Wednesday, December 2, 2009

CSA week one - Restaurant-style bok choy with shrimp

This is the first re-working of a dish I made a while back that I want to improve upon. We'll see how it goes.

This is a modification of the dish your vegetarian friend orders in the better sort of Chinese restaurant--the surprisingly yummy lightly-dressed big dish of wilted greens. You probably shouldn't tell her that the sauce contains oysters.

The first time I made it, I added beef and tofu which made it too heavy and detracted from both the quality of the fresh vegetables the light simplicity of the original. I still wanted to add a little protein to it to make sure I don't end up going out for a hamburger later, but I wanted to keep it light. My solution was to add a few shrimp, but chop them up so they're part of the sauce and the bok choy is still the center of the dish. I also added a little cilantro to brighten up the finish. Not really necessary given the very brief cooking the bok choy gets, but I do like the herbal note.

1 bunch young bok choy - I should have weighed them. A scant pound I think. [This would work fine with a variety of semi-tender greens so don't feel limited to bok choy.]

1 Tablespoon peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 dried chili pepper, whole
1 handful cilantro, chopped

1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 dashes white pepper
1 handful shrimp - around a quarter of the weight of bok choy, peeled and cleaned

0. Remove the wilted or yellow leaves from the bok choy, separate the remaining leaves. Clean them and remove the nasty bottoms if necessary. If you're using baby bok choy, just slice each head in half.

1. Heat a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the bok choy and blanch for 30 seconds. Remove, drain well, salt lightly and keep warm on a rack in the oven (or on a plate over the pot of hot water if you didn't pour it out) so they stay warm.

2. Heat peanut oil, garlic and chili pepper in a small pan over medium high heat. Keep an eye on it once it starts to sizzle and remove from heat once the garlic has just started browning. Add the cilantro while the pan is still sizzling.

2.5 Lay out the bok choy on a serving plate.

3. Mix the oyster sauce, water, sugar and white pepper in a small bowl. Chop, grind or process the shrimp not quite into a paste. Heat a teaspoon of oil in a small pot over medium heat. When hot, add the shrimp and still until it becomes opaque. Add the oyster sauce mixture and cook briefly until it thickens slightly. Pour or spoon over the bok choy.

4. Pour the garlic oil over the bok choy too.

Serve with other Chinese dishes and/or a big bowl of white rice.

The flavors of toasty garlic, umami oyster sauce and sweet shrimp would do fine blending together, and if you take a bite without any bok choy, they're great by themselves over the rice. But if you have a forkful that's mostly the bok choy, the flavors revolve around it, each complementing or enhancing the vegetable's flavor without quite cohering into a separate whole. The shrimp is also a great addition texturally, adding a meatiness to the crunchy shrimp and chewy bok choy leaves and still a bit crisp stems. The hot pepper and cilantro? Completely lost; you may as well leave them out. Maybe some fresh scallion sprinkled on top--not wilted in the oil--would work, though. Not really necessary, though; this is just dandy as is.

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