"How do I make my favorite Asian dish so it tastes like the restaurant?" is a question I hear often in this line of work. Since I consider myself still very much a student of the many varied cuisines of Southeast Asia -- particularly Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysian -- I stumble, too ... until I find something that really sings on the tongue.
During a recent stumbling, I found some inspiration in "The Minimalist," a New York Times food column penned by cookbook author Mark Bittman. Dubbed "Chile Shrimp," the recipe calls for classic Southeast Asian notes, such as fish and soy sauces, lime, garlic, ginger and shallots, which sing an exotic melody of salty, spicy, and aromatic in a tangy tomato base.
Prep everything before you fire up the stove; this dish cooks in a quick 10 minutes. In fact, make rice before doing anything else.
This dish does what so many home cooks are looking for -- it tastes, delightfully, like the restaurant's.
1 pound medium or large shrimp, peeled
Sprinkle of salt
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
1 medium shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
Chiles: Depends on personal preference; I used 1 seeded, chopped habanero with medium-spicy results
3 tablespoons tomato paste
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons fish sauce (also known as nam pla)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed
Lightly sprinkle salt over peeled shrimp and set aside.
Place ginger, garlic, shallot and chiles in food processor and whiz until minced. Place tomato paste, lime, fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar in a small bowl, set aside.
In a wok or large skillet, add oil and heat for one minute until quite hot, but not smoking. Add ginger mixture and stir constantly over medium heat, about one minute.
Stir in tomato paste mixture, plus 2 tablespoons of water (add 1 tablespoon more if sauce needs thinning). Cook until sauce begins to bubble and add shrimp. Cook until shrimp turn pink or opaque, about five minutes. Serve over rice or thin noodles -- enough for two chile-loving fiends.
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