This week’s recipe for French Fridays with Dorie is a bit of Asian fusion, sort of. Dorie says she was first served this dish, Shrimp and Cellophane Noodles, by her friend Hélène Samuel as part of a dinner of orange food. Interesting… I’ve been wondering which part of the dish is considered orange. The coral of the cooked shrimp or the red of the tomato puree. I’m not sure.
Ingredients for this dish spawned a trip to HMart, a gigantic nearby Korean supermarket with a usually large selection of Asian ingredients. Though they have more choices of kimchis and marinated meats for Korean BBQ than I’ve seen anywhere else, their inventory usually includes what’s needed for most Asian cuisines. For some reason, this trip, I was surprised that there was only one choice for tree ear mushrooms and one choice for cellophane noodles. On the bright side, half of the back wall of the store is a fresh fish counter, so I could pick up shrimp and make it a one-stop shop.
To be fair, this recipe should have been named Shrimp, MUSHROOM, and Cellophane Noodles. The dried tree ear mushrooms, once rehydrated, were the main ingredient. I couldn’t believe how much the mushrooms, well, mushroomed. The little one ounce pack grew to fill a medium sized bowl with gigantic tree ears. I debated using only half of the mushrooms, once shredded, but ended up using it all.
Also, I didn’t understand why the rehydrated noodles were doused in sesame oil and then, shortly before assembling the dish, cooked ever so briefly in the pot of water which simply washed the oil off. I added more sesame oil afterwards, but I wasn’t sure about the purpose this step. Anyone have a clue?
Asian ingredients with tomato puree sounded like we were in for a bit of fusion cooking. Unfortunately, the end result was weird. I mentioned the large amount of mushrooms. The dish offered varied textures with the firm shrimp, the slippery noodles, and the dominant shredded mushrooms. I didn’t expect it to taste Italian from tomatoes alone, however, the tomatoes seemed to flatten out the taste completely. There wasn’t any hint of the Asian flavors, even though there was ample sesame oil, five-spice powder, and garlic in there. To Howard, it tasted very sweet, though we couldn’t figure out if that was from the miniscule amount of sugar or the warm spices in the five-spice powder. The consensus at our table was that this dish didn’t quite work.
A highlight of a New England winter is the Maine shrimp season. These delightful pink shrimp have a lot going for them. They’re wild, they’re local, and, most importantly, they’re delicious. The season varies each year. This year, it started on January 2, but with a significantly lower quota than last year. The limit is what keeps the population sustainable, but, at the same time, it also limits the fisherman’s income. The whole question of sustainability raises lots of sticky questions.
We went to Maine for a quick overnight last weekend, so I stopped at the store to see if they had shrimp. The season is nearly over, but they had some in the case. I picked up a couple of pounds. One thing that’s different about the Maine shrimp is that they are pink even before they are cooked. .They are also really easy to clean: the shells are really thin which makes them easy to peel, and they don’t have any noticeable vein to remove. They are on the small side, but so cute when they cook up.
The first night, I made a shrimp scampi over linguine. I winged it, making it like my linguine with clam sauce, but with shrimp. And I simmered the shrimp shells with some butter, lemon and garlic cloves to use instead of clam broth. I didn’t remember to take any pictures, but it was delicious.
With the second half of the shrimp, we made a simple paella. This recipe can easily become part of a weeknight repertoire, though the final product is not at all ordinary. The ingredients were few, and the technique a little different, so I’ll admit I had some doubts. The part that made me nervous was the delicate shrimp spending nearly half an hour in a 500 degree oven. I was sure the shrimp would dry out. However, the recipe was Mark Bittman’s and the book was Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook, so I should have had more faith. The shrimp was perfectly cooked, as was the rice. The only “note to self” for next time is to add a handful of peas to add some color to the dish.
Adapted from this recipe
Serves 4 to 6
4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
2 cups raw Maine shrimp, peeled
½ pound chorizo, cut into ½-inch slices, then quartered
½ cup frozen green peas
Preheat the oven to 500F. While the oven preheats, heat up the stock and saffron in a saucepan.
In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rice, and cook, stirring occasionally, until coated with oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add the warmed stock. There will be a lot of steam, so stand back. If you wear glasses, they will fog.
Stir in the shrimp, chorizo, and peas. Carefully, transfer the pan to the oven.
Bake about 25 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is dry on top. Serve immediately.