Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mr. Hawthorne Stir Fries. Ganshao Mingxia.

We have a friend, Gervais, who lives across the canal.
Every now and then,
he brings us a platter of egg rolls.
They are truly the best egg rolls I've ever had.
When I asked Gervais about his recipe,
An American couple, the Shreckers,
met Mrs. Chiang when they were studying
Chinese culture in Taiwan.
Mrs. Chiang had grown up in Szechwan
in a family of demanding gourmands.
She eventually made her way to Taiwan
where her cooking became famous.
When the Shreckers tasted Mrs. Chiang's food,
they were astonished at the difference between
authentic Szechwan food and the pale fascimile
which passed for Chinese in American restaurant fare,
what I refer to as the ChinaMacs.
They discovered what the Chinese call
the zhen wer, or the true taste,
a classical principle of careful preparation,
blithely ignored in this country by virtually all Chinese restaurants.

Short story long,
the Shreckers brought Mrs.Chiang back to America 
where she looked after the Shreckerettes
as well as cook for the Shreckers.
Mrs. Shrecker took to following Mrs. Chiang 
around the kitchen with a notepad,
while Mr. Shrecker translated.
Don't you know Mrs. Chiang enjoyed that.
The cookbook is a result of this collaboration
to create authentic Szechwan food in the American kitchen.

We've already made three of the dishes
in the book:

Today, Mr. Hawthorne is preparing ganshao mingxia,
or Shrimp in Red Sauce.

When I was reading the recipe,
I was surprised to see that ketchup was an ingredient,
since the purpose of the book was to recreate
authentic Szechwan cuisine in the American kitchen,
using ingredients available to the American cook.
I was curious as to the availability of ketchup in China,
then I read the prologue to the recipe:

While we were on Taiwan, we used to encounter this easily prepared dish of whole shrimps in a sweet red sauce at nearly every Szechwanese banquet we attended.  Its ubiquity was probably due to its unusual taste, beautiful rosy color, and use of large shrimps, which, Mrs. Chiang explained, were an exotic luxury in Szechwan.  When Mrs. Chiang cooked it for us, we were amazed to discover that one of the key ingredients in the recipe was ordinary tomato ketchup, a fascinating example of how Chinese cooks have skillfully assimilated a new ingredient into the traditional cuisine.  The ketchup is used much in the same way as bean pastes are in other recipes.  It adds to the final intriguing flavor of the sauce and to its color, but leaves no 'ketchupy' taste.  There is, of course, the tantalizing possibility that ketchup was not imported from the West at all, but was invented in China.  When John became curious about its origin and looked it up in a few dictionaries, he found that the word 'ketchup' originally came into English from a Chinese word in the Fukienese dialet. 'ke-tsiap,' which could well mean 'tomato paste'.  It is hard to guess what this primeval ketchup tasted like, and the product Mrs. Chiang uses today is the same stuff we pour on hamburgers.  Still, it is intriguing to speculate that ketchup, like spaghetti, came from China.

Mr. Hawthorne is doing the cooking today.
I'm doing the mise en place,
since he doesn't have time for such nonsense,
even though stir frying is the one case
where mise en place is essential.

When you're stir frying,
you're cooking hot and fast.
Everything needs to be prepared
and ready to cook.
There's a rhythm to it
and you can't stop in the middle
and say, "Oh wait.  Where's the shark fin?"
"What?  I was supposed to marinate
the shrimp for 30 minutes?" 
"Where are the cod cheeks?"
 "What did I do with the fish tongues?"
"I was supposed to soak the periwinkles for 3 days??"
"I do what with the calves' brains?!!?"

You get the picture.

Shrimp in Red Sauce  -  ganshao mingxia

1 pound large shrimp
1 tsp salt
1 TB Chinese rice wine or sherry
2-inch piece fresh ginger
3 scallions
1 TB cornstarch
1/4 cup water
peanut oil
3 TB ketchup
5 TB water
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Rinse the shrimp. Pull off legs but leave shell on.  Using scissors, cut a small slit up the back of the shrimp.  This will allow the marinade to penetrate the shrimp easier.  Use a toothpick to draw out the vein down the back.

Put the shrimp in a bowl and add the 1 tsp salt and the wine.  I used a couple of teaspoons of rice vinegar and a tablespoon of dry sherry.

Peel the ginger and chop it into match-head-sized pieces.  Add 1 teaspoon of the chopped ginger to the shrimp.  Make sure the salt and ginger are evenly distributed over the shrimp. Marinate at least 15 minutes.

Peel the garlic and chop coarsely into pieces about the size of grains of uncooked rice.

Slice scallions

Combine cornstarch and water in a small bowl and set aside.

1 TB peanut oil


(remaining ginger and the scallions)
3 TB ketchup
5 TB water
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt

(cornstarch and water)

Pour off the excess liquid from the shrimps, but don't rinse them off.  It's all right for little bits of ginger to remain on the shrimps.

Heat wok over high flame for 15 seconds, then add 1 TB peanut oil.  When oil is ready (Tiny bubbles form and a few small wisps of smoke appear.) add shrimp and stir fry for about 45 seconds - 1 minute.   You don't want the shrimp cooked through.  Remove shrimp from pan.

Reheat pan over moderate flame.  Add more oil, if needed.  When hot enough, quickly toss in remaining chopped ginger, the scallions, and ketchup and stir fry vigorously for no more than 10 seconds.

Immediately add the water, sugar, and salt and let the mixture come to a boil.  Let cook for 1 minute, then return the shrimp to the pan.

Stir the cornstarch and water thoroughly to make sure they are well combined, and pour the mixture into the pan.  Stir fry until the sauce has thickened and cleared and the shrimp are cooked.  About 30 seconds.

Now for the step by steps:
A little prep work is in order.
Combine the cornstarch and water.
Slice the scallions.
Mince the ginger.
I used a combination of sherry and rice vinegar.
I can't find rice wine.

I know that looks like a lot of ginger,
but trust me, it works.

Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the ginger, 
1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 tablespoon of sherry or rice wine
over the shrimp and mix well to combine.
Let marinate at least 15 minutes.

I set aside the cornstarch slurry,
the remaining ginger, and the scallions.
(In the background.)

More prep work.
3 TB ketchup
5 TB water
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt

We're ready to cook now.
Everything is prepped and organized 
right next to my wok.
This is key to stir frying.
Have everything at hand.
You're going to be cooking hot and fast.

The shrimp go into the hot peanut oil.

You don't want to cook the shrimp all the way through
since they're going to be reheated 
and you'll finish them off then.

Remove shrimp from wok.
If you notice the shrimp,
you'll see they're still slightly translucent.

Reheat the pan over medium heat,
adding more oil if needed,
and add in the remaining ginger, the scallions, and ketchup.
 Stir fry no more than 10 seconds.

Add in the water, sugar, and salt
and let come to boil.
Cook for 1 minute.

Return shrimp to pan
and add the cornstarch slurry.
Cook until the sauce has cleared and thickened
and shrimp is cooked.

I served the shrimp and sauce over Jasmine rice.

The way to eat these is to suck the shrimp first.
There's a lot of flavor and juices concentrated
 inside the shell and you don't want to miss that.

This is a really messy dish
but you must dive in.
Suck the juices, then peel.

Another winner.

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