Shrimp & Grits: Prawns & Polenta

shrimp and grits

I went to an Asian supermarket Friday evening and bought a rather large box of prawns. Those nice big juicy prawns, not those icky dinky ones. A pad Thai was made (which was delicious but I’m going to absolutely nail it recipe wise so that’ll be a later post)…and then a sort of prawn linguine was made for dinner and yet I still had left over prawns for another meal and I was seemingly at a loss as to what to cook. It was only after browsing a kitchen cupboard and seeing a bag of polenta that inspiration came.

It’s extraordinary how much American food knowledge I actually have in my head and how little I’ve actually been there. There must be some sort of universal love of soul food or at least comforting warming gooey textures that everyone must like. Or at least me. I bloody love soul food.

So for those uninitiated, ‘Shrimp & Grits’ translates to: lovely stir fired prawns (or sautéd if you’re being posh), sat a top a gorgeously unctuous soft polenta.

Serves 2.

Shrimp & Grits:
1/2 cup polenta
About a cup of grated parmesan
1 tbsp butter
1 cup stock
1 cup boiled water (or more as needed)
12 Shrimp - shelled & deveined
1 tbsp Rapeseed oil (or olive oil)
2 rashers of bacon - diced
2 spring onions - finely diced
1 garlic clove - crushed
6 fingers of Okra - roughly chopped
4 Brown chestnut mushrooms - quartered
Dash of tabasco
Splash of Worcester sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
2 wedges lemon

Get some water boiled first, you’ll need this to make sure the polenta is the right soft texture. Heat the stock in a saucepan, once boiling you’ll want to whisk continuously whist slowly adding the polenta into the sauce pan. This will take approximately 20 minutes to cook. Keep checking and whisking the polenta occasionally. Also keep an eye on the liquid content, you may want to gradually add splashes of boiled water to maintain the correct texture. Aim for a thick porridge constancy, where you can just see the bottom of the pan as you whisk.

Now tend to the topping. In a frying pan at medium heat your oil, and when this is hot add the garlic then the bacon. Once the bacon is nearly done add the okra, mushrooms. Stir fry these for about a minute then add the prawns. Keep stir frying and tossing until the prawns start to turn pink. Now add the spring onions and the tobacco and Worcester sauces.  Season to taste. Get the pan off the heat and finish the polenta.

Your polenta should be cooked and just the right texture now, add the grated cheese. Season should you need to and finally stir in the butter.

In a shallow bowl, spoon in the polenta and make a bit of a well. Now spoon over the prawn mixture and serve with a wedge of lime.

Salmon with Ratatouille and Sweet Potato Mash

salmon fillet with ratatouille and sweet potato mashOh man. Bookkeeping. Running your own freelance business does have it’s down sides. But amazingly after travelling along a floor of invoices and receipts and living in what clearly appeared to be a really specific Level Of Hell (floor 14 perhaps) I’ve discovered that for the past six months my books totally balance out and everything is pretty healthy looking in the expenses department. Huh. Mazing.

I’m a very particular type of stress cooker, and this was making a lot of appearances for the last couple of nights at around midnight and it’s pretty tasty so I thought I’d share. It’s for one, but you can easily double this.

Salmon with Ratatouille and Sweet Potato Mash:
1 salmon fillet
1 sweet potato - peeled and chopped
round courgette - sliced irregularly
1 red sweet pointed pepper
handful of cherry tomatoes - halved
glug of red wine
2 tbsp olive oil
splash of milk - I went rice milk
1 bay  leaf
1 garlic clove - crushed
1 small chilli - deseeded and finely sliced
1 tbsp tomato purée
pinch of oregano
pinch of rosemary
pinch of paprika
sea salt flakes
crushed black pepper

You’ll want to make you ratatouille first. I’ve suggested that you cut your courgette ‘irregularly’ because I have a weird aversion to perfectly square bits of courgette and I think the odd angles you cut in produce a nicer bite. So that’s your courgette. Slice your pepper however the hell you like.

1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pot on medium heat, to this add your crushed garlic, sliced chilli, bay leaf, oregano, rosemary and paprika. Then when all the spices start smelling lovely add your courgette, tomato and pepper. The eagle-eyed of you will notice there are no onions or aubergines in this dish. You can of course add these if you want, I simply didn’t have any at home. Add your glug of wine. Cover and stew while you deal with the mash. Keep an eye on this, you don’t want it to burn. Maybe add water or stock if it’s drying out too much.

To a pot of slightly salted boiling water, add the sweet potato and let that get nice soft. When it’s soft enough to mash with a fork (or mash-up with the mash attachment on your hand blender…what an awesome buy) drain and mash away. Season with some salt and pepper, and add a splash of milk or butter maybe. Keep warm and set aside.

Now cook your salmon fillet. Frying pan on the stove, high heat, tablespoon of olive oil in and wait for the oil to get really nice and hot before you put your fillet in skin side down. Fry for 2-3 mins, then cook the sides for about a minute each. Finally turn it over and cook the base of the fillet for a minute, switch your fire off and season the fish with a bit of sea salt and crushed black pepper. Prep your plate and dish up. That time it took for you to dress your plate should mean your fish is just cooked.

Scallops with Celeriac Purée & Lardons

scallops and celeriac purée

When the weather was cooler and I had a rather large celeriac root arrive in my veg box I decided to invite a friend over to cook up something nice with the celeriac and watch Black  Swan. Incidentally I recommend them both: The movie and the following dish.

Serves 2.

Scallops with Celeriac Purée & Lardons:
1 medium sized celeriac bulb
1 cup milk
Splash of single cream
50 g butter
100 g oak smoked lardons
12 scallops
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of white pepper
Pinch of paprika
Some fresh basil to garnish

You’ll notice that I haven’t removed the orange part (or the coral) of the scallop. Puritans may suggest you do but I think they taste pretty good so at least try some before you discard it.

Peel and chop your celeriac bulb into small pieces. Get a medium saucepan on the stove at medium heat. To this add your chopped celeriac and cover with just enough milk. Bring it to a boil until it all softens up (around 10 minutes). When it’s nice and soft, season with salt and pepper and blend it all up with a hand blender. Add half the butter and the cream and simmer it down on low heat with a lid on until it reaches your desired thickness – or conversely, add more liquid until it reaches your desired thickness. Constantly taste and adjust your seasonings. Keep it warm and set it aside.

While that’s happening, cook up and render down your lardons in a small frying pan on medium high heat until nice and crispy. Add a pinch of paprika and maybe some cracked black pepper. When they are nice and crisp, keep a tablespoon or two of their fat for the scallops then set them aside in a slightly warm oven to keep warm. You’ll want to warm some serving plates too, so get those in there.

In a large non stick pan, get it up to medium to high heat. Add the reserved lardon fat and the rest of the butter. When the the fat starts to brown, add your scallops in a clockwise orderly fashion so you know which ones are taking in the most heat. Sear these for 30 seconds to 1 minute on one side and flip ’em over for 20 seconds or so. You may need to do you scallops in batches depending on how big your frying pan is.

Get your pre-warmed plates out and serve up. Purée in the centre of the plate, scallops on top. Sprinkle liberally with the lardons and their fat. Maybe a sprinkle of sea salt flakes. Basil to garnish.

Spinach & Prawn Wontons – 菠菜蝦雲吞

spinach and prawn wontonsOne of the traditional things to do on Chinese New Year is to gather together and wrap dumplings. I can see why because you wrap all the morsels faster and get to eat the fresh dumplings quicker, plus everyone gets to enjoy that feeling that they all had a hand in the meal. Fun times. Two types of dumplings were made at my CNY party, and my friend kindly managed the teaching and the wrapping of these on the night while I was manic in my mini kitchen with the other food. I believe her wrap technique was a form of Taiwanese fold, but I’ll be teaching you the Hong Kong folding style. Obvs.

The following filling makes around 28 wontons. Head to your local Chinese supermarket and get your mits on some wonton wraps. Yes. You can try to make these yourself, but one of the joys of nice wontons I find is the loose thin noodlely bits and I can guarantee that you won’t be able to roll the dough thinly enough. Just buy a packet already. There’s no shame in it.

Spinach and Prawn Wontons:
1 pack square wonton wraps
140 g raw prawns - deveined
225 g baby spinach leaves
2-3 garlic cloves - crushed
2-3 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp cornflour
splash of light soy
pinch of fine salt
pinch of white pepper

Small frying pan on medium heat. Sesame oil in. When at heat, add your crushed garlic and fly until fragrant but not crispy. Set aside.

Get a pot of boiling water onto the stove and quickly blanch your spinach. When it’s wilted down strain the leaves and submerge in ice-cold water. Reserve the spinach water for some broth. Keep the leaves submerged while you deal with the prawns. Change the cold water every so often. This helps with getting rid of that metallic taste in your spinach.

With a pair of scissors over a mixing bowl cut up your prawns into half-inch bits. Add your pinch of salt then your corn four. Mix mix mix. Strain your spinach leaves and squeeze out all the liquid, you should end up with a couple of tennis ball-shaped spinach balls. With your scissors chop into these roughly and add the cut up bits of veg directly over your prawns. Finally add to this the garlic and sesame oil and the rest of the seasonings. You don’t want this mix too wet so easy on the soy, compensate with a bit more salt if you fancy. Mix thoroughly.

You’re now ready to wrap. The key to nice wontons is a lightness of touch and some finger dexterity, so hopefully these steps and my little photo How To will help. The only things I will emphasise is that these wraps are delicate and you don’t want to overfill them. You’ll need some flour dusted trays to stop the wontons from sticking and a small bowl of water to seal them.

Wonton How To Steps

1. Make a ring shape with your thumb and forefinger

2. Place a wrap on top of this

3. Add a teaspoon of mix to the centre and carefully press down

4. Using your finger dab a ring of water just around the mixture

5. Carefully pleat the corners over and lightly seal just around the top of the mix with length of your forefinger from your other hand.

6. Done! Try to avoid bunching/clumping the top frilly bits. You’ll want these lovely and loose in your broth.

When you want to cook these, get a pot of water to boil. When boiling use a slotted spoon to agitate the water and carefully drop the wontons in. Keep carefully agitating, this stops them from sticking to the bottom of the pot. When the water comes back to the boil and the wontons float to the surface you’re ready to dish them up.

I served mine with a broth made with some reserved spinach water, with splashes of soy and fish sauce. Add to this some fresh dill, coriander, chilli and thinly sliced ginger.

Oh! If you want to save these they won’t keep in the fridge so you’ll have to freeze them, set them apart on a tray and place them in the freezer, once solid collect them all and pop them into a freezer bag. Cook them in boiling water from frozen later. My kinda fast food.

Golden Prawns – 黃金蝦 – Prawns stir fried with salted egg yolks

黃金蝦

I few posts ago I mentioned my Auntie Ann who is a great home cook, and I realised I had to learn how to make her lotus root fritters once I went back to visit the family in Hong Kong. So since I’m here at the moment, I asked her about a cooking lesson and she was so pleased I wanted to learn, that a date was quickly set. It was only a couple of days ago that I had the pleasure of not only making said lotus root delights but also this particularly scrummy prawn dish. For those uninitiated to the salted egg yolks stir fried with prawns, I can imagine that it’s actually a pretty bizarre taste sensation. It’s creamy, mushy, salty, deliciously prawny & and has a texture a bit like wet earth. This is from the preserved salted egg yolks and it’s the earthy sensation that actually makes them *good* so don’t be too alarmed next time you try this dish at a decent Chinese restaurant. I learned loads of new techniques and was even more impressed that my Aunt can churn out all this great food on just a two hob stove in a kitchen a third the size of my own mini proportions back in London.

To make this dish you want to buy some salted eggs from your local Chinese supermarket and you’ll need about 1 salted egg yolk per 2 big ass prawns. We had six prawns between the two of us. Oh, and I guess I should give a bit of a warning here: this dish is absolutely loaded with cholesterol. But that’s what makes it so utterly delicious.

Golden Prawns:
6 large prawns with their shells still on
3 salted eggs
1 1/2 tbsp of vegetable oil - not olive oil
2 tbsp corn flour
couple of pinches white pepper
1 tbsp butter

Depending on what type of salted eggs you buy (or you know, you can make your own), they are raw inside so you want to clean off the charcoal stuff before you cook with them. Crack your salted eggs into a plate and steam them for around 15 minutes until the egg yolks are just cooked. When they are done, remove the yolks from the egg whites and put them in a small bowl. Using a metal spoon, gently cut each yolk in half and remove and discard this hard pea sized nubbin from inside (removing this is actually optional, it’s just a harder piece of yolk, my mum says keep it in – meh – sisters will disagree). With the same metal spoon roughly chop the yolks – you want nice bits to chew on so nothing smaller than a centimetre cubed. Save for later on.

Wash and prep your prawns*. Use a pair of scissors and trim the legs off, cut off the sharp front part off the head – chop off about about half an inch- and trim a bit off the tail. At the bit of the prawn where the head meets body, make about a half an inch incision along the top of the the body and remove a bit of that section either side of the body. This helps keep the prawn intact as most of it’s shell is still holding it together, but also gives the yummy egg mixture a chance to get to flavour the fleshy bits of the prawn. Now use a small paring knife and tease the black vein out of the prawn. Rinse and pat dry the now cleaned and prepped prawns with a paper towel. Stir the corn flour with a couple of pinches of white pepper and dust dust dust each prawn and set them aside.

Wok on stove to high heat with a tablespoon of oil. When the oil is good and hot, stir fry your prawns until they are half cooked. Remove prawns and set aside on some kitchen roll.

Wipe down the wok. Heat to medium high. Add half a tablespoon of oil and one tablespoon of butter. When the butter is at heat, get your egg yolks in and gently toss, it should all foam up and smell really nice. Carefully toss in the prawns and take the heat up high to finish it all off. You really don’t need to cook these for long you just want to coat the prawns and cook them through. Serve!

prawn illustration*Doodle of prawn prep

Seafood, Fennel and Lime Salad

This is a straight up Ottolenghi recipe that I’ve followed almost to the letter. More herbs more lime more prawns. But it’s *basically* to the letter. It’s not often I follow a recipe so closely, but it’s so reliant on fresh flavours that you really can’t go wrong. I cooked this for a friend recently and had to buy clean and prepare baby squid for the first time. Exciting stuff. I’ve adjusted it so it’s a starter that feeds 2. Oh! And before I go into a bit of a rant. Get proper big and raw tiger prawns. And by tiger prawns, I mean proper prawns, not pre cooked tiny little shrimps. There is a big difference between prawns and shrimp. The end.

Seafood, Fennel and Lime Salad:
1 small fennel bulb - thinly sliced
1/2 a small red onion - thinly sliced
Juice and zest of 1 lime
1 garlic clove - crushed
1 tbsp fresh dill - chopped
1 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley - chopped
1 mild chilli - de-seeded and finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
6 tiger prawns, peeled and de-veined
170 g cleaned baby squid
1 tbsp sumac
2 tbsp chopped coriander
Sea salt
Pomegranate seeds to garnish

Top and tail the fennel and slice it widthwise super thinly through a mandolin into a large bowl. Thinly slice your red onion and toss them in. Whack in the lime zest, juice, garlic, parsley, chilli, one tablespoon of olive oil and a good pinch of salt. Mix it all up. Set aside.

Get a griddle pan on the stove and get it smoking hot. Mix the prawns and squid in a bowl with the other tablespoon of oil and a pitch of salt. Grill these in small batches and turn them over once. The squid should take 1-2 mins each side and the prawns 2-3 mins. You want the nice grill lines so don’t move them around in the pan.

Once they’re done, slice up the squid and toss the seafood in with your salad. You can serve this warm or a leave it in the fridge for up to 1 day. When serving, sprinkle over your sumac and coriander, taste, adjust seasoning, maybe squeeze more lime, and liberally garnish with the pomegranate seeds. EAT.

Incidentally, cleaning squid is quite fun. Carefully pull out the tentacles. Chop off the eyes and beak. Remove the flat soft bone from the hood(?) and rinse out any bits inside that. I found sacks of eggs in a couple of mine. This made me fleetingly sad for a moment, before I remembered how tasty grilled squid was.

squid prep

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