Tuesday, March 5, 2013

(Belated) Chinese New Year Meal #2: Kung Pao Shrimp and Smacked Cucumbers with Sesame and Preserved Mustard Greens

The funny thing about this recipe is that I started thinking about kung pao shrimp after Alex pulled down all of our various nuts and complained that we had far too many nuts in the apartment and needed to go ahead and use some of them.  I already had a recipe in mind that required some peanuts but the first thing that came to mind when it came down to using more peanuts was to make kung pao.  And as we have already made kung pao chicken and I was looking for a seafood recipe anyway, kung pao shrimp seemed like a really good alternative.  I can't say that I have ever tried kung pao shrimp before, but since when has that stopped me before?  I briefly considered taking the kung pao chicken recipe we made some time ago and modifying it to use shrimp, but then I decided to try something new and go with a recipe I found online.  I was looking at two recipes - one from Rasamalaysia and another from Appetite for China and I ended up deciding to use the one from Appetite for China because I thought the picture was prettier.  As you can see, I'm not above admitting it when I make a decision for purely shallow reasons.  And rather than deviating from the recipe at all, I decided to make it exactly as written.  I was pretty proud of myself for sticking with it.  And we threw in yet another variation on smacked cucumbers from Fuchsia Dunlop's new cookbook because I wanted some sort of easy veggie to go with our shrimp.

Alex and I are currently in disagreement about which of our two (Belated) Chinese New Year meals we preferred.  I preferred Sunday night's Cold Chicken with Spicy Sichuan Sauce and Stir-Fried Broccoli with Chili and Sichuan Pepper whereas Alex preferred last night's kung pao shrimp and smacked cucumbers.  While the shrimp was perfectly cooked, I thought the flavor balance was off - the sour flavor and numbing sensation of the Sichuan peppercorns overwhelmed the sweet and spicy flavor that I was hoping for.  I love the flavor of Sichuan peppercorns, but my biggest complaint about some of the "Sichuan" restaurants in New York City is that they abandon developing layers of flavor in favor of dumping on a bunch of Sichuan peppercorns or hot chilis.  A lot of these restaurants would do well to cut back on the amount of Sichuan peppercorn in their dishes so that the peppercorns perfume but don't overwhelm the dish.  But enough of that.  If I were to make this dish again I would cut the amount of Sichuan peppercorn by half, or forgo them entirely.  I would probably modify the sauce recipe to leave out the hoisin and perhaps play with the proportions of the other liquids.  As for the cucumbers, I am a total sucker for Chinese cucumber salads of all sorts.  We have made several different variations on smacked cucumbers from Fuchsia Dunlop's cookbooks and while this one wasn't my favorite, it was different and easy.  It was nice to have a non-spicy version for a change.  I think her new cookbook has another two variations on smacked cucumbers so we will have to give those a try at some point and I'll see which one I like best.

Recipes after the jump!

Kung Pao Shrimp
Available at Appetite for China


1 pound large shrimp
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
8 to 10 dried red chilis
3 scallions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced or grated ginger
¼ cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar, or substitute good-quality balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper
Peel and devein the shrimp. Blot the shrimp all around with paper towels to get rid of excess moisture.

Prepare the sauce: In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, rice wine, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, sugar, cornstarch, and Sichuan pepper. Stir until the sugar and cornstarch is dissolved and set aside.

Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add the peanut oil and swirl to coat the base. Add the chilis and stir-fry for about 30 seconds, until the chilis have just begun to blacken and the oil is slightly fragrant. Add the shrimp and stir-fry until mostly pink on the outside but not yet cooked through, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the scallion whites, garlic, and ginger, and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Pour in the sauce and mix to coat the other ingredients. Stir in the peanuts and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a serving plate, sprinkle the scallion greens on top, and serve.

Smacked Cucumber with Sesame and Preserved Mustard Greens
Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking

By Fuchsia Dunlop

NGREDIENTS: 1 cucumber (we used an English cucumber)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp Sichuan preserved mustard greens (ya cai)
1 tsp finely chopped garlic
1 tbsp runny sesame paste
1 1/2 sp clear rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
salt to taste

Lay the cucumber on a cutting board and smack it hard a few times with the flat of a Chinese cleaver or with a rolling pin.  Then cut it, lengthwise, into 4 pieces.  Hold your knife at an angle to the cutting board and cut the cucumber on the diagonal into 1/8-3/8-inch slices.  Place in a bowl with the salt, mix well and set aside for about 10 minutes.

Combine all other ingredients in a small bowl. 

Drain the cucumber, pour over the sauce, stir well and serve immediately.

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