Saturday, March 2, 2013

Vietnamese Shrimp Cakes

Making crab cakes is an art form. Getting the ingredients to bind together in perfect harmony requires one part chemistry, one part luck and one part witchcraft. The recipe I am going to share with you today is the absolute opposite....a sort of "shellfish cakes for dummies".

It's not that recipe is dumb, it's the fact that it's foolproof that makes it perfect for beginner to expert cooks alike. The key is that you are going to make the cakes by creating a paste in your food processor. And by doing so, all of the alchemy required for crab cakes is removed from the equation. You just hand-form the paste into small patties and fry them up.

And while ease of making these shrimp cakes may appear to be their crowning achievement, I would beg to differ. The bright and vivid flavors of Vietnam take center stage here. Lemon grass, garlic, jalapeño, scallions, lime, sugar, cilantro and fish sauce all join forces to bring a veritable Vietnamese symphony to your palate.

This recipe was created by Melissa Clark and appeared in the New York Times this week. Their "Dining" section that appears each Wednesday is worth the price of the subscription alone. This recipe serves four. Don't let the ingredient list scare you: jump down to "Directions" and look at how easy it is to make.

1 pound shelled large shrimp, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup cornstarch, more for dusting
2 tablespoons minced lemon grass (tender inner stalk only)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 serrano or jalapeño chile peppers, seeded and minced
4 scallions, thinly sliced, white and light green part separated from dark green tops
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 cup fish sauce (Red Boat* from Vietnam recommended)
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 2 to 3 limes)
Peanut oil, for frying
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
Cooked rice noodles, optional, for serving

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine shrimp, cornstarch, lemon grass, garlic, chiles, white and light green scallion bottoms, 2 teaspoons sugar and salt. Pulse until mixture forms a coarse paste.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together fish sauce, lime zest and juice, 1 tablespoon sugar and the dark green scallion tops.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Wet hands to keep shrimp paste from sticking. Form 2 tablespoons of shrimp mixture into a 1/2-inch-thick patty. Dust patty with cornstarch. Repeat with remaining batter. Fry patties in batches until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Serve over rice noodles drizzled with fish sauce mixture and strewn with cilantro.

Wine pairing: Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc

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