If you dither or get distracted when you cook, stir-frying may not be the right fit for you. I’m new to “real” stir-frying, a convert courtesy of Grace Young and her magnificent guide, Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge. Although I’m still a novice, I already know that it takes preparation and quick, precise cooking. There is no room for a leisurely look back at the recipe as you stir-fry or a mid-cooking hiatus to chop a vegetable or measure out a sauce ingredient.
I can do the preparation, but have a horrible memory. So I create a “cheat sheet" to keep by my wok instead of the book. It's a great reminder of the steps and much easier to glance at quickly as I'm cooking.
Chinese Trinidadian Stir-Fried Shrimp with Rum
Today’s WokWednesdays recipe is simple, with just enough variety to make a great one-dish meal. I was dubious when I saw that ketchup was an ingredient, but luckily I kept my concerns at bay. The sweet and spicy sauce is absolutely addictive. I am sure it would be out-of-this-world with homemade or gourmet ketchup, but plain old Heinz 57 Varieties worked just fine.
The big debate among those of us who made this recipe together was whether or not to shell the shrimp before stir-frying them. The recipe calls for cooking them with shell slit but kept on, and legs removed. However, removing each sauce-slickened shell (try saying that 10x fast) at the table is messy business. I decided to ask the knowledgeable guy at my local seafood market for advice on this important issue. He highly recommended leaving the shell on, saying it lends flavor to the dish. I followed his advice and enjoyed the result. However, if serving guests who don’t enjoy licking their fingers and getting everything sticky when they dig into the accompanying rice and veggies, I would take the shells off before cooking.
The ingredients were easy to pull together. The only change I made was substituting a yellow for a green pepper; I am not a big fan of the sharp taste of the green and yellow are milder.
I had only light rum, so I bought a small (200 ml) bottle of the dark variety because Grace's mentor for this dish said light rum is too harsh. It only cost about $6 and I’ll make the recipe again, so that purchase was a good investment. I had everything else except the shrimp. At $13 a pound, they were more expensive than my typical weekday dinner ingredients, but the finished dish cost about $16 (if I amortize the cost of the dark rum), and made 2 huge portions. At $8 a person, dinner was far cheaper than take-out and so much more delicious.
Lesson learned - next time I will buy slightly smaller shrimp. The recipe calls for 1 pound of large shrimp. The ones I bought were probably very large, verging on jumbo. While this might seem like a good thing, when you are trying to cook them quickly – and the directions are calibrated for shrimp that are not as big - the rest of the dish has to cook longer in order to get the shrimp fully cooked. I should have thought about that when buying the shrimp and not been so smitten with how big and beautiful these particular shrimp looked behind the fish market counter. In the end everything worked out, but next time, with smaller shrimp, the veggies will be crunchier.
As with all stir-fry dishes, preparing all the ingredients and sauce ahead of time – and setting them out next to the wok – are key.
Ready, set, go!
And voilà – or whatever the Cantonese say when they proudly present a stir-fry success!
For my other Wok Wednesday adventures to-date, see: