Sunday, July 8, 2012

Start with Two Sticks of Butter. . .

Of course, we're talking about Paula Deen.  Paula's not really known for "healthy" food.  In fact she was lambasted by another celebrity chef that I refuse to name.  I was so indignant that I sent a message to Paula telling her one of my all-time favorite Paula Deen recipes that lends itself well to adaptation for migraine patients.  I received several free magazines and a couple of autographed photos for my trouble, so hopefully the message actually reached her and made her feel like her honor had been appropriately defended.

So what's the recipe?  Shrimp etouffee.  If your migraine patient can tolerate tomatoes, it's a real winner.  The recipe is here, so I won't waste time and space repeating it.  This is a time-consuming dish to make, but there is nothing to it that a beginning cook cannot handle.  A few thoughts:

1.  Organization is key - Especially if you are working alone, it will save some stress to get the prep work done before the heat gets turned on.  That would include chopping the veggies, cleaning the shrimp, and even measuring out the dry spices into a dish.  I was able to enlist the aid of two kids in a very small kitchen by assigning them specific areas as their stations - worked like a charm. 
2.  Substitutions - shallots work nicely in this dish in lieu of onions.  Also, you can throw in some extra peppers or scallions.  Don't skimp on the veggies, as they really lighten up what could otherwise be a very heavy dish.  Becoming a little too fond of throwing clam juice into various dishes, I had none when I was too far into the recipe to stop.  I replaced the clam juice with chicken stock and some Better than Bullion lobster base.  Kitchen Basics makes seafood stock, so that could be used as well. 
3.  Rice - I love rice.  I rarely if ever cook it on the stovetop.  Two cups of long grain rice, four cups of water, 5 minutes in the microwave on high, 25 minutes on 50%.  Uncle Ben's is noticeably better, but store brand is good enough and a great bargain on sale.  Try not to start too soon, and cover it if you do, to keep in warm.
4.  Roux - this is not a time to rush.  In this dish, there's a greater roux-to-liquid ratio than usual, so that the sauce comes out extra thick.  That means that the  roux taste will be more prominent than usual.  Take your time and get it as dark and nutty as your patience will allow, using low to medium heat.   
5.  Cleaning shrimp - I start with headless shrimp.  If it is frozen, I thaw it in a collander in the sink.  I sprinkle on some plain table salt, run cool water on it, and move it around.  Hot water is a bad idea - it cooks the shrimp.  The salt speeds the thawing and seems to help the texture of the shrimp.  Be sure to rinse it all off.  I usually go in this order:  Pinch off the legs, peel off the shell, squeeze the shrimp out of the tail like toothpaste, devein.  Use "before" and "after" bowls, both with some ice to keep the shrimp fresh.  A trash bowl for shells is also helpful (or a clean bowl if you're saving shells for stock).  I use a paring knife or utility knife to clean the shrimp (chef's knife is too big).  Slice down the middle of the back, top-to-bottom, and pull/rinse/scrape out the black stuff.  Be gentle, so you don't mangle the shrimp.
6.  Timing - throw in the garlic when the rest of the veggies are almost cooked.  It burns easily.  Throw the shrimp in when the sauce is finished cooking.  It only takes a few minutes to cook and gets rubbery when cooked too long.
7.  Cajun seasoning - I use Louisiana Fish Fry Products brand, available at any store.  It's pretty migraine-friendly, but you can also make your own with Heidi Gunderson's recipe.  Store-bought seasoning has salt in it, so don't add much if any until all the other seasons have been added.
8.  Dealing with a thick sauce - In dealing with a thick sauce like this, you will likely want to switch from whisk to spoon when the solids start going in.  Thick sauces don't move around in the saucepan, so they are easily burned.  Watch the heat level, keep the sauce stirred, and add some extra stock or water if it has a while left to sit on the heat. 
9.  Temperature - if the shrimp has been sitting on ice, bring it to room temperature with tepid water before adding it to the mix.  Otherwise, it can drop the temperature so much that it does not cook quickly and the texture will suffer.  Warming the butter slightly in the microwave before adding is a good idea for similar reasons - you don't want to have to reheat the dish.

If you take the time and effort to prepare this dish correctly, people are going to be very impressed and will think that you are a real expert in the kitchen.  You might even impress yourself.

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