Friday, November 18, 2011

The Small Matter of my Hands. And Bicycles.

A couple Sundays ago, for the first time in almost exactly two months I shakily hopped back onto a bicycle. After a quick ride up and down my street in the Lower Haight in the city of San Francisco, I realized I was good to go and rode across town free from the clenches of flaky and often unnecessary public transportation. So what happened?

In early September I made a colossally stupid set of decisions that lead me to have a rather frightening accident on my trusty touring bike. I'm so bored with the story I'll keep it brief: I was going camping and I packed a bag for what I thought would be a rather easy ride from the city of Dublin to Livermore, up into the nearby hills, and to a lovely reservoir where I could go swimming, sit around a camp fire, and maybe howl at the moon come nightfall. Anyhow I did a poor job packing, I went alone, I left late, google maps sent me an unexpected way onto dirt trails, my tires were over pumped, my brakes were soft, and I was tired. I lost control of my bike kind of in the middle of nowhere, went over my handlebars, landed on my head, messed up both wrists, and had to hike my ass a few miles with increasingly useless hands so I could be driven to some depressing emergency room. At least the bike was unscathed. Incredible.
Months later I still don't have the greatest of hearing in my left ear and have the strength of an eight year old boy in both my hands. However, a little more that a week after the cast came off my left hand, I was ready to ride again and this is cause to celebrate. I feel like I'm getting my life back.
I can't overstate how important bikes are in my life. I've done a fair bit of travel by bike. Around Southern Thailand, Northern Thailand, Laos, and the American West Coast. Besides these trips, I go just about everywhere by bike. It's fun, it's healthy, and it a great way to see the city. I rode thousands of miles in the last calendar year and in many ways these miles are a large part of my general health, both physical and mental. After my eight mile commute I feel very different after a nice ride than a wait and a sit or stand on a MUNI train that's for sure. I'm not mister fitness or anything, but I guarantee that riding one's bike on a daily commute will work wonders for you. It has me. And for the last couple months I've been pretty bummed out as I have to sit out nice days, organized rides, and my normal exercise regimen. I decided to take up running again for a while and after a few miles I always wanted to just be back on my bike.  Now that I'm slowly getting back into it, needless to say, I'm a little giddy.

In the last couple of weeks I've put well over a hundred miles on my bike. I'm feeling stronger and now I feel almost no pain at all. At least as far as my hands are concerned.
I write about food on this blog. Or at least usually. Bikes play a large part of my life these days and the everyday mundane experiences I have are more often than not shaped by my bike. It's hard for me not to talk about it.

Bikes get me where I wanna go. They help me make my appointments and help me burn calories. After a few months of riding erratic public transit I was tired of the waiting and tired of the paying. I'd rather be drinking a cup of coffee after or during a ride. A place where I can ride a bike is also a place I want to eat. Places that attract cars is a place I want to keep away from. It's rather simple. Much like this blog started over a love of street food, the author continues to be interested in the streets that we walk, ride, and drive on. I'd rather be be riding. Always.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Queso Fresco

At the house I stayed at in Teotitlan del Valle, one of the women made queso fresco, or fresh cheese daily. I imagine it is a tough and unglamorous life. Around the time I got up each morning to prepare for another day of linguistic analysis, she was already loading a motortaxi with her day's wares to sell at the morning market.
On several occasions I bought a round of cheese and ate it alongside one of my breakfasts. Other times I just gave it to one of my friends who is simply crazy about the stuff. It's soft, moist, a little salty, and goes great on tortillas with beans, avocados and salsa. Makes a killer sandwich as well. This is a style of cheese you can find just about any place in Mexico. It might be a common food, and even a mundane specimen for how common it is, but its simple freshness is very hard to beat.
Another family member made quesillo, otherwise known as Queso de Oaxaca outside of Oaxaca. This stringy stretchy cheese is great for quesadillas and sandwiches. While staying in Oaxaca City I spent a few days eating mostly this, which was kind of a mistake. However, I'm still not sure I got my fill after a number of weeks.

These cheeses are a reminder of something I always enjoy about the developing world.  Fresh, and even handmade food is the norm not the exception. In my current home of San Francisco the current food revival has made celebrities out of those who make food from scratch, using older methods of preparation. In other parts of the world where the food systems have not yet been completely taken over by agribusiness and convenience foods, you are likely to find foods like these cheeses a part of daily life.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sopa de Menudo

I've been letting things slide as of late but my mind is still on Mexico. Don't leave me.

As I briefly mentioned in my previous post, the central market in Oaxaca City is a rather touristy affair. It's certainly worth a visit but it can be a bit stressful owing to the plethora of vendors trying to sell you trinkets and the rather inflated prices. The market seems more focused on tourists than it does on the quality of its produce and prepared food. Maybe I'm jaded as the vendors, but having people wave menus at me usually is a sign that I want to be somewhere else. However, there is one corner of the market more or less uninterested with tourism and that's what I want to talk about today.

Soon after entering the market one encounters rows of counter seating surrounding small kitchens. There must be half a dozen or so of these comedores and they all serve the same thing and one thing only: Sopa de menudo.
My first weekend in Oaxaca city I noticed the popularity of these stalls while the rest of the market seemed a little sleepy. These stalls were jumpin' and it was hard to get a seat. Maybe many folks were nursing hangovers (I might have been), or maybe they simply come for the quality of the soup.
This is a salty, spicy and rich broth which bathes a variety of cow parts of which you can choose your favorites. Eating this soup reminded me of my love of what many Americans might think of as strange meat, but I truly love the different tastes and textures from the various parts of the animal. I can guaran-fucking-tee you that a cow is made up of more than just steak and ribs, fatty.
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A stack of tortillas, a bowl of cow parts, a savory broth and a receding headache sound like heaven right about now.
It goes without saying that a market stall that sells one thing and one thing only better get it right. Imagine stumbling to this stall nursing a debilitating headache and finding the soup or the meat sub par. People wouldn't stand for it, the stall will be under visited and they would close. When there's only one thing to be had and folks crowd around to get in on the action while ignoring the rest of the other stall you know you've found something good. 

I went to Oaxaca looking forward to a variety of foods that the state is justifiably famous for. Once again, it was something totally unexpected that keeps popping into my head several weeks later. Something to think about.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Before I move away from the greatness of mole negro (see here and here), I thought it important to make one more pertinent post, however short it may be.

In Oaxaca City, at the rather touristy and touty 20 de Noviembre market, I encountered some rather wonderful enmoladas. Enmoladas are really quite a simple affair. They are simply tortillas smothered in mole negro and in this case topped with a little queso fresco and onions. This is a great dish for serious mole fans. Where most tamales give you only a small taste, enmoladas give you a meal that is literally swimming in mole.  I could have done without the slab of pork but it did provide some protein for a day of moderate energy expenditure.
There's little else to say. I don't remember which market stall I procured these particular enmoladas from, although most stalls serve more or less the same thing. I just can't stop looking at this picture. Once you look into the darkness, it has you. It certainly has me.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tamales de Mole Negro

When my Zapotec consultant demonstrated the making of mole for us, it wasn't purely four our benefit. This mole would actually constitute the filling of her tamales that she sells for a yearly festival in Teotitlan del Valle. I was too busy with work the day that these were being made to document anything other than their consumption. All smiles.
My consultant's family owns a house across from the picturesque church in town and during the festival in July the house is used as a restaurant of sorts to sell huge buckets-full of tamales and beer to tourists and locals alike.
The day of the festival we sat at tables on the upper floor of the house and took in the sights and sounds. It was really one of the more pleasant dining experiences I have had in some time. Maybe it was the quality of the tamales, or maybe it was just being a part of the process. Either way, this was just about the perfect evening.
I've eaten hundreds of tamales over the years and a fair few on this recent trip to Mexico, and I was more than happy to have found these were some of the best I have ever had. I told my host with enthusiasm and she either didn't believe me, or she is so used to hearing this that it had little effect on her. I made sure to tell her more than once.
Good food needs nothing else at all. However, tamales, beer and view like this makes for a winning combination. Looking at the photos several weeks later makes me rather nostalgic. Maybe I'll be back next year...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Making Mole Negro

For my first few weeks in Mexico I was working on a language preservation project in Teotitlan del Valle in the state of Oaxaca. My group was primarily involved with collecting texts from Zapotec speakers. When I got my assignment I just about died when I learned that I would be collecting a recipe for mole negro. The recipe was not the point, as we were looking for certain constructions for which there had been little data thus far collected. I'd say we did pretty well, but I won't go on about that here.

As a side project my team and I have started putting together a book of sorts for the museo. To do this I shot photos of my consultant making mole and talking us through the process. This is a long, smoky, and dirty process of which I loved every minute.

Instead of describing each and every detail with the photographs I've decided just to put the slideshow here. When I get home later in the summer, I'll try and fashion a recipe for a normal serving size. For now, enjoy the photos!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

La Fiesta de San Juan Bautista

I don’t want to start this post with some trite anecdote about Mexicans being festive people. Such declarations reduce a diverse people to base cultural stereotypes. However, I have certainly been involved in a fair few great celebrations as of late. The Fiesta de San Juan Batista in Teotitlan del Valle was certainly one of the most memorable.

A few fridays ago after finishing my day’s work, I headed into the center of Teotitlan to see what was happening. I was greeted with a couple of dozen men on horseback. In the middle of the street, there was a sheep tied to a crossbeam under which the caballeros would pass. As they rode their goal was to lasso the immobilized animal by the head. Whoever managed to lasso the sheep by the head the most times, won the sheep.
A large number of people from town congregated to watch the contest. Drinks were distributed freely. Soon after arriving several different men, young and old were offering me shots of mescal from communal cups. Pretty quickly, things started to get a little hazy as people were pouring generous amounts of fine mescal made at nearby fincas or in their cuñados backyards.
As the party progressed, the sheep was lassoed time and time again. I stumbled off to grab dinner and when I returned an hour later, things were still jumping and the mescal was still flowing. The poor sheep was actually taking it pretty well. Eventually, I simply stopped paying attention to the contest and I sat for a second dinner on the square. Men approached me and offered me tepache, beers, and more mescal. I grabbed a plate of tacos to soak up the worrying amount of booze in my system.
More on these tacos at a later date.

Sometime well late into the evening a man was sitting nearby with a sheep on a leash. I honestly have no idea if this was the same sheep or not, but seeing how he was getting a lot of attention, I decided to join in and take his picture. He was more than happy to pose.
The whole photo set can be seen here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Juice Stand

For the last few weeks I've been eating and drinking my way through Oaxacan cuisine. In Teotitlan del Valle I had food and drink for which Oaxaca is famous for. But I still can't bring myself to write about it as all I can think about is beverages. I'm having one as a write this.

I like to start my day with a beverage, as I pointed out in the previous post. This day's beverage was a simple and delicious carrot juice.
Yes the juice is good but that is only part of the equation. My perch provides me a window into the lives of others.  I arrive just as people are arriving at the market and I watch the market come alive as I ingest my morning blood sugar kick start.  I know a few vendors and we exchange greetings. Others tell me that the chocolate lady whom I frequent will be back at her stand in a matter of minutes to prepare for me another chocolate. Later, I tell them.

This juice stand is no different than juice stands I've haunted all over Mexico. And that's what I love. These stands are a great example of what I like from the street or market vendor: they do one thing or a handful of closely related things. This is not a kitchen sink approach to dining. Let somebody else take care of the tortas, tamales, or desayunos. The juice vendor has a variety of fresh fruits for jugos and liquados. The menu mostly stays the same wherever you are and is only limited by what the seasons can provide. They provide a lot.
To me this juice stand and the others like it are an incredible image of beauty and efficiency.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chocolate Stand

If there is one thing I know, it is that the mundane experiences of life are the ones I hold onto and cherish. These days, before heading to my breakfast, I try and swing by my favorite chocolate and coffee stand to grab a fresh foamy cup of chocolate, share a little conversation, and simply watch the world go by.
Behind me, men are selling turkeys and chickens on the ground, women are selling tamales out of baskets and a variety of chiles, fruits and vegetables are displayed in small piles for the daily shoppers of this small Zapotec town of Teotitlan del Valle. If I could I would pause these minutes just about forever. However, the universe is indifferent to such childish wishes and the days continue much as they always have and will until the whole mess collapses in on itself. I finish my cup, head into the market for a little of this or that then head to my breakfast where I am fed well, but it can't match the ten minutes I spend over a cup of chocolate.

More to come.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The First Meal

I had grand plans to waltz off the plane and head to a bustling market in the heart of Oaxaca City. Hell, I even had a menu marginally planned out. It didn't work out that way. A missed connection, and general airline ineptitude stranded me in Mexico City. At least I got a meal voucher. So instead of eating at a small counter in a bustling market I ate at some restaurant in an airport. Yay.  I orderd a favorite: huevos divorciados, or divroced eggs. It's basically chilaquiles seperating two eggs each with a different sauce.  I'm sure it's explained in the prenup.
While I ate my eggs I watched oversexed women gyrate on Mexican music television.  It's good to be back.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

On the Way

Morelia, Mexico. Late 2005.

It's been hard to get the blog moving as of late. I've been preoccupied with some things. In a few hours I'm leaving on a red eye flight for Mexico. I'm doing some grad work down in Oaxaca for the next several weeks. More specifically I'm doing some language preservation work with Zapotec in a small community outside of Oaxaca City. I'm both incredibly nervous and excited about this opportunity. As you can probably imagine I'll have my camera with me. When I'm not too busy translating Zapotec into Spanish, and then into English, I'll try and do as much eating as possible.  With at least four meals a day, I will hopefully have a thing or two to say.

I haven't been to Mexico in well over five years and the last time I was in Oaxaca was way back in 2003. If I hadn't gotten lost in Asia during the mid-late 2000s I likely would have been back many more times. Mexico is one of my very favorite places that never ceases to captivate me for a variety of reasons. With this work/study trip I'm especially excited to get closer to one of my favorite regions of the country.

I haven't left the country in a few years for reasons which I won't dissect at this juncture, but right about now it is just what the doctor ordered.

Friday, June 10, 2011

In the Kitchen

Once a dry spell begins, it's kind of difficult to start publishing posts again. I feel like there's a lot I want to say, give some interesting advice, and or provide interesting content. Yesterday's breakfast put to rest such thoughts. I woke up with a headache and a dark outlook. There was leftover cornbread so I started to make one of my very favorite breakfasts.

I fried an egg sunny side up, placed it on fried cornbread, and smothered it in maple syrup. I got my camera and was grumbling about how I was wasting my time and life with these photos when my housemate suggested that I just embrace it. So I did.
Looking down upon my morning meal I was reminded of my love of food and food photography. It's not high art, but it's something. I've spent the better part of a year finding myself frustrated by the dining scene in San Francisco to the point of paralysis. I find solace in the kitchen, and occasionally something to make me smile.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Carry On...

Sorry readers, I've been mostly absent owing to my responsibilities at the Ramjack corporation. Additionally, I have had a hard time being excited about blogging in my current city of residence. Right now, I am starting to wonder what relevance blogging really has anymore in this era of food as a fashion and food as a lifestyle. I blame Michael Pollan and celebrity chefs. Is there room for this marginally informed, foul mouthed grump? I'm not so sure. However, I think I'm going to try and come out of hiding.
The eating continues, the photography persists, and I hope to kick myself into gear. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Homemade Birthday Tacos, Simplicity

Chatting with a friend last week, the topic turned to food as it often does. I think I said something about getting a quick bowl of noodles or some other cheap fare on my way home. She commented how funny it was that I was this super cheap foodie type. As much as I don't like the word foodie, this was not an insult by the way. I took it as a statement of principles really. I like food. I like eating food. I like talking about food. And I like for my food to be no big deal. Not too expensive, accessible to a wide variety of people. All too often food is a fashion accessory in this town. The intersection of cost, fad, and fancy all too often cause me to lose any and all interest. So when I had a little party to celebrate my recent birthday, I tried to keep things simple.

A couple of kind helpers and I made a beautiful taco meal for a large group of people. I made the tortillas from scratch, a friend educated me on the art of salsa making, and we grilled up some fine carne asada. A few simple condiments and they were damn near perfect. No fancy and or expensive restaurants for us. A plate of tacos (or three) and some home made michealadas was all we needed.
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If there was a restaurant that did it like this, at a price we wanted, at a comfort level we liked, with the capacity we needed, we just might go out. I assure you there is no such place and furthermore, not to brag, there are few places that could do it as well as this. Just sayin'.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

February Food, Losing the Plot

After my month of Thai food in January, I figured I'd do something food related in February. It didn't really work out. I shot pictures of things that I put together in my kitchen and a few things enjoyed while out. They don't paint a coherent picture of anything.

The above slide show paints a picture that is a person eating and drinking well but kinda all over the place. I won't tell you that there's anything wrong with what you see, but I do get kinda tired of eating without a little more focus. If you're just here for the pictures you might be happy, but with so much to eat from so many points of origin, it's had to be much of an authority and provide adequately informative content. Really, it just advertises my diet which just isn't that interesting. I can eat just about any cuisine that I want here, but there's little here that is better than from its country of origin. Well, except maybe for the beer.

With so much to dabble in, I sorta lose the narrative. Scratch that, I have a hard time finding any narrative at all.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Thai Food Postmortem and Other Thoughts

This morning I awoke and wasn't thinking about Thai food. Actually, maybe I was thinking about it, just not obsessing. The last month I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I was going to make something different and do it right. Today I relaxed and reflected. Lucky for me, I was just about out of fish sauce.

Over the course of the month I got more and more used to the processes involved to execute a collection of dishes from one of my favorite cuisines. I'm far from an expert but I've made a good start. It helped to have lived in Thailand for a while and be familiar with the flavors and have a general idea about how things ought to taste. It helped even more to have had David Thomson's excellent cookbook "Thai food." If you've found this month interesting, I highly recommend purchasing this book.

If you decide to purchase this book, be prepared to run into a few difficulties. The recipes do not suggest shortcuts or rely on substitutions to make it easier to make these dishes. Over the month I was constantly disappointed to be unable to make certain dishes because of unavailable key ingredients. Instead of trying them without key ingredients, I simply skipped certain recipes entirely. I feel that a lot of my success was based on being pretty inflexible. I was unwilling to leave things out due to availability or make other alterations due to different peoples' dietary limitations. This left certain people out I suppose, but I wanted to try and nail these recipes when I could, and not leave them incomplete for whatever reason. After becoming very familiar with the flavor combinations is when I can imagine changing things, certainly not before.

It might seem strange that two and a half years after having lived in Thailand I would take up this project. Maybe it's hard to deny that. However, I can offer two rationales for this. ONE: I'm stubborn. I wanted to do this right and didn't want to take any half measures. To really make a proper effort at a lot of this food required me to purchase what I lovingly called my "shadow kitchen". I bought enough ingredients to fill a kitchen, plus the refrigerator was always filling up with my hard to find produce. This was a lot of work and maybe a little annoying for my housemates. TWO: There was a lot of other stuff to explore in the Bay Area before coming back around to Thai food. After moving to the area I was curious about what Thai food there might have been, but the same went for a lot of other cuisines.
There weren't many surprises in cooking the food itself, but it made me think about other cooking issues. Most importantly, I came to the opinion that people should be using more recipes. I'm pretty handy in the kitchen these days, but putting myself on a strict regimen of cooking Thai food by some very strict guidelines made for excellent results. Much like I just about always follow recipes when I bake, maybe it's a good idea to do the same for my normal cooking. I know a lot of incompetent cooks who should only ever follow directions lest they make something borderline toxic, but I extend this advice to people who are already comfortable and confident in the kitchen. You might learn something. Or maybe a lot.

I'm still trying to decide how this book, these recipes, and recently formed habits will factor into my future cooking. As I mentioned, some of this stuff was difficult to shop for. Certain ingredients are imported and found only in speciality shops. Others are found only during certain times of the year from certain vendors at local farmers markets. As much as I'd like to be making curries and other dishes frequently, the acquisition of ingredients makes that unlikely. It's fun to take this up as a project and see if and how it effects my eating habits. Some things I could see becoming part of my repertoire.
This morning I walked into the kitchen and assembled my breakfast. I didn't need any help deciding what to make. It was effortless. I loaded up on kiwis at the farmers market the other day. We still have almonds purchased a while back at another farmers market. We had local yogurt in the fridge, and honey from someone's backyard bees. It almost made itself.
This made sense. It probably isn't being repeated by any of my neighbors, it's not a dish I ate growing up, and I've probably not ever made exactly the same thing. I just threw it together and it was good. Like always, this anything goes approach to food makes me stop and ponder my food culture and the difficulties in writing about the food that is often in front of me. It's a work in progress.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Mango and Sticky Rice

Today I made my last dish for the month long Thai cooking project. Mango and sticky rice, one of my favorite sacks/desserts, relies on fresh mangoes to be a success. Actually, it also relies on proper knowledge of what the dish is supposed to be. I've had mango and sticky rice served to me by friends and acquaintances over the years where the rice was a like a pudding with all kinds of strange additions. I've encountered this on more than one occasion but I still have no idea where they are getting their recipes.

First things first, you need sticky rice. To make sticky rice you soak sticky rice overnight then steam it the following morning. I used a steamer over a wok. Notice, there is nothing below the rice. It worked like magic.
Twenty to thirty minutes later I had sticky rice and if I wasn't making a dessert, I could have been done.

I treated the finished rice with coconut cream, sugar, and a little salt.

The coconut cream topping the recipe called for sounded too sweet, so I just made it salty, like the mango and sticky rice of my memories (here and here). I felt that this was the right choice as it gave the dish some much needed balance.
This dessert was a pleasant misfire for me, but a good learning experience. The mango was all wrong, I undercooked the rice, and I found the rice too sweet. Would I make it again? Maybe, but first I would get a more appropriate variety of mango. Mine was a large round variety that is prone to tartness. When I make this again, I need to find the sweetest possible mango.

Tomorrow, I'll be back to do a write up of the past month.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Nearing the End With Som Tam

My project is nearly at an end. Trying to squeeze in a new or different meal while keeping a functioning professional and social life has been difficult. When I started the month, I imagined that I would keep a diary-like description of my life and food that makes up the day. But usually once I've shopped, cooked, shot some pictures, eaten, and cleaned up, I feel finished. I don't feel witty or wordy. So I give you some food porn and become filled with self loathing. Food porn is an incredible waste of web space, and I'm quite guilty of it as of late. The project has improved my food photography, but certainly not my writing.

Like other Sundays, today was market day. After doing the regular shopping I came home, dropped off the produce, and headed in the opposite direction to get the necessary ingredients for today and tomorrow's food. All I needed for today's kitchen time was a green papaya and some out of season cherry tomatoes. I had everything else to make a som tam, or green papaya salad.

Picky Thai chefs might poo-poo my use of a granite mortar and pestle for making the below som tam. The preferred wooden or clay mortar and pestle  is not something I currently own. I tried to be careful, but I might have pounded things a little too much for some. In addition, I would say that the salad below might have the wrong papaya to tomato, green bean, shrimp, and peanut ratio. Sue me.
Today's som tam hurt several people including myself it was so spicy. I found pleasure in this, but I unfortunately just about killed one of my housemates with what I thought would be a less intense version. Oops. Hopefully her digestive tract is okay. Not everyone enjoys spicy food, but I find immense pleasure in it. I've read that spicy food has certain addictive properties and this makes me wonder if this is the only reason I like it. Or put another way, is another's aversion to spicy food only because they haven't had enough to get hooked? Or, are some people not effected at all in a positive ways and only the negatives? Is it all a matter of building up tolerance and is everybody equally capable?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bamboo Shoot Salad

Today I am short on words and short on time. I made sup nor mai, or a bamboo shoot salad.
This salad, popular in Isaan, is a mix of bamboo shoots, shallots, green onions, sawtooth, and mint. It's dressed with a mixture of fish sauce and roasted chili powder. I can't remember if I ever actually ate this salad while in Thailand, but I have enjoyed it on occasion in Oakland at the excellent Green Papaya Deli.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Tom Yum Goong

Tom Yum Goong, or hot and sour soup with shrimp, is one of the most popular Thai dishes. It has never been my favorite, partly owing to quality control, but when done well it is hard to beat. Without high quality shrimp the whole soup sort of falls apart. I had been saving the opportunity to make this dish and today was the day. A friend was coming by in the late afternoon and her only stipulation was no land animals so I decided to load up on seafood. I went for the best, and most expensive shrimp I could find. These fresh, wild caught American prawns were closing in on twenty bucks a pound. I picked up a half a pound. Aren't they gorgeous?
I wanted these particular shrimp for their flesh as much as for their shells. My recipe called for the broth to be mostly flavored by simmering the shells until the broth took on a reddish hue. To accomplish this, not just any old shrimp would do the trick. I know, I have tried using shells to make broth on previous occasions and it just hasn't worked. But this time however, the shells, shrimp brains and fat made the broth surprisingly rich and savory.
Once thoroughly cooked I drained the shells and discarded them. From here it was easy. I added only: two stalks of lemongrass, a couple tablespoons of fish sauce, and a few lime leaves. I added the shrimp and simmered until cooked. I prepared a separate bowl with a handful of bruised chillies, juice of a lime, a little more fish sauce, and a handful of cilantro. When the shrimp was cooked, I poured the soup into the waiting bowl.
It was close to perfect. The broth was salty, sour and hot. It was an exercise in simplicity, but it's an exercise that should only be undertaken if your ingredients are top notch.