Foodie Tuesday: Not the Raw Prawn

It should be noted that while I prefer my prawns cooked in various ways, I would trust a sushi master to feed me uncooked ones without (as my Oz friend and colleague John taught me in grad school would be a less kindly gesture) either giving me or coming the proverbial ‘raw prawn‘. Old-school colloquialisms aside, it can be a great kindness to feed me well prepared prawns in a number of guises, as they’re not only tasty protein sources but well respected in a number of the world’s great cuisines. I’ve had the good fortune to live and/or vacation in a few places noted for particular kinds of prawns and shrimp, and when they’re ‘done up right’ I would be hard pressed to resist them as a top choice for eating.

In their compact and sturdy form they do lend themselves to skewering and grilling or to the great dive-in-and-get-messy kind of eating in a traditional Shrimp Boil or rekefest (the classic Cajun and Norwegian shrimp-eating parties, respectively), and I’ve certainly been served spectacular ones whole in dreamlike paellas, gumbos, cioppinos and other dishes. No complaints here! But when it comes to fixing things myself, I’m more inclined to think my fellow diners might like to be as lazy as I am, given the chance, and prefer most often to peel and devein shrimp and prawns before using them in my cooking. There’s no reason not to use the shells then and there for cooking up in a great batch of broth, of course, so I don’t see the necessity of wasting them, but I love to be able to eat meals unencumbered by the slowing process of dressing out the food unless it’s really a necessary part of the experience. Once the critters are cleaned, the meal prep is just as easy anyway, and if broth is on hand as a result, it’s the perfect base for an enriched soup or sauce in the bargain.

So what do I use these splendid shellfish for, finally? Nearly anything is good with such a sweet, clean taste and firm yet delicate texture. Shrimp puree, as I’ve mentioned before, is a fantastic binder for fish cakes because they don’t dull down the flavor like a starch binder (flour or crumbs, typically) would do, and though I haven’t tested it yet I’m certain it’d make a grand seafood soup or sauce thickener as well. But beautiful prawns deserve respect, too, in their unadulterated-yet-naked form, so they feature in a wide variety of dishes chez moi in addition to the aforementioned international classic presentations.

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Butter Prawns—my style—in Basmati.

Curries probably top the list hereabouts, mainly because both members of the household are fans of curry in a wide range of styles. Many classic Indian and Indian-influenced sauces and dishes, in fact, lend themselves beautifully to showcasing shrimp: butter sauce, mainly seen on American plates napping chicken, is one marvelous option, as are Tandoori-spiced grilling on a skewer, prawns biryani, and prawns simply seared in ghee and garam masala and served with fragrant rice.

Italian cooks, too, have given us a multitude of glorious ways to honor the delicious beauty of these shellfish, not least of all in a beautiful marinara sauce over pasta. If you want any advice or inspiration whatsoever regarding Italian cookery, you can’t do better than to visit my friend Chicago John over at his blog From the Bartolini Kitchens, and you can do your own happy swimming through all of his shrimp- and prawn-related dishes with a quick search there. But despite my reverence for John’s glorious and historically rich cookery, I have been known to dabble in my own variants at times, and think I didn’t do too much harm to the image of the Real Thing. One example of this would be when I make my version of prawns Fra Diavolo, which according to Signore Mario Batali is Italian-American anyway, so I have no compunction about further stretching the idea. For mine, I make a sauce of tomato passata with shallots, a splash of a nice, intense red wine if I’ve got one open, a squeeze of lemon juice, a good grind of black pepper, oregano, basil, and a hit of red pepper flakes, varying the amounts to the tastes of my fellow diners, and finally, warm the prawns in the sauce just until they’re pink and curling like a charming devil’s tail.Fra Diavolo can be a friendly little devil.You who love shellfish equally will know that I could go on rhapsodizing about them and the many ways in which to dress them up and swallow them down, but for now I think that that should be the end of this tale.

Foodie Tuesday: When Munchies Attack

You don’t have to be a weed-head in a full haze of happiness to get the munchies, though I am reliably told that that particular activity can exacerbate any natural leanings you have toward being peckish. Me, I’ve never craved a smoke of anything other than the sweet and occasional lungful from a good barbecue, but I certainly do know how to get hungry often, and at least half of that oft-had status is devoted to being snackish as much as anything: a desire for something, whether sweet or savory, that is merely a between-meals treat, even if it ends up (as can happen, I admit) turning into something closer to a whole meal in and of itself. To suggest that this is not a frequent transmutation of the event would be both disingenuous and ridiculous.

What should I do when I become Snackish, then? Why, ignore my base impulses and go off to do something heroic and selfless, of course.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! Oh, dear, I almost hurt myself there when I fell off my perch in a paroxysm of delirious guffawing. You know perfectly well that what I will do is hunt for the nearest stash of munch-able items that appeal to my moment of salivary salaciousness and eat them, forthwith. The only conceivable defense in this instance is to provide for myself a few less horrifically harmful snacks that can still stave off the munchies and leave me to fight another day. Rather than stock up on additive-crammed delights that I would happily scarf down just as readily if they were within reach, I sometimes am smart enough to make a bit of homemade nice-vice stuff that might have a hope of keeping me from dashing out to the nearest convenience store and succumbing to the succubus of tantalizing trans-fats and copious drafts of processed sweeteners and weirdly Sci-Fi flavor enhancers and their many hideously alluring cousins.

Today, then, as I was already overheating the house a bit with several loads of laundry, I turned on the oven and made some crackers. The first is a work in progress: I decided that the recipe needs much further study and experimentation to suit my tastes, as it came out a little too fragile and thin in the end to ever act as a vehicle for cheese, egg or tuna salad, herbed labneh, or any such thing, which to me is the primary purpose of a cracker unless it happens to be unusually tasty on its own. I might be able to solve the latter issue of blandness in this recipe (a very simple combination of almond flour, seasoning, oil and egg) by merely changing and/or increasing the spice content, but for now it will definitely have to be considered a first run at Garam Masala crisps with orange oil.

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They even *look* a little too insipid, don’t they. Next time, bolder!

The recipe for the other batch of crackers will definitely get made again. It’s a bit too soft and chewy for toppings as I made it today, though the original recipe assures me that additional baking time at a lower temperature will fix that problem. But it’s quite tasty all on its own, so there’s no harm in having incongruously bendy crackers this time around, especially as the flexibility comes mainly from some added cheese right in the cracker itself. The recipe is wonderfully simple, too, so I will make it again–but as I do have this propensity for overdoing on the quantity of the aforementioned snack-ables, I had probably best not make them frequently. [Insert sheepish grin here.]

The original recipe comes from the good William Davis, MD, at wheatbellyblog.com, and I revised it a little to suit the household tastes.

photoChili Sesame Cheese Crackers

This makes a thin enough batter to self-level and fill an 11×17 baking pan, a mighty handy way to create a full sheet of these treats, which are easy to cut as they cool.They’re shown above stacked on their edges, so you can see that they’re only about a pencil’s thickness.

Preheat the oven to 350º F.

1-½ cups raw sesame seeds + reserve a half cup more
1 scant cup shredded Parmesan cheese + a handful of sharp white cheddar bits
1 tablespoon chili powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon sea salt

Pop all of this into a food processor and whiz it together until it’s a nice, slightly coarse flour texture. Add the reserved half cup of sesame seeds and mix again. Then stir in the liquids (below) and pour it all into that nonstick baking sheet pan of yours and pop it in the oven.

1 teaspoon Tabasco/hot sauce + 2 tablespoons good olive oil + 1¼ cups water

It will likely take 30 minutes or, as in my oven’s case, less, to lightly brown these beauties. Dr. Davis tells us that 10-15 minutes of additional baking at 250 F will crisp them further, but if you’re like me you won’t be much bothered with a chewy cracker–after all, slower chewing means slightly less shameless high-speed munching.

Maybe. They are tasty.