Saturday, March 27, 2010

Jhinga Aur Ghia (Shrimp with Zucchini): Madhur Jaffrey's "Indian Cooking"

This was the last dish I prepared as part of the huge Indian meal I made for friends last week.

This whole meal looked like this:

(plus the yogurt and tomato relish), and here's everything put together into one rainbow of a plate:

Chicken curry, yogurt, tomato relish, split pea dal, basmati rice, aloo saag, yam saag, and shrimp with zucchini. A feast.

The shrimp were huge! We used US Gulf White Shrimp. All the other options were black tiger shrimp and other smaller shrimp from Thailand, and my sustainable seafood online reference says that's doesn't say US Gulf are necessarily fact, I didn't have enough information from my fish place in St. Lawrence, Domenico's Fish Market, to make that call. They were the most expensive, though, which often means they could be better (or just over-priced), since it often costs more to fish sustainably. Good quality anything usually costs more. In this case, 'good quality' is a bit ambiguous because I don't know which of the shrimp were wild or farmed, what was added to or left out of the water, and with what they were fed. Basically, making a eco-conscious choice with seafood is often next to impossible.

So at least the shrimp were big and juicy and looked fresh.

5 zucchini, cut into matchsticks
1 tbsp salt (I skimped on the salt, thinking that the salt on the shrimp and in the canned tomatoes would make up for it. Wrong. Use the whole tablespoon. A sixth of the salt is used to suck the excess moisture out of the zucchini, so it's not a flavour issue in this case. It's a consistency issue. Your zucchini will stay firmer and not dissolve into the sauce. The rest of the salt is essential if you use low-sodium tomatoes like I did. Otherwise you might get away with skimping)
1 1/2 lbs shrimp (fresh or frozen. If frozen, defrost them and dry them with paper towels)
3 tbsp oil
12(!) cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 cups(!) cilantro leaves (In this recipe cilantro is used as a vegetable and as a main part of the dish, not a garnish. Removing the stems is a nuisance, but is very necessary. Sorry)
2 hot green chili peppers, finely chopped (More Hari Mirch "Indian" chilis)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp cumin (I roasted cumin seed and then crushed it...poorly...again)
1/2 tsp cayenne
6 small canned tomatoes, finely chopped, plus 1 cup of tomato liquid from the can
2 tsp finely grated ginger (I just diced it. No grater in my brother's house either)
2 tbsp lemon juice

I used San Marzano tomatoes because I'm obsessed with them. They're Italian. Meant for pasta sauces, not Indian cooking...they're very low in sodium and sweeter than most canned tomatoes. I figured it would work well in this recipe...I'm not sure if I am so stubbornly convinced that's true any more. The tomato liquid will give the majority of the flavour to the dish, so if the sauce is no good, then the tomatoes you used are no good. Well, they're just no good for THIS recipe. I still think San Marzanos are the gods of tomatoes, but just not in Indian dishes that need an acidic kick. I may have also just used too much tomato juice from the can...I didn't measure precisely since this was the last dish and I was rushing. Never, never, never rush Indian cooking. Have you ever seen an Indian woman rush? Much like a French women. Nothing like me.

Slow food. It's a movement. A slow, slow movement toward the stove, most likely. Like a conversation with a takes a long, long time.

So I rushed the tomato-pouring. All my fault.

Here's how to do this recipe properly:
1. Put the zucchini in a bowl and toss them with a 1/2 tsp salt. Toss it together and set the bowl aside while you chop everything else.
2. When everything else is prepped (chopped, measured, put in bowls, etc) add the oil (all of it. It'll seem like a lot of oil...) to a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When it's hot, add the garlic and stir until the garlic turns a medium brown. You're basically deep-frying the garlic.
3. Drain the zucchini and pat them dry with paper towels while the garlic browns (take a 30 second break from stirring near the beginning of the garlic cooking to do this)
4. Return to stirring the garlic and when it's the right brown colour (at your discretion...) add the zucchini and all the other ingredients except the lemon juice. Remember to add the rest of the salt.
5. Bring the mix to a simmer and add 2/3rds of the lemon juice and all the shrimp (You don't want to add all the lemon juice just in case your tomatoes are very acidic. Madhur Jaffrey and I disagree on this point, apparently. You can always add more lemon, which is really pungent when added at the end, but you can never take any out)
6. Cover the frying pan, turn the heat to low and simmer for 3 minutes, until the shrimp turn pretty in pink.
7. Remove the cover and boil away the excess liquid. You should have a thick sauce. If it's too soupy you'll be disappointed with the flavour. Boiling away the liquid concentrates the flavour.
8. Now you're allowed to add the rest of the lemon juice if you need to. Add it until you're happy with the flavour. Also add more salt if you need to. Again, tomato-dependent.

My version my opinion, bland. The shrimp were beautiful and tender, but they were overpowered by the tomato sauce. I often think with shrimp stir-fries that sauce-less is the best way to cook them. The zucchini in this recipe need a sauce, though. I just don't think tomato and zucchini go together very well. Same deal with asparagus (which you could substitute in this recipe if you either prefer asparagus or just don't believe me). Maybe I should have reduced my sauce a little more? Maybe I should have moved tai chi-slow? Next time I'm so lucky to have amazing shrimp, they will be treated with more respect (aka no tomato sauces).

Then the most important part, setting out all the food, making sure it's at the right temperature (this is done in advance, of course), making sure there are cutlery and plates (again, advance) and getting the serving started. Oh I'm so happy with this meal. Even if I found it generally underwhelming in terms of individual dishes, together the total sum of dishes (colours, flavours, textures, ingredients) was still a lot for the senses to process, making for an impressive meal.