Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Birthday Wish

This is for Sue Baby.

She and I have been through way too much over the years; and I wish that there was more that I could do for her.

So, on her Birthday, she needs a trip.

Camarão do Bahìa

Camarão do Bahìa

A “Fat Tuesday” or a Mardi Gras favorite. Many people believe that Rio de Janeiro has the market cornered on Mardi Gras fun, frolicking, and food.

I beg to differ.

Bahìa is a wonderful state in Brazil; that, in my opinion, rivals Rio for the most perfect beaches, topless women, and, more importantly, the Dendê Coast. This virtually pristine stretch of Atlantic coastline located just south of the state capital of Salvador de Bahìa has some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world. Not to mention, hiking trails through pristine rainforests, miles of completely deserted beaches to wander, and the eponymous Dendê Palm. Due to its wonderful location, Bahìa is also home to some of the most traditional and ethnic of Brazilian cuisine in the entire country, and that says a lot.
With all of these things going for it, one can only imagine what their Carnivale and the many other festivals that happen during the months of December through March, which are the high summer months, could possibly be like.

Basically, all bets are off.

Since Bahìa is party central, what the heck is a “Camarão”, and does it come with a 2.0 litre, dual-over-head-cam engine, chrome mag-wheels, and a bikini-blonde in the back seat?

Sadly, no.

As you can imagine, Bahìa, being on the Atlantic coast, seafood of all kinds is Rei Momo; that’s “King of the Carnivale” in Portuguese, y’all. Camarão, or Shrimp, are very plentiful and make their way into many of the local dishes, like Moi-Moi, Ogbono, or any kind of Moquea (look ‘em up). This Moqueca de Camarão or “Shrimp Stew”, that’s how this recipe translates from the Portugese, y’all, is truly one of my favorites. As a Carnivale dish, or, for that matter, any party that you are having, this is an easy and exotic meal for a crowd.

One of the neat parts about this dish is that it can be modified for those allergic to shellfish or for those non-meat eaters out there with very little change in flavour. See the Variations section for options using Chicken or firm Tofu.

Everyone should be Rei Momo, at some point. Now is your time.

A Twelve Inch (12 in. or 31 cm.) Heavy Bottomed Skillet with a Lid that fits.

A Large Bowl

A Colander

A Dinner Plate

Heavy Kitchen Tongs

A Wooden Spoon

A Sharp Kitchen Knife

Some Cereal Bowls

A Large Freezer Bag

A Dinner Fork

Your lovely manicured Hands, clean, I hope?

2 lb. (1.0 kg) of fresh Large Shrimp in the Shell (U 12 - 15)
First of all, always buy shrimp in the shell if you can. The shells have so much flavour packed in them, and, also protect the shrimp through various cooking processes, that I really don’t understand why people pay substantially more to have someone else peel them for you and waste the shells, aside from convenience. Go for flavour every time. By purchasing shrimp in the shell you, in effect, gain two meals; one meal from the shrimp themselves and the other meal from the shrimp shells in the form of a soup. Who knew they could be so economical? If you are fortunate enough to be able to find shrimp with the head left on, you win on all counts. The shrimp heads contain the most explosive of flavours. Just go to your local fishmonger and ask. What’s the worst they could say, “No shrimp for you”? If you really want to cut corners and save some time, “cleaned shrimp” work perfectly, but you will need to open up your wallet further; and, that’s entirely up to you.

Now, what are all of those “Wolf Pack” like U-Boat numbers above? And, no, we are no longer at war with Germany, however, during Olympic Curling competitions that may still be the case. The commercial shrimp merchants have absolutely no standards for size. So, shrimp that are advertised as “Jumbo”, “Large”, or “Colossal” may simply not be that big. Whenever a recipe calls for “Medium” shrimp, they may mean really big ones or really small ones. The only way to tell is by weight. U12-15’s mean that there are under twelve (12) to fifteen (15) shrimp per pound or half kilo, hence the “U” in front. Pretty easy, hunh? U6-8’s would be the really ginormo ones and the U21-23’s would be what you would normally find in a Shrimp Cocktail at your local Red Lobster. Just ask your fishmonger what the size is by weight. Since I like shrimp, and this is my recipe after all, I prefer the larger ones. If all you can find are smaller ones, never to fear. Everything will still be tasty. Now, for those living on the Gulf Coast, Rock Shrimp are utterly fantastic and an amazing variation; if you are fortunate enough, seek them out. Otherwise, get the best that you can.

Some fishmongers or supermarkets only sell cooked or steamed shrimp that are frozen. These can be used in a pinch if you are truly set on making this. However, there is a significant technique change as well as the usual reduction in flavour; see the Variations section below for an explanation. In addition, many supermarkets sell frozen “popcorn” shrimp, which will also work. As mentioned above, see the Variations for details.

A Vidalia Onion
Or a Maui. Or a Walla Walla. Or any other kind of sweet onion that you can find. Otherwise, a Red Onion works great.

A Green Bell Pepper

A few cloves of Fresh Garlic
Forget the jarred stuff. I don’t care how “convenient” you think that it may be.

One 28 oz. (800 g.) can of Whole San Marzano Tomatoes
Find them and love them. Once you have used these you will never use another kind of canned tomato ever again. These are a requirement for everyone who cooks by feel and wants real flavour in their dishes. Go to your local Über-Mart, they are there waiting for you to discover them. Just read the label. If you cannot find these, use a can of organic whole plum tomatoes; they will work fine.

A healthy squirt of Double Concentrate Tomato Paste (partially Optional)
Now, the only reason this is mandatory is if you are forced to use generic or some other anemic brand of whole canned tomatoes. This will almost save the dish. Almost. If you are fortunate enough to have San Marzano Tomatoes, this can be omitted, unless you really want to “gild the lily”. Personally, I use a squirt of this no matter what, but that’s just me.

Two (2) Fresh Lemons for juicing
Those of you eying that little plastic squeeze bottle shaped like a lemon need to leave now.

Some Cayenne Pepper

Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Kosher Salt

Xtra Virgin Olive Oyl

One (1) can of Unsweetened Coconut Milk
Now, that can of “Coco Goya” daiquiri mix from last summer’s pool party will not work here. Unsweetened coconut milk can easily be found in the Asian section of most large supermarkets right next to the soy sauces. You have no other options here. Brave the international foods aisle.

Dendê Oil
This is a very exotic product.

So, what exactly is it? 

Is it that stuff that Don Cornelius used to perfect his trademark “ ‘Fro ” on those seminal episodes of Soul Train? Don’t think so, but that still may be a state secret.

Dendê or Dendê Palm Oil comes from the palm trees of the same name that are located on the Eastern Coasts of South America, i.e. the Dendê Coast of Bahìa (neat how that works), the Western Coast of Africa, and Indonesia. Commonly referred to as simply Palm Oil or sometimes Red Palm Oil, this naturally bright red, paste-like, and chunky oil is rich in beta-carotene compounds (hence the red colour), Vitamin A, and very high in saturated fats. Yes, you read that right, potential heart attack in a bottle. However, red palm oil behaves much like Olive Oil in that it is cholesterol neutral and does not increase LDL levels, for those concerned. Regardless, when using this stuff, a little goes a very long way. Dendê Oil is often used as a finishing or flavour component in a dish, as opposed to an oil for deep fat frying. However, Chicken and, in particular, French Cut Potatoes (French Fries, y’all) come out with an amazing colour and crispiness when fried in Dendê Oil; just ask anyone from Ghana or Polynesia. It has an unbelievable intense and heady flavour that must be experienced rather than described.

Dendê Oil is quite perishable, and can go rancid quite easily. After use, keep it in the refrigerator until the next time you want to return to Brazil. It will solidify into a solid block in the fridge and will keep for about a year in an airtight container. The next time you would like to use it, just let it come to room temperature and feel the coast of Brasil; it won’t take long. Do not try to microwave it, as it breaks down the oil too easily. Let things happen naturally.

Once again, this is a fairly exotic product and can be next to impossible to find in your local supermarket. Some large supermarkets may carry “palm oil”, “palm seed oil”, or “palm kernel oil”, but this is not the same. These oils have been bleached and hydrogenised to make them “healthier” and last longer. Unless the bottle says “Red Palm Oil’ or the oil is bright red, thick, and chunky, do not purchase it. So, now what do you do. I don’t live in New York, Los Angeles, or anywhere near an exotic market; where can I get this stuff?  This can be ordered, mail order via the inter-web or by telephone, from companies like www.latinmerchant.com and www.kalustyan.com. Seek them out.

If you are completely flummoxed by this ingredient, you can substitute Peanut Oil that has been infused with Achiote (Annatto). This is often available in Latin or Filipino markets. It will work, but only with a small hint of what using the real thing would do, i.e. much more limited flavour.

Now, if there is absolutely no way to acquire this ingredient, it will still be good, but without the Brazilian flair. See the Variations section for the anemic version.

A bunch of fresh Cilantro or Coriander Leaves
Der rigueur.

Anything Samba or from Brasil 66 via Sergio Mendes.

Get your inner Mapayé going! A Brazilian dance, and turn up the music. Feel the beat and the rhythm and think of Bahìa.

Break out the colander and place it into the sink. Place the shrimp into the colander and rinse them thoroughly under cold water.

Now, with the water running, peel the shrimp.

INGREDIENT NOTE - I know, you’re saying, “What!?! I have to get my hands dirty. Why didn’t I spend the extra money on ‘cleaned’ shrimp in the first place? Ick.” The reason for buying shrimp in the shell is two fold. First, the shells protect the shrimp throughout the freezing, shipping, and thawing processes. Virtually all so-called “fresh” shrimp are flash frozen on board the fishing vessel that they were caught on and then shipped to market. Your local fishmonger then slowly thaws them out, or at least they should if they’re any good, and then sells them as “fresh”. This is normal practice; so don’t be worried. By keeping the shrimp in their shells, they are protected from bruising or otherwise mangling during these various procedures. Secondly, as I mentioned above, the shrimp shells contain an enormous amount of flavour. Shrimp shells can be used for a variety of things like shrimp or lobster bisque, fish broth or stock, various Risottos and fish stews; nail varnish and lipstick, notwithstanding (if you don’t believe me, look up The Secret House by David Bodanis). When you’ve acquired a large enough amount of shells, i.e. a big freezer bag-full, make a shrimp broth and have Bouillabaisse.

Some large cities, like New York and San Francisco, have extensive Asian populations where you can get truly fresh shrimp that are swimming around in tanks. By all means, if you can get them, use these for a truly epic flavor experience. In these markets, the shrimp all come with the heads on which add an explosive amount of flavor to any Bouillabaisse or fish stew that you are making. I strongly recommend this option, if available. However, don’t worry your pointy little head so much if you can’t find them.

So, how do I peel a shrimp?

Under cold running water, pull the legs off and drop them into the Colander along with the rest of the un-shelled shrimp. Then, using your fingernails, peel off the chitinous outer layer or exoskeleton while running the water over it, from front to back. Some people like to take the entire shell off including the tail, and that is up to you. However, if the tail is left on, it will add additional flavour to your stew. Regardless, let the shells rinse off of the shrimp back into the colander and place the now de-shelled clean shrimp into a Large Bowl. Keep going until you have gone through all of the shrimp.

This seems like a lot of work and very time consuming, but, remember, you have Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 going on in the background; and, it only gets easier if you have a gullible significant other or child labour about to help while you dance around the kitchen to some good Bossanova. In all honesty, this peeling should take all of ten (10) minutes. So, is that worth an extra six (6) dollars per pound (500 g.), you tell me?

Now, you’ve got a bowl of cleaned shrimp and a Colander-full of shrimp shells and legs. What next? Take the Colander-full of shrimp parts and empty it into the Freezer Bag. Don’t worry if there is some water involved. Seal the Freezer Bag with the Shrimp shells and place it into the freezer for safekeeping; we’ll make the best Risotto ever later in the week, see the recipe for Gamberoni in this book for details.

Now, it’s time for a cockytale before we get our “Miz” on. Enjoy, “Tall and tan and young and lovely........” for a moment. That would be Astrid Gilberto.

So, what is “Miz”? Sorry, it’s not that Michael Jackson and Diana Ross musical; “Miz” will make your life easier. “Miz” is short for “Mis en Place”.

TECHNIQUE NOTE - This is actually important. Ever wonder how those “30 Minutes or Less” television chefs do it? Well, everything is pre-cleaned, pre-chopped, pre-measured, and pre-laid out ahead of time. You can do this too. Just get your “Mis en Place”, i.e. “Everything in its Place”, that’s what it means, together. So, let’s get chopping; then we can have another Cockytale.

As we are enjoying our Rhumba on the stereo, peel, smash, and pulverize three (3) cloves of garlic using your Sharp Kitchen Knife and add them to the Large Bowl of raw cleaned Shrimp.

Slice the two (2) Lemons in half and, using a Dinner Fork, squeeze as much juice out of the lemon halves as you can into the Large Bowl with the raw cleaned Shrimp and pulverized Garlic. Be mindful of any seeds, I generally strain the lemon juice through my fingers to catch any seeds, but you can use a small sieve if you don’t feel like getting dirty.

Sprinkle everything with a pinch of Kosher Salt and a grind of fresh Black Pepper. Give everything a gentle toss using your beautifully clean hands, cover the bowl with a dinner plate and place it into the fridge for about twenty (20) minutes. You really don’t want to let this marinade for more than that because you will begin to get Ceviche, which is a wonderful thing on its own, but not today.

While the Shrimp and Lemon Juice are getting their Samba on, using your very sharp Kitchen Knife, peel and finely chop the Vidalia Onion and place it into a Cereal Bowl. Clean and de-seed the Green Bell Pepper; finely chop and add it to the Cereal Bowl with the chopped onion. Peel and pulverize about three (3) or four (4) cloves of fresh Garlic and add them to the Peppers and Onion in the Cereal Bowl. Using a convenient spoon mix everything together and set aside.

Thoroughly wash the bunch of Cilantro and remove all of the large tough stems keeping the leaves and small stems only. Finely chop up the Cilantro leaves and place them into another Cereal Bowl.

Crack open the can of San Marzano Tomatoes and, using a spoon, fish out the limp lifeless Basil leaf that all manufacturers conceal in the can and toss. Set the can aside.

Give the can of Coconut Milk a good shake and pop it open; set this aside with the can of Tomatoes, they will make their own party.

NOTE - A quick comment about canned Coconut Milk, depending on the quality of your product and how long it has been on the shelf, the Coconut Milk may have separated with the solids falling to the bottom of the can. This is perfectly normal. I strongly recommend opening up the can of Coconut Milk fully using a blade style can opener, as opposed to a “church key”, and giving any solids at the bottom of the can a stir with a spoon to reincorporate them with the liquid. Not to fear.

Place your Heavy Skillet onto a stovetop burner over medium-low heat.

Go make a cockytale and enjoy some more Brasil 66 for a few minutes as the pan heats up; it’s been a busy day and you’ve earned a bit of respite before the next step.

When the Skillet is hot, after about four (4) minutes, add a few glugs of Xtra Virgin Olive Oyl to the pan and let it warm up for a few seconds (about three “glugs” or tablespoons for those concerned; but who cares, Bahìa here we come).

Add the combination of Onion, Pepper, and Garlic to the Skillet and stir with your trusty Wooden Spoon to coat with the warm oil. Place the empty Cereal Bowl in the sink for later cleanup. Add a pinch of Kosher Salt to the vegetable mixture and a grind of Black Pepper. Gently sauté the combo for about eight (8) to ten (10) minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything is softened.

When the vegetables are softened, add about half (1/2) a teaspoon of Cayenne Pepper, or more, if you would like things spicier, and fat tablespoon of the fresh chopped Cilantro. Stir and cook to incorporate, about a minute or so.

This is fun and messy. Using your delicate hands, fish out a whole tomato from the can and crush it into the skillet. This squirts and gets everywhere, but is a lot of fun, so be warned. You want the Tomatoes to be crushed, but still chunky.  Do this to each Tomato in the can, one at time. Stir briskly to incorporate. Take the remaining juice from the can and pour it into a friendly Coffee Mug for tomorrow.

Go rinse the can and place it in the recycle bin. Wash the Cereal Bowl that’s in the sink and the Colander from earlier.

Simmer the mixture, stirring often, for about fifteen (15) minutes or until it becomes very thick.

When everything is very thick, stir in the Coconut Milk and bring to a boil. Raise the heat if you need to.

Take the Shrimp out of the fridge and see what kind of trouble they got into with the lemon juice.

NOTE - This is the time for VARIATIONS. See below.

When the Coconut Milk is at a boil, add the bowl of Shrimp and any juices that have accumulated. Give everything a good stir to cover with the boiling liquid. Cook the Shrimp, stirring often for about three (3) minutes or until just barely pink. They will continue to cook in the hot liquid even after the heat is off, so better to go with slightly undercooked here. Trust me, all will be well.

Turn off the heat when the Shrimp are just pink and stir in a good solid glug of the Dendê Palm Oil and four big pinches of the fresh chopped Cilantro. Stir everything to incorporate.

Serve immediately.

Bahìa waits for no one.

Simpler is better with this. I serve this over a bowl of plain steamed Basmati rice with some additional chopped Cilantro, a Lime wedge, and some Siracha hot sauce on the side as optional condiments. But really, this is so potent and aromatic on its own that you really don’t need to do anything.

Dendê Oil, the deal breaker. As much as I've gushed about this ingredient, it really is difficult to find. You can omit it and all will be well. So, just because you are at your best friend's beach house doesn't meat that all is lost. Simply use what you have.

If you are stuck with only cooked or pre-steamed frozen Shrimp. Not to fear. This can still be perfect and tasty. With a solid block of cooked frozen shrimp, obviously, you need to thaw them at room temperature first; it takes about three (3) hours, do not microwave them as they will disintegrate and get mushy. After they're thawed, add them to the sauce until just warmed through, about a minute. The same holds true for regular cleaned cooked shrimp. The less time that they stay in the sauce the better. All you want to do is to is get them warm, otherwise they can get "mealy", and that is not tasty. So, just warm up your Shrimpies in your sauce; give everyone a good stir for about a minute, and serve as above.

Chicken Breast. Yes, boring and readily available. I know. But, this really works well for this dish due to the gentle cooking method and the flavorful medium (and we're not talking about "Madame ZeZu", the psychic from down the block), we're talking about the sauce here. Take two boneless Chicken Breasts and cut them into chunks approximately one (1) inch (3 cm.) around. Cook everything as above and simply swap out the Shrimp for the Chicken. Let the Chicken cook for an additional five (5) minutes in the sauce, or until it is just cooked through and tender. Finish it off as above and serve.

Now, for Firm Tofu, the above applies. Thoroughly drain and then slice up the Firm Tofu into chunks about one (1) inch (3 cm.) around and place them into the sauce in lieu of the Shrimp for about three (3) minutes, or until just warmed through. Finish as above.

Ta Da!

©2010 Wait At The Bar, Inc.

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