Sunday, October 31, 2010

Salt baked shrimp

I mentioned in my previous post that I bought some shrimp along with the conch I used there. What I didn't mention was that these shrimp were about 18 per pound (headless) which makes them Extra Jumbo. A pretty good price for such sizable shrimp too, I thought, until I did some math and realized that a good price per pound still meant I was paying nearly a buck a shrimp. So, the question became what to make that would take best advantage of the unusual size I was paying a premium for.

My original plan was to try a dish I remember from a Good Eats episode where you bury the shrimp in salt and cook in a baking dish. That, it turns out, is called salt roasted shrimp; salt baked shrimp is something else entirely. It's actually salt boiled, deep-fried and then stir-fried shrimp.

On it says "The name is a result of the historic popularity of salt-baked chicken, which led to many foods being called "salt-baked," even though they were not, says Yin-Fei Lo." I'm assuming that's Eileen Yin-Fei Lo who's written a bunch of Chinese cookbooks and, although I know nothing of this historic popularity of salt-baked chicken, I'll take her word for it.

The three step process would be easy enough to do in a restaurant kitchen but it's a bit of a pain at home.I simplified by merging the deep-frying and stir-frying steps into a shallow fry and making some other adjustments to compensate. It does lose a little by this--mainly the little bits of fresh hot pepper embedded in the crust. That's a shame as it add as a rather nice dimension of flavor. I'm not sure I'm explaining this well so I looked for an image to illustrate. I couldn't find one, but you can see them in this salt baked squid image I found.

I just noticed in all the salt baked shrimp images, the shells are whole which means they weren't deveined. Big shrimp means big veins filled with lots of icky shrimp crap so I don't consider that a viable option. I found that I could cut through the back of the shell and the back of the shrimp simultaneously with a pair of scissors so it was pretty easy to get through the batch. It was a two handed operation, though, so tough to get a picture of the process.

In the original recipe, the boiling step was just a 10 second blanch, to remove liquids, the deep frying for a minute to cook and create the cornstarch crust and the stir fry a few moments to coat with salt. I adjusted to a 40 second boil to cook the shrimp most of the way through and then 30 seconds per side in the shallow oil to create the crust. I put the salt directly into the cornstarch slurry along plenty of black and white pepper. That technically turns this into a version of the much more sensibly named salt and pepper shrimp, but I started out making salt baked shrimp so I'm sticking with that for the post.

Here's the result:

I probably should have used a thicker cornstarch mixture to get a more robust crust, but this turned out pretty well, I thought.The crust is light and crisp with a surprising amount of flavor past bold salt and spice, the shells crisped up too and the shrimp cooked up tender. I was winging it on the oil temperature and cooking times so the good results were probably due to jumbo shrimp having jumbo margins of error too. That makes it a good use of the large shrimp so mission accomplished. The coating to meat ratio wouldn't have worked with anything much smaller so there's that too.

The open shell did capture a bit of oil, though. The alternative was leaving the veins in so I think I made the right choice. I'll need to do some better draining next time or at least serve with enough rice to offset the greasiness. The greasiness moves this from sophisticated dim sum to a beer-accompanying finger food. Not bad at all, just not classy.


LaDivaCucina said...

This sounds like one of my Chinese faves: salt and pepper shrimp. (they also do this with calamari) It looks really really good! Did you eat the shell and all?

billjac said...

They're the same recipe plus or minus one ingredient. And since I added it, salt and pepper shrimp is what I actually made.

This is a shell-and-all recipe. I generally prefer those given the choice. I was surprised and how light and crispy the shells became when fried. I'm just sorry I didn't have whole shrimp as the heads fry up real nice too.

LaDivaCucina said...

Well, I'm so glad you tackled this dish cuz it's one of my faves and now I think I might try it too! I love eating the crunchy shrimp shell, I would also eat the shell and all with certain crabs at Vietnamese restaurants in Sydney. Good job Bill and welcome back!