Small, medium, large, jumbo, colossal

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I’m talking about juicy, succulent, shrimp! (Shame on you if you were thinking otherwise.)

Before I give you my fried shrimp rolls recipe (adapted from a version my friend Carol’s mom fed me), I thought a shrimp tutorial might be useful.

Now, I’ve always thought shrimp is shrimp. You head to the supermarket or your favorite seafood monger and just pick out what you want. But as it turns out, shrimp-buying requires some sleuthing.

Shrimp size

Shrimp is sold by size and the sizes are expressed in counts per pound. For example, 16/20 means 16 to 20 shrimp per pound. The larger sizes are expressed as U/10 or U/12 which means “under” 10 or 12. Small sizes like coldwater cooked and peeled shrimp will have counts ranging from 150/250 to 250/300. Just remember, the smaller the count, the larger the size of the shrimp.

Very often you see terms like jumbo shrimp, and many recipes call for small, medium, or large shrimp. However, there isn’t an official guideline on what these names signify so it’s best to pay attention to the shrimp count per pound.

To make things even more complicated, peeled and/or cooked shrimp have different counts. You will, of course, get more peeled shrimp for the pound. But let’s not go there.

The table below refers to unpeeled shrimp without their heads.

Shrimp Sizing Guide (courtesy of Oceangarden.com)

Shrimp Size Count Average number of Shrimp Shrimp
(per pound) (per pound) (per 4 oz serving) (per 5 lb box)
Extra Colossal U/10  40-49 
Colossal U/12  50-59 
Colossal U/15  14  60-74 
Extra Jumbo 16/20  18  75-97 
Jumbo 21/25  23  98-120 
Extra Large 26/30  28  121-145 
Large 31/35  33  146-173 
Medium Large 36/40  38  10  174-190 
Medium 41/50  45  12  191-240 
Small 51/60  55  14  241-290 
Extra Small 61/70  65  16  291-340

Familiarizing yourself with the range of sizes and counts is useful for planning purposes, not just for the numbers but also because each size is suited for different cooking methods. Jumbo shrimp holds up well to the heat of the grill, while small shrimp adds delicious flavor and make for tiny surprises in a Shrimp Louie or bisque.

Fresh or Frozen

Not everyone has the luxury of buying really fresh (off the boat) shrimp. If fresh is not available to you, buy frozen as most “fresh” shrimp in the grocery stores is thawed-out frozen shrimp. Thawed shrimp has a shelf-life of only a couple of days versus frozen shrimp which retains their quality for several weeks. However, avoid frozen shrimp that has already been peeled and deveined which can cause a loss of flavor and texture.

Defrost shrimp in the refrigerator or in cold water. Shrimp cooks very quickly so defrosting in the sink or microwave is a big no-no.

Sustainable seafood

While we’re on the topic, I’m a big believer in consuming sustainable foods (whenever location, pockets and circumstances allow it), and this includes seafood. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a guide to purchasing sustainable seafood, including shrimp, on their Web site. Please visit and see how you can help our oceans and sea life thrive.

Fried Shrimp Rolls

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Fried shrimp rolls are great appetizers for parties and you can adjust the numbers up or down depending on how many people you’re feeding. Be warned, these bite-sized nibbles go fast! If you buy unpeeled shrimp, don’t be afraid of deveining them. Check out this video or step-by-step photos.

Time: 30 minutes (depending on how fast you can wrap the rolls)
Makes: 20-25

1/2-pound raw medium shrimp (41/50 count), peeled, deveined, tail-on
Salt and pepper to taste
4×4-inch square spring roll wrappers (although as I explained here, won ton skins worked great too)
1 cup canola oil for frying (or about 1-inch of oil in skillet)

Sprinkle shrimp with salt and pepper on both sides.

Peel spring roll wrappers one at a time. Lay wrapper on a clean work surface and place shrimp horizontally on the bottom right edge of the wrapper with tail protruding from the edge.

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Taking the left edge of the wrapper, fold over on the vertical so that shrimp is half covered.

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Dip finger in a bowl of water and moisten all edges. Roll the shrimp tightly in the wrapper. Moisten top edge again to ensure it seals.

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Lay each roll seam side down on a lightly floured plate or sheet pan.

In a large 10-inch skillet, heat oil until you see a wavy pattern, about 350 F. (Or test fry a roll–dip one in skillet and if oil sizzles, it’s ready.) Fry shrimp rolls in 2 to 3 batches, do not crowd the pan. Turn often–gently!–until crisp and an even golden brown on all sides, about 2 to 3 minutes.

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Drain on paper towels.  

Serve with Thai sweet chili sauce or Japanese mayonnaise.

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Top 10 leftover turkey tips

Once thanksgiving has come and gone, and the food coma has dissipated (hopefully!), one is faced with the next big thing–leftovers.

Who doesn’t love turkey leftovers? I do! But having overdosed on one too many turkey sandwiches and turkey tetrazzinis, I’m looking for a turkey leftover makeover. My solution? Reincarnate the turkey in Asian-style dishes.

Just like grandmas and mothers everywhere are experts at improv in the kitchen, let your creativity run (turkey) wild. Hint: you can use leftover turkey in just about any recipe that calls for chicken bits.

Here’s my top 10.

10. Turkey stock

Place the turkey carcass in a big stockpot, cover with enough water, add some herbs and spices–I pop in a few smashed cloves of garlic, diced onions, a few ginger slices, peppercorns, and two to three stalks of green onions tied in a knot– and voila!

9. Turkey macaroni soup

One of my favorite comfort foods! Add shredded turkey, sausage slices (ballpark sausages will do) and a cup or two of frozen veggies to the stock above, and boil some elbows of macaroni . To serve, top with squares of Spam (you can fry them up first if you’d like), fried shallots and green onion ‘O’s. 

8. Turkey lumpia

Shredded or chopped turkey tastes yummy rolled into a lumpia or egg roll with all the usual accoutrements. Dip in plum sauce … mmm … turkey and plum sauce … mmm … Try this recipe from food blog Pinoy Cook.

7. (Curried) turkey salad

Ever heard of Coronation chicken? Well, neither had I before I lived in England. It’s basically precooked chicken mixed with mayonnaise, curry powder, nuts and apricots/or raisins, and served between two slices of white bread (duh, it’s a sandwich!) or on a bed of lettuce. I know it sounds funky, but it tastes really good. Have a go at a turkey version by improvising on the original recipe or trying this Allrecipes.com one.

6. Turkey with nutmegged kecap manis gravy 

This is a gravy my mum makes for Indonesian steak (basically the meat’s marinated in kecap manis or Indonesian sweet soy sauce) but I bet it tastes great with roast turkey too! 

Fry 1 finely minced shallot and two cloves of garlic, minced, in a couple of tablespoons of butter until golden brown and fragrant. Add about a quart of turkey stock (#10), 1 to 2 tablespoons of tomato paste (my mum uses tomato ketchup) and 1/4 cup kecap manis, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and add 1/4 cup milk. Stir and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or to taste), and salt and white pepper to taste. Drizzle gravy over turkey slices and rice.

5. Turkey stir-fry with vegetables

Add bite size pieces of turkey to almost cooked stir-fried veggies. Give everything a good stir and serve.

4. Turkey sticky rice casserole

Pork is usually the staple in this popular Chinese dish but why not use turkey bits instead? Throw the turkey, lap cheong (Chinese sausage), water chestnuts, shrimp and sticky rice into a rice cooker and it’ll be ready in no time! Or if you are a stickler for tradition, cook it in a claypot.  Try this recipe from Epicurious.com.

3. Turkey Tom Ka Kai

Instead of chicken, add turkey (toward the end of cooking time though) to this yummy Thai sour soup made with coconut milk, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and  lemon grass. Replace the chicken stock with turkey stock (#10) too. This recipe was given to me by Rin Nedtra, owner of Sea Siam Thai Restaurant in Miami, FL.

2. Turkey noodle soup

Here’s that indispensable turkey stock (#10) again! Boil your favorite noodles–egg, rice, or mung bean–and serve in seasoned stock. Top with turkey slices and your choice of vegetables–I recommend bok choy.

And now for my #1 way with turkey leftovers … drumroll please …

10.Turkey congee

Using the turkey stock (#10), making turkey congee is as easy as 1-2-3 and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Light and filling, it’s the perfect antidote to the previous day’s gluttony.

Combine strained stock and rice in a stockpot (about 8 cups of stock to 1 cup of uncooked rice.) Bring to a boil and stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until consistency of oatmeal, about 1-3/4 hours. Stir frequently during last 1/2 hour of cooking, adding water if necessary. Season with salt or soy sauce. Ladle into individual bowls and serve topped with shredded turkey, and your choice of green onion ‘O’s, chopped cilantro and chung choy (preserved turnip.) 

Drop me a comment if you have any other un-Thanksgiving leftover recipes to share!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

Tom Kha Kai (Chicken coconut soup)

This recipe comes from Rin Nedtra, owner of Sea Siam Thai Restaurant in Miami, FL.

Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

1 (14 oz) can coconut milk
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 pound chicken breast, sliced into bite size pieces
1/2 cup fresh or canned mushrooms, sliced (button, straw or shiitakes, optional)
2 stalks lemon grass, trimmed, bruised and cut into 1/2
6 thin slices young galangal, skin on
5 fresh kaffir lime leaves, torn in half
6 tablespoons fish sauce
6 tablespoons lime juice (about 3 large limes)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
6 whole green and/or red Thai chili peppers, crushed with the butt of a knife (if you don’t like it too spicy, remove the seeds)

In a large saucepan, combine coconut milk, stock, galangal, lemongrass and lime leaves. Bring to a boil. Add chicken, mushrooms, fish sauce, sugar and chili peppers. Bring to a boil again. Reduce heat and add lime juice. Soup is ready when chicken is fully cooked. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Remove herbs and ladle into individual bowls. Garnish with cilantro leaves and 1 chili pepper per bowl.

Fish Tales or Ama Sua’s claypot steamed WHOLE fish with lemongrass

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Trout, brook
Credit: Knepp, Timothy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

I know, I know, you don’t like your dinner staring back at you. But please heed my one impassioned request: don’t wimp out and get fish fillets.

Before you get yourself into a tizzy, hear me out.

There are so many reasons to forgo floppy fillets and reach for a whole fish with its head and tail fin intact–the number one reason being flavor. I truly believe that fish tastes so much better cooked on the bone (no bias here). The gelatin-rich backbone is an excellent heat conductor and the fatty skin seals the moisture in, producing sweet-tasting flesh with all the natural flavor of fish and a cushiony texture unsurpassed by any ol’ fillet. 

Whole fish makes for a beautiful and dramatic presentation the table. If you or your dinner companions are a little queasy, remove the eyes when cooked and stuff the sockets with a few sprigs of parsley.

By cooking the entire fish, you won’t be wasting an ounce of gorgeous flesh and you’ll be able to savor the cheeks, delicious morsels considered by many cultures the finest part of the fish. (Side note: In Singapore, we eat fish head curry and fish cheeks are all you get! Oh, and some people enjoy sucking on the eye balls too.)

And of course, cooking a whole fish is a breeze (just be sure to ask your fishmonger to scale, gut and clean the fish first!). Simple seasonings–salt, lemon juice, slivers of ginger, or olive oil–are all you need.

No bones about it 

OK, so we’ve discussed all the wonderful reasons fish should be cooked whole. You must be thinking, what about those darned spindly fish bones?

They’re really not that much of a nuisance, honest! All it takes is a short lesson in fish anatomy. Fish have a simple, two-dimensional bone structure and there are fish that lift off the bone more easily than others after cooking: black sea bass, striped bass, flounder, catfish, rockfish, red snapper, trout, etc. just to name a few.

When ready to eat, use a knife and fork, or even a spatula, to lift the fillet in sections from the flat bone structure–gently please. After the top side of the fish has been removed, do not flip the fish over! It’s said to be bad luck and if you were a fisherman or a sailor, your boat would capsize. Instead, lift the backbone (I’d leave the head and tail behind to pick at but that’s up to you) to reveal the bottom fillet.

There still might be shards left behind, mind you, so it behooves your tongue be diligent. If you do get a bone in the mouth, the easiest thing to do is remove it discreetly with your thumb and forefinger. (If anyone else would shed some light on fish etiquette, please enlighten us.)

What? Now, I have to buy the fish? 

Now you’re all geared up to cook fish en tout, but ack … cooking a whole fish means buying a whole fish! Never fear, whole fish is brimming with freshness indicators.

  • Fresh fish doesn’t smell fishy. It should smell subtly of the water it came from, whether river or sea.
  • The gills should be shiny, bright red, and odorless.
  • The eyes should be glossy with a clear sheen. After a couple of post-caught days, they cloud over.
  • Fresh fish should be firm, with flesh that springs back when touched. Any mushiness in the body of the fish is usually a sign of age or that it was bruised during netting or transportation.
  • Make sure skin is free of any dark blemishes. The tail should not be dried out, brittle or curled.

That’s the end of “Whole Fish 101” and we are now ready for Pranee’s dish. Simple to prepare and oh-so healthy, this dish was a favorite of Pranee’s grandmother, Ama Sua. True to her frugal nature, she would only use the discarded leaf ends of the lemongrass to line the claypot, saving the rest for other dishes.

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Here’s my mum’s pretty claypot

You have to admit it’s a pretty innovative way to steam fish: the lemongrass lattice raises the fish from the bottom of the pot, preventing it from sticking as well as flavoring and scenting it.

Steamed fish with lemongrass in claypot (Pla Nueng Morh Din)

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Pranee didn’t make cuts into the trout because it was pretty slender. But if you’d like to ensure your fish cooks evenly–i.e. that the thinner tail end doesn’t cook before the thicker middle–make two diagonal bone-deep slashes into the broadest part of the fish on each side, about two inches apart.

Any white fish with natural fat such as halibut and true cod would work well in this recipe. Claypots are relatively inexpensive and are available at most Asian grocery stores. You can also experiment with other steaming methods I’ve outlined here.

Tip: Allocate 3/4 to 1 pound of fish per person. If you’d like to steam two fish (I wouldn’t put more than this in the steamer at one time), just use the same amount of lemongrass.

Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 2 servings

1 1-1/2 to 2 pound whole trout, head and tail intact, scaled, gutted and cleaned
4 stalks lemongrass
1 tablespoon sea or kosher salt
1/2 cup water or more as needed

Optional: Lay fish flat on a cutting board. At thickest part of the body, make two diagonal bone-deep cuts perpendicular to backbone, about two inches apart. Turn fish over, and repeat.

Remove about 1-1/2 inches from the hard root end of the lemongrass and the leaf end leaving about 6 inches of the center. Smash lemongrass with a meat pounder or a large knife to release the essential oils.

Fold one stalk into half and rub it all over the fish, inside and out. Discard stalk. Sprinkle salt and rub into the fish, inside and out.

Tear each of the 3 remaining lemongrass stalks into 4 strips. Lay lemongrass in a grid pattern at the bottom of the claypot.

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Place fish on top. Tuck in the tail if it doesn’t fit.

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Add enough water to reach bottom layer of lemon grass without touching the fish.

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Cover with lid and bring water to a boil over medium heat.

Once steam appears from the hole in the lid, about 5 minutes, check water level and add more water if necessary. Steam for another 8 to 10 minutes, checking on the water level at least once. At the thickest part of the fish, lift the flesh with a fork and if it separates easily from the bone, it’s done.  

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Serve in claypot or carefully remove the fish with two spatulas onto a plate. Spoon liquid from plate over fish before serving.

Pranee’s Shrimp and Pineapple Red Curry

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Chilies and shrimp

The first thing Pranee Khruasanit Halverson did (after she enveloped me in a warm and fuzzy Thai hug, of course) when I entered her kitchen was make me a drink. In this instance it was bale fruit tea, simply the dried fruit boiled in water. “Americans like to use this in potpourri,” she says, laughing. Bale fruit tea–a natural laxative, it turns out–is a popular herbal tea in Thailand.

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Dried bale fruit is sold in packets at Asian grocery stores

That was just the beginning of Pranee’s Thai hospitality.

Effervescent in personality and in possession of a big heart, Pranee is the owner of I Love Thai Cooking, and teaches Thai cooking classes around the Puget Sound and also leads culinary tours to Thailand. She invited me over to show me how to cook some of her favorite dishes that her grandmother taught her so long ago in their home on the paradise island of Phuket off the southwestern coast of Thailand. 

Before we began, Pranee pointed to a black and white photo encased in a simple wooden frame perched on her dining table. “I took out her photo so that she can be with us while we cook,” she said with a smile. Hence, her grandmother Kimsua Khruasanit sat regally in her chair, frozen in time, as her spirit guided our culinary capers. 

Grandma Kimsua Khruasanit

Kimsua Khruasanit a.k.a. Ama Sua (photo courtesy of Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen)

After we sipped on the aromatic and slightly astringent bale fruit tea, we soon got to work. While I minced garlic, Pranee glided around the kitchen pulling ingredients together–lemongrass, lime leaves, bean sprouts, tofu–and started recounting stories about her grandmother in her musical sing-song voice. 

When Pranee was growing up, her grandmother lived with her and her parents, as is common among Asian families. Pranee called her “Ama Sua” (pronounced ah mah, it means grandmother) and learned many culinary skills from her. In fact, Pranee eventually became her right-hand woman in the kitchen. “She was in an accident and lost one rib,” explained Pranee, and she was unable to stand for long periods of time and had to sit down while cooking.

Pranee’s Ama Sua has since passed away but she lived to the ripe old age of 85. “She cooked very healthy food,” noted Pranee who also benefited. In Phuket, their diet comprised lots of fresh vegetables and herbs and seafood. “We ate more seafood because it was cheaper than meat,” Pranee explained. “In Phuket there was no land for cattle and cows.” Her grandma improvised a lot in the kitchen and used up whatever ingredients were available. “She was also very good with the budget,” Pranee continued. Somehow or another, her Ama Sua always managed to stretch the tight household budget making it go a long way, and never failed to serve tasty, nutritious meals right to the very end of the month. 

Needless to say, Pranee is grateful to her grandma for passing on many culinary gems to her. During my afternoon with Pranee, she was kind enough to share several recipes and tips. I’ll in turn share them with you over several blog posts. Here’s the first one. 

Shrimp and Pineapple Red Curry (Keang Kue Sapparod) 

You can make red curry paste from scratch however it is rather time consuming and the ingredient list rather lengthy. Pranee special orders her curry paste from a supplier in Thailand. (Side note: Pranee said she asked her supplier to make it 70 percent less spicy than normal and yet my mouth still felt like it was ablaze when I sampled this dish!) For the rest of us, Mae Ploy brand curry paste is a superb choice (and not a fire hazard for the taste buds). Try this recipe with chicken or pork too. I’m going to use duck and lychees instead of shrimp and pineapple next time!

Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 4-6 servings

1 cup coconut milk, divided (Pranee recommends Mae Ploy or Aroy-D which my mum swears by too)
2 tablespoons red curry paste
2/3 cup canned pineapple chunks, drained of juice 
1/4 cup reserved pineapple juice
15 medium shrimp (about 1 pound)
3 kaffir lime leaves
1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer layer discarded, then sliced on the diagonal into thin ovals 
Ground peanuts to garnish (optional)

In a medium saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons coconut milk and red curry paste. Stir until well combined. Add 2 more tablespoons coconut milk.

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Boil until coconut oil separates from the mixture and rises to the surface. (You can also add vegetable oil to stimulate this process which may be slowed down by pasteurization/preservatives). About 3 minutes.

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Add another 3 tablespoons coconut milk and 1/2 cup water. Add pineapple chunks and remaining coconut milk. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.

Reduce to medium heat. Add shrimp, and cook 1 to 2 minutes until pink.

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Add kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass. Give everything in the pan one thorough mix and take off the heat. Serve immediately with jasmine rice.