—My wok cooking adventure continues! This week’s Wok Wednesday dish is a deceptively simple dish with a taste that is greater than the sum of the parts. The recipe is from Grace Young’s Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge.
The vibrant flavours and colours in this dish are such a lively reward for a recipe that really comes together very quickly — with just a bit of preparation. It also has been my introduction to how the Chinese Hakka diaspora has influenced cooking in so many places. The call to creating dinners suitable for busy weeknights naturally leads to simple dishes such as the Hakka style, which came from portability and necessary simplicity. This recipe comes from Mei Chau, whose family of Chinese Hakka descent raised her in a rural village in Malaysia. Eventually, Mei Chau immigrated to New York CIty, where she and her French husband opened a restaurant blending Chinese, Malaysian and French influences. One of the things I love when I am preparing for a Wok Wednesday dinner is reading the story of the recipe, and especially comprehending how traditions from mainland China have naturalized in different places, incorporating local ingredients or spicing.
The most time-consuming part of this recipe is the de-veining of the shrimp. Just a bit of pre-planning is helpful, to source fresh shrimp with shells and legs on, fresh curry leaves (available from Indian or other Southeast Asian grocers).The order of work should be to set the chiles soaking (I used 3 Chiles de Arbol, dry, from Rancho Gordo) then, get to work on your shrimp so they can marinate a short while with the spices. I came home with a ridiculous bounty of curry leaves, and was perhaps cautious, selecting the smaller ones. They are delicate in flavour and texture. I had removed the central stem, like you would for kaffir lime leaves, but it probably was not necessary, and you could simply stack the leaves, roll them up and slice. Once the shrimp are ready and in the spice marinade, you can finish the chopping of garlic and shallots in minutes, and even have time for a salad course. Once you start the stir-try, it all is done in a matter of minutes.
I was torn between taking the shrimp a bit further to develop more colour, and being worried about overcooking. With the shells on, they actually stayed quite tender, so I may cook a little longer next time. The shells add flavour to the stir fry as well, so it is work it to buy nice, fresh, plump shrimp if possible, and prepare them yourself.
You could serve this dish alone, over rice (or cauliflower rice), or, like it did, over a good dollop of white corn grits which you could prepare ahead since that is happy to hold. We prepare grits or polenta with these proportions, 1:3:3 (corn:milk:water) based on a personal tip from Kathleen Weber, of Della Fattoria Café in Petaluma.
It is a delicious and a fun dish which you could prepare as a first course for a larger group, or as an entrée for two.
This recipe is found in Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge, page 153. If you have not already visited the Wok Wednesday website or our Facebook group – please stop on in, get your book and wok with us! You will also love the history and background that makes this book so much more than a collection of wonderful recipes.