one or two to start!) Then a couple tablespoons of the fish sauce. Then alternate lime juice and sugar, a little at a time, tasting as you go till you can taste both sweet and sour. Then readjust the savory and hot seasonings as needed. Repeat till you’re happy with the result.

(Many recipes say to wait to add the nam prik pao until the soup is served, putting a spoonful in the bottom of the bowl and ladling the soup on top to dissolve it. I find it easier to get the flavors balanced if I add the nam prik pao at the same time at the same time as the other seasonings. You can always offer the nam prik pao, and other condiments, at table for anyone who wants to adjust their soup further.)

5. Maybe ten minutes before serving the soup, bring it just up to a boil and drop in the shrimp. Bring it back up to a lively simmer, and cook until the shrimp are just cooked through–don’t overcook! Pour into a tureen, drop in the handful of cilantro leaves, and serve. (Make sure your guests know that the kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass are not meant to be eaten!)

–posted by Denny Kozlov

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Filed under Asian, Difficulty - Sous Chef, Long but worth it!, Seafood, Soup, Thai