Food. What does that word make you think of? Rich gravy, smothering juicy turkey breast and mashed potatoes? Poly-unsaturated fats and the state of your arteries? Fresh bread so soft it melts on your lips? Guilt about starving children in Ethiopia? A vague hope that your guests might think “this stir fry is amazing, the cook must be good in bed”? The tangy crunch of a barbecued shrimp in Thai chili sauce or, perhaps, the circumference of your waist? For me, all of the above have applied at one time or another. I’ve decided that, from now on, I’m going to make that relationship with food as simple and pleasurable as I can.
Men fond of white lab coats often speak of a lizard brain, a mammalian brain and a primate brain arranged, like Russian nesting dolls, inside our lovely, top of the line human cerebral cortexes. While I certainly don’t advocate neglecting the higher things of life (look at more more than 100 articles of intellectual wanking on my blog), we should not do so at the expense of our mental reptiles. Perhaps, we should seek experiences pleasing to all the levels. Things like eating, drinking, and breathing. To breathe the crystalline air while hiking the Sierra Nevada mountains, this pleases the lungs with purity and exertion and pleases the mind with quiet, with panorama. When we sample a fine Scotch, we experience both a very basic happy tongue sensation and have cause to distinguish each note, each smell so carefully crafted into our drink.
Partly because I watched Julie and Julia, partly because I subscribed to Milanka’s fine food blog, and partly because my girlfriend wants to learn how to cook, I’ve decided to try and build this full brain happy-gasm into my dinners. To put it slightly differently, I want to go from decent cook to mind-blowingly amazing cook. The shrimp dish below is my first definitely foolhardy attempt to become a great (and almost completely untrained!) cook.
To make Shrimp WTF, you will need:
8 small, golden potatoes, preferably straight out of the ground
1 broccoli floret
6 jumbo shrimp
Ground chili pepper powder, not too spicy
This recipe really has three parts, (a) potato base, (b) mushroom garnish, (c) shrimp and sauce.
The base is very easy to make. Cut the potatoes into pieces about half the size of your thumb, combine with chopped broccoli and boil until they are just starting to get soft. The shrimp is going to be crunchy and you want the base to compliment that crunchiness. After you’ve boiled the potatoes and broccoli, cut them into smaller chunks while stirring in 20-30 grams of butter, fresh, thinly sliced carrot, salt and black pepper. Set this aside and get started on the mushroom garnish.
Start the garnish by cutting 200 g of matsutake mushrooms into slices about 1 cm or 1/2 inch thick. Bathe them in soy sauce, olive oil and ginger flakes. When you’re ready to cook, add enough water to cover the base of your frying pan with 2-3 cm. Stir in raw barley and boil on medium heat until all the water has evaporated off (10-15 minutes). At this point, allow the mushrooms and barley to sear slightly on the pan. You are now ready to attack the shrimp and sauce.
First, cut six squares of butter about 1 cm thick and space them evenly across your pan. Cover each slice of butter with a large slice of fresh lemon. Finally, place one shrimp on each of the lemon slices, making sure the shrimp does not touch the pan. By separating the shrimp from the pan, you allow the butter to bubble up through the lemon, slowly cooking the shrimp and impregnating it with both sour and savoury flavors. Garnish the shrimp/butter/lemon with ginger flakes, black pepper and ground chilli pepper. Cover and allow to simmer for 20 minutes on low heat. Uncover and cook until the butter, garnish and lemon juice has reduced into a rich, red sauce.
Finally, place the potato base on your serving dish. Cover that with the mushroom garnish and top it off with a single shrimp. Cover the entire thing with your lemon sauce and serve. Good for 2-3 people.
“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”
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