Monday, April 21, 2014

Buttery, spicy shrimp skewers from Chaozhou

Seafood as realized in Chaozhou has to be among the best the world has to offer. Absolute freshness is the nonnegotiable standard here. Because of this, the natural sweetness of whatever sea creature has been prepared is given a chance to shine. When it comes to Chaozhou and freshness, everything else is secondary.

Sometimes, though, secondary can be pretty darned amazing, as in this dish. The seasonings in many ways are classic Chaozhou: fish sauce mixed with garlic, chilies, and green onion. The twist is that these are the basis for a compound butter that bastes and seasons the shrimp while they bake.

Bamboo skewers keep these crustaceans nice and orderly during the cooking process, and they come out looking stunning. But the skewers have another use, and that is to keep the shrimp from curling up and dumping out the butter.

These spicy shrimp are fantastic for any part of the meal, but their very presentation makes them ideal finger food, and therefore these very good as appetizers or bar snacks. But then again, the sauce is so delicious that you really want something to soak it all up, and so having a bowl of rice on the side is especially nice. In other words, you can’t lose no matter where they appear in your meal.
Cut deeply into each shrimp

Chaozhou shrimp skewers
Cháozhōu kǎoxiā 潮州烤蝦
Serves 4

12 short bamboo skewers
12 whole raw shrimp, with or without heads (26/30 size)
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon rice wine (Taiwanese Mijiu)
1 tablespoon fresh peanut or vegetable oil

Compound butter:
1 clove garlic
½ serrano chili (or whatever chili you like), seeded
1 green onion, trimmed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1½ tablespoons fish sauce
Spray oil

1. Soak the bamboo skewers in tap water for at least 30 minutes; this will prevent them from burning up in the oven.

2. If these are heads-on shrimp, use kitchen shears to first trim off any antennas plus the pointy tip of the heads. Then, cut all the way down the back of the shrimp to expose the sandy vein. Pull this vein out with the tip of the shears. Rinse out the shrimp and then cut again down the body of the shrimp about ⅔ of the way through, but not all the way to the feet. Pat the prepped shrimp dry with a paper towel and place it in a small work bowl. Repeat with the rest of the shrimp until done. Toss them with the salt, rice wine, and oil, and let them marinate while you prepare the compound butter.
Stuff the shrimp

3. Finely chop the peeled garlic, seeded chili, and green onion. Place these in a small work bowl and stir in the butter and fish sauce.

4. Place a rack in your oven (a toaster oven is perfect here) about 2 to 3 inches from the heating element and heat the oven to 450°F. Spray the bottom of a small baking pan with oil. 

5. Drain the shrimp. Hold a shrimp upside-down in one hand and thread the skewer through the length of the body just behind the feet. Repeat with the rest of the shrimp and skewers until done. 
Bake until crispy & juicy

6. Fill the opening in the back of each shrimp with the compound butter. Arrange the filled shrimp on the prepared pan and place them in the oven. Bake the shrimp for 5 minutes and then turn each shrimp over. Bake for another 3 or so minutes until the shrimp are pink and beginning to brown. Remove the shrimp to serving plates or a platter and serve immediately. Eat with the hands. The skewer is easily removed if you first twirl it slightly.