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April 11, 2006

Shrimp Experiment

Dominic Armato
Well, the shrimp experiment was a success, but I wouldn't call it the wild success that I was hoping for.

Sadly, when I returned home at 8:30, my live shrimp had become... merely very fresh. The best fresh shrimp I've had are the ones we get at Lei Yue Mun in Hong Kong, where they're pulled from the tank at the fish market and on your plate down the street within ten minutes, in a simple, light sauce. So I improvised a little marinade that I thought would be similar, let the little fellows take it in for about an hour, and then tossed them on a rack in the wok to steam. Sadly, their deaths ruined my plan for a drunken shrimp style marinating process. Drunken shrimp, in the most traditional sense, are live shrimp that are tossed in a bowl of sweet rice wine, where they suck up the liquid (actually, I think "breathing" would be a more appropriate term) and get a little loopy. They're then eaten as-is, raw and quite alive. If served the dish in China, I'd absolutely eat it. Once upon a time in Japan, I ate a fish that I'm certain was watching me, and it was amazing. I'm not squeamish about the quality of Chinatown groceries, but I don't trust them that much. So while I had no intention of eating these fellows alive, the idea that marinating them while they're skittering about might cause the sauce to permeate the flesh sounded positively awesome. But since this was now impossible, I marinated them in the more traditional sense.

Dominic Armato
So, while the results weren't quite as transcendent as I'd hoped they would be, I do think they went a long way towards supporting my suspicion that the only difference between the amazing shrimp we get in China and the shrimp we get in the States is the level of freshness. I know it's next to impossible to get shrimp at a retail market that hasn't been flash frozen at some point. And despite their protestations that a good flash freezing doesn't adversely affect the beast at all, I simply don't believe it. For starters, these were far tastier and sweeter than anything else I've managed to find here in Chicago. But what struck me, as I was tearing through them, was that some were significantly tastier than others. I hypothesized that the ones that had kicked off earlier in the day were the merely okay ones, while the hearty fellows who had hung in there a little longer were the tasty ones, and I already have a plan to test this hypothesis. Next time, I'm preparing my marinade and taking it to Chinatown in a big tupperware. I'll buy my shrimp, take them back to the car, and toss them in while they're still kicking. Then, as soon as I get home, into the wok they go! I expect miracles. But in the meantime, here's my simple little improvised recipe, which was quite worthy:

Dominic Armato

1 Lb. fresh whole shrimp, preferably live
2/3 C. shaohsing
1/4 C. soy sauce
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. minced ginger
1 tsp. minced garlic
soy sauce
Steamed Shrimp, Chinese Style
Makes 1 family-style dish

For this dish, the shrimp have to be alive, or at the very least, megafresh. If they weren't kicking within the past few hours, the dish will still be tasty, but nothing like it's supposed to be. Combine all of the marinade ingredients, and then combine in a covered bowl with the shrimp. Be sure to keep it covered. They'll jump! Let the little fellows get nice and drunk on the rice wine... an hour should do.

Meanwhile, prepare your steaming contraption. For me, it's a wok with a cover and a circular rack. Put the wok over high heat until it gets super hot. Add the rack, then pour in the shrimp and all of the marinade, so that the shrimp rest on the rack while the marinade drips through into the bottom of the wok and boils. Immediately cover the wok and let the shrimp steam for about five minutes, until cooked. Remove from the heat, give the shrimp a quick toss in the steaming liquid, and pile them up on a plate.

Get a small dish of soy sauce, and a big stack of napkins. Tear off the heads, and suck out the juice if you're into that. Otherwise, discard the heads, peel the tails, give them a light dip in the soy sauce and pop 'em. They should be full of potent shrimp flavor and a wonderful sweetness.


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