Fried Rice and Shrimp

Crispy Shrimp

I would like to add to my previously mentioned list of food I usually purchase rather than attempt to cook.  Asian food, though a broad category, should certainly be on that list.  I just think that the professionals do a much better job than I ever could, for several reasons: 1) I don’t usually have the right ingredients and end up making odd substitutions like vermouth+sugar for mirin, barbecue sauce+teriyaki sauce+molasses for hoisin, and ground fennel seed for star anise.  When I do buy the occasional jar of Thai fish sauce or black bean paste, it ends up sitting in my fridge for ages until eventually I throw it out.  2) Asian dishes usually (and admirably) involve lots of vegetables.  This poses the recurring problem in my house.  If I buy 5 different vegetables for a stir fry or something, then I use a tiny bit of each since I’m cooking for only one veggie-eater, I end up with a pile of leftover vegetables that I can barely begin to erode before they go bad.  3) I’m no Asian – I’m the whitest white girl eva… so I doubt I would ever make anything authentic or ground breaking in this arena.  4) It is fun to get takeout every once and a while – every cook needs a break!

Now you know all my pathetic reasons for not venturing into the culinary sphere of the Far East.  Unassailable logic, no?  Despite this, it took only one recipe to allay all my fears and negate all my excuses!  I should say, actually, that it is two recipes – though one is decidedly more Asian than the other, they go together so well I am including them both here.

Funny that this ‘Asian’ recipe comes from another stark-white white girl: Ellie Krieger.  As far as Food Network stars go, I would give Ellie a 5 out of 10.  Not as funky/charismatic as Anne Burrell or cute as Danny Boome, but also not as annoying as Paula Deen or Rachael Ray.  I never watch her show, cuz most of the food is whole grains and vegetables which don’t go over so well with RJ.  So imagine my amazement when I see Ellie’s recipe for fried brown rice, chock full of colorful veggies, in my Fine Cooking.  As some of you know, I’m doing the “Cook the Issue” challenge, whereby I have to cook every recipe in Issue #97 – see my work so far by clicking here.  Before I post the recipe, let me tell you how Ellie, with this one dish, addressed all of my issues with both her cooking style and the making of Asian food in general:

1) The recipe does not include any exotic Asian condiments besides soy sauce, which hardly counts, and fresh ginger, which I sometimes buy and happened to have leftover from my marmalade.  The shrimp, which I paired with this rice, required Chinese five-spice powder, but I can buy this in small quantities and not worry about having to toss it within 6 months.

2) Yes, this fried rice uses a lot of vegetables, but get this: it encourages the use of whatever leftover veggies you have lying around.  Think baby carrots that are turning flakey and white on the outside, that random quarter of a red bell pepper you’ve had in a plastic bag since last week’s salad, and residual broccoli stalks.  It also incorporates frozen vegetables like corn and edamame which can obviously keep a lot longer than fresh stuff.

3) I gained confidence starting my venture into Asian cuisine under the tutelage of a woman with skin paler even than my own.

4) Sure is fun getting takeout, but it is also fun to save money and have fun cooking.  I made the full yield of the recipe, and ate the rice for several lunches in the days that followed.

5) This recipe also helped me to get over the whole problem with whole grains in my house.  It requires that the brown rice be cooked in advance and chilled in the fridge before frying.  This means that I can actually justify cooking my brown rice for dinner one night (even though RJ won’t touch the stuff so I’ll have to make him a separate white rice serving) and saving the leftover rice for the next day’s cooking.

Needless to say, the dish was a revelation.  The shrimp, which comes from the same Fine Cooking issue, was simple  to make alongside the fried rice.  They tasted wonderful together!  And I did most of the prep work for both recipes well ahead of time, making the assembly all the easier.  I highly recommend this dinner and the inevitable lunches that will follow unless you have 4 people who love fried rice like you do!

Fried rice aromaticsFive-Treasure Fried Rice, by Ellie Krieger in Fine Cooking issue #97 (serves 4+)

“I first created this recipe as a destination for leftover broccoli stalks, but its easily adaptable, so feel free to substitute other vegetables you might have in the fridge—asparagus, zucchini, peas, mushrooms, bok choy, bean sprouts, and jícama are all possibilities. I love the nutty taste and chewiness of brown rice, and you just can’t argue with its antioxidant power and fiber. My favorite route to brown rice is to order it with Chinese food, but you can certainly cook some up yourself. Either way, bear in mind that the rice has to be well chilled so the starch hardens and makes it fry-able. Use fresh rice and you wind up with a gummy mess.”

Chopped veggie prep2 Tbs. canola oil
1 cup peeled, finely diced broccoli stems (from about 1-1/4 lb. broccoli)
3/4 cup finely diced carrots
3/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
3/4 cup frozen shelled edamame
3/4 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
4 scallions (both white and green parts), thinly sliced
2 Tbs. finely grated fresh ginger
2 large cloves garlic, minced
4 cups very cold cooked brown rice
3/4 cup finely diced Canadian bacon (4 oz.)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup lower-sodium soy sauce

rice-vegHeat all but 1 tsp. of the oil in a large nonstick skillet or stir-fry pan over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli stems, carrots, and bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables begin to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the edamame and corn and cook until the edamame is thawed, about 1 minute. Add the scallion, ginger, and garlic and cook, stirring, until the raw garlic aroma subsides, about 1 minute. Add the rice and Canadian bacon and cook, stirring, until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes.

Make a 3-inch well in the center of the rice mixture. Add the remaining 1 tsp. oil, then the eggs, and cook, stirring, until the eggs are almost fully scrambled. Stir the eggs into the rice mixture. Stir in the soy sauce and serve.

Fried Rice

Salt-and-Pepper Shrimp with Garlic and Chile, from Fine Cooking issue #97  (serves 4)

Using easy-peel shrimp will speed prep because the shells are slit open and they’ve been deveined.  [This recipe can be prepared as a meal or as a fun appetizer]

Shrimp prep2 Tbs. cornstarch
1 tsp. granulated sugar
Pinch of Chinese five-spice powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 serrano chile, thinly sliced into rounds
4 large scallions (green parts only), sliced 1/4 inch thick
1-1/2 lb. large shrimp (26 to 30 per lb.), peeled and deveined, tails left on
3-1/2 Tbs. peanut or canola oil
1 small lime, cut into 4 wedges

In a large bowl, mix the cornstarch, sugar, five-spice powder, 1 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. pepper. In a small bowl, mix the garlic, chile, and scallions; set aside.

Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels. Line a small baking sheet or large plate with a double layer of paper towels. Add the shrimp to the cornstarch mixture and toss until evenly and thoroughly coated.

Cooked crispy shrimpIn a heavy-duty 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1-1/2 Tbs. of the oil over medium-high heat until very hot. Add half of the shrimp in a single layer. Cook without disturbing until deep golden and spotty brown on one side, about 2 minutes. Using tongs, quickly flip each shrimp and continue to cook until the second sides are spotty golden brown, about 1 minute longer. (The shrimp may not be cooked through at this point.) Transfer the shrimp to the prepared sheet. Add another 1 Tbs. of the oil to the skillet and repeat with the remaining shrimp, transferring them to the sheet when done.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 Tbs. oil to the skillet. Add the garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the chile and scallions are softened andthe garlic is golden and smells toasted, about 1 minute. Return the shrimp to the pan and stir to combine. Serve immediately, with the lime wedges.

A Meal Fit for Company

Today I bring you a full menu rather than one dish.  This meal is simple, delicious, quick and relatively healthy.  It can be multiplied to serve a crowd without much more effort or additional funds, and thus it is also a recent addition to my running list of “dinners fit for company costing less than $20.”

I thank Whole Foods, as much as anybody, for the idea.  I had been given the opportunity to shop there due to an overnight stay in Cambridge, MA and I was awed at the prospect.  For a girl that lives way, way up on the North Shore, the visit to this shopping Mecca where the peppers are never bruised and you can choose from 8 flavors of wood-smoked salmon was a treat indeed.  Thus, it took me about an hour and a half (no joke) to get through all the aisles.  There was a lot of internal dialogue involved, wherein I argued my need for fancy organic granola (“it has currants! Not raisins, currants! And coconut flakes!”) against the persistent reality of my checking account balance (“no you do not need Plugra butter”).  Plus, I had to decide what form of protein I was least likely to get at my home grocery, either because they don’t carry it or my husband won’t eat it.

I finally settled on a balanced, colorful meal of panko-crusted flounder, creamy Spinach, and roasted butternut squash with cranberries.  As the outline of the menu unfolds below, you may initially cringe at some of the flavor combos but let me tell you, these dishes really did work well together.  I would make this meal again in a heartbeat – or at least in 24 hours, if you promise me a ride to Whole Foods.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Cranberries

1 large butternut squash, peeled and scraped of seeds
3/4 c. to 1 c. fresh cranberries

Olive Oil
Maple Syrup

Preheat oven to 400˚F.   Cut butternut squash into medium-sized chunks, approximately 1 1/2 inches square.  Add them to a large mixing bowl toss with olive oil to coat.  Spread squash in a baking dish large enough to fit the squash in a single layer, not overlapping but not inches apart either.  Next, pour the cranberries (as much as you like, really) into the mixing bowl and coat with another tablespoon or so of olive oil.  Scatter the cranberries in and around the butternut squash pieces.  Sprinkle the whole pan with salt to taste, and then lightly drizzle with maple syrup, making sure that every bite of squash gets at least a couple drops.  Roast for about 1 hour – test the squash by stabbing a piece with a fork.  If you pull the fork back the squash should easily slip off the tines.   If it wants to follow with the fork, return the squash to the oven and roast for another 10 minutes before checking again.  When done, some of the cranberries will be blackened and shriveled – I think they’re yummy like this.  If you prefer your cranberries all to be juicy and full, add them halfway through the cooking rather than with the squash at the beginning.

Creamy Spinach and Mushrooms (sauce adapted from the Joy of Cooking)
3/4 c. milk
1/4 onion or 1 clove crushed garlic
bay leaf
pinch of nutmeg
3 Tbs. butter, divided
2 Tbs flour
4 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 lb. spinach or baby spinach
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1/4 c. grated cheese (gruyere, Jarlsberg, parmesan or some combination)

First simmer the milk with the onion (or garlic), bay leaf and nutmeg in a small pot for about 15 minutes.  Remove the solids (onion or garlic and bay leaf) and then set aside.  In a separate saucepan, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter, then whisk in the flour over low heat until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Slowly whisk in the milk mixture and return to low heat.  Simmer, whisking frequently, until thickened to a soup-like consistency (as you can see from the picture, I didn’t wait long enough…).  In the meantime, melt the final tablespoon of butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add the cremini mushrooms and cook until lightly browned.  Add the spinach and stir gently until the spinach is cooked down.  To the milk sauce, add the mustard, followed by the grated cheese, stirring to blend.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Drain any excess liquid from the mushroom and spinach mixture.  Add the sauce to the cooked spinach gradually until you reach the creaminess level you are comfortable with.  For some, a touch of the sauce is plenty, others want the whole mess of it.

Sun-dried Tomato Panko-Crusted Flounder
3 filets of flounder (or 1 per person)
2 eggs
2 cups of Sun-dried Tomato Panko flakes (mine were courtesy of Whole foods, but feel free to make your own with chopped parsley, minced sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh breadcrumbs)

Here’s a simple one – pat the fish filets dry with paper towel.  Beat the eggs together in a shallow bowl or platter.  Dip the fish filets, one by one, in the egg to coat.  Let the excess egg drip back into the bowl, then dredge the filets in the breadcrumbs, turning to coat.  Over medium-high heat, melt a tablespoon of butter in a nonstick pan.  Lay the filets in the pan and cook about 3 minutes on one side, then flip to cook the other side for about a minute and a half.  Check for doneness – the fish should be opaque, not translucent – then transfer to dinner plates.