Sunday, December 04, 2005

In the (Shrimp's) Eye of the Beholder

Margy and I, though fundamentally quite different, tend to agree on a lot of things. After a movie, we almost always feel the same way about the film we've just seen. And so it goes with food.

This time, not so much.

I was slapping myself on the back for this dinner, but then I turned my head and I could tell Margy was struggling. She ate well and said nice things, but I knew she wasn't thrilled.

It's the heads-on shrimp. That's what it is. They simply make you work too hard for your dinner. You're practically starving, and your reward for carefully (yet messily) removing a shell is a quick bite of shrimp -- and then you have to do it all over again for the next bite. I just can't resist. They taste so good, and dammit, I like to suck the heads and munch on the legs. But I promise to wait many months before I ask Margy to deal with the little critters again.

The sauce was a Sichuan peppercorn concoction that I adapted from a recipe in Food & Wine, and it was really good. The accompaniment was my own creation -- a Japanese-style watercress salad. I say "style" because it's probably not remotely authentic, but I loved it. And it marked the first time I ever cooked with watercress (I bought some at our Asian market along with the heads-on shrimp, with an eye on experimenting).

In its raw state the watercress seemed a little firm and bitter, so I blanched it for a minute in boiling water. Then I mixed a dressing of white miso paste, sake, mirin, and sugar, and cooked the mixture for 30 seconds to burn off the alcohol. Once it cooled I added a bit of rice wine vinegar, and then I let the drained watercress marinate in the dressing for a while before serving. As soon as I get the proportions exact, I'm going to post the recipe. The mixture of sweet, salty, and bitter was magical. Well, to me at least; Margy thought it leaned too heavily toward bitter.

I'll make it up to her.

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