Sunday, May 13, 2007

Signs from God?

This morning in church, the pastor mentioned that he had bought some fiddleheads, but didn't know what to do with them and asked for suggestions. I've only ever cooked with fiddleheads once before, but the results were quite pleasing. I told him about the recipe, and now I'm telling you.

I made it back in February with the Blogless Erica. Fiddleheads weren't in season then, and we used frozen, but they are now. So if you think it sounds good and you might want to make it, make it now (now being around the middle of May, for anybody who happens to be reading the archives in the future). Frozen is still good, but if you can use fresh, why wouldn't you?

The recipe is below.

First a few comments about how we made it. We used powdered turmeric, rather than fresh. Instead of chopping the shallots, ginger, and garlic, and putting them in a blender, we used a microplane (I would have called it a grater, but the package says microplane) and hand grated them. If you don't have either, but want to make the recipe, I should point out that it's cheaper to buy a good microplane than it is to buy a bad blender (well, probably), and, all things considered, the difference in effort between the two methods is not that great, so buy a microplane and save your money until you can buy a good blender (or don't buy one at all, if that suits you). If you read the directions below, you will see that using a blender may even be extra complicated if the ingredients don't behave well, so even if you have one, it might better to just use the microplane anyway. If you don't have one, this recipe is a good excuse for buying that microplane you've always wanted but couldn't justify purchasing. Erica's technique for grating the shallots is to leave the root end on to use as a sort of handle. The recipe calls for 3-10 Thai chillis. I believe that we only used 3. This was a satisfying level of spiciness for me, though I could easily have tolerated more. We substituted tamarind paste for asam gelugor, and used regular salt instead of Kosher salt.

This recipe marked a quite a lot of firsts for me. I had never used shrimp, shallots, asam gelugor, fiddleheads, Thai chillis, or coconut milk before. Shallot seems to be a tad ambiguous (only a tad, though). The shallots referred to here are like small red onions with offsets (when I mention shallots, many people, including the pastor, don't seem to know what they are, and some guess that it's some sort of seafood. possibly they are thinking of scallops). The shrimp in this recipe tasted better to me than any shrimp that I had ever eaten at a restaurant. There were quite a lot of brands of coconut milk brands at the store, and I wasn't sure which one to buy (Erica bought it when we made it, but I bought some myself later), however in another cookbook it says that "the heavy, oily quality of some cheaper brands will literally destroy your recipe," so it may be better to opt for the pricier option if you're not sure.

If you can't find some of the ingredients below at your usual grocery store, you should be able to find them at an Asian grocer. The Asian grocers nearby here have a wider selection of coconut milk than the other grocery stores, and a friend who bought hers at Loblaws complained of a greasy after-texture in her mouth (which she blamed on the preservatives, though according to the above, it could have been due to the cheap quality), so I would recommend buying that specific item at the Asian grocer, even if your regular grocery store does stock it.

The spice paste below is quite versatile. Even though I haven't made this specific recipe since, I've made similar things using a variant of the chilli paste that also turned out quite well. For example, I used mushrooms, zucchini, and chicken (chopped up) instead of fiddleheads and shrimp, substituting milk and/or yogourt for coconut milk, using crushed chillis (Sambal Oelek) instead of Thai chillis, or adding sweet soy sauce (Kecap Manis). Also, I haven't bothered with Asam gelugor or any of its substitutes. That's because I forgot about that ingredient until today when I reread the recipe. I wouldn't recommend simply substituting these things and following the directions below, however. For example, the mushrooms and zucchini need to be sauteed at some stage.

Fern Curry with Shrimp
Source: Cradle of Flavor by James Oseland
(The book is on sale at right now. Follow the link. This is one of many interesting looking recipes in the book. I haven't bought it yet, but it's on my wish list.)

2.5 cups (about 11 ounces/310 grams) fresh or frozen fiddlehead ferns

For the Flavouring Paste

3 shallots (about 25 ounces/70 grams total), coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
1 piece fresh or thawed, frozen turmeric, 1 inch long, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 1 teaspoon), or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 piece fresh ginger, 2 inches long, peeled and thinly sliced against the grain (about 2 tablespoons)
3 to 15 fresh green or red Thai chillis, stemmed and coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 piece asam gelugor
1 stem fresh lemon basil, Thai basil, or Italian basil
7 ounces (200 grams) medium sized shrimp in the shell, preferably with heads intact (10 to 15 shrimp)
1.5 cups (12 fluid ounces/375 mL) unsweetened coconut milk.
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar

1. To clean fresh fiddleheads, use kitchen shears or a sharp paring knife to snip off the bottom 1/4 inch of the stem jutting out from the centre coil of each fern. Next, remove as much of the light brown, paper-thin sheath from each fiddlehead as possible. (This paper sheath protects the fiddleheads from insects and cold weather as they unfurl; much of it is naturally discarded by the time they're harvested, but some tenacious bits, which are unpleasant to eat, may remain.)

2. Rinse and drain the fresh fiddleheads in at least 3 changes of cold water. Fill a 3-quart saucepan with water to a depth of 3 inches and bring it to a vigourous oil over high heat. Add the fiddleheads and boil for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the fiddleheads into a colander and run cold water over them to halt the cooking. Drain them once more and set aside. If using frozen fiddleheads, blanch them for a few seconds in vigorously boiling water, drain them into a colander, and rinse with cold running water to halt the cooling. Drain again and set aside.

3. To make the flavouring paste, place the shallots, garlic, turmeric, ginger, and chillis in a small food processor. Pulse until you have a smooth paste the consistency of creamy mashed potatoes, with no visible pieces or chunks of shallot or garlic. If the paste won't puree properly and repeatedly creeps up the side of the processor instead of grinding, add up to 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon at a time, periodically turning the processor off and scraping the unground portions down toward the blade.

4. Rinse and dry the 3-quart saucepan, add the oil, and place over medium-low heat. Test to see if the oil is the right temperature by adding a pinch of the ground paste. The paste should sizzle slightly around the edges, not fry aggressively or sit motionless. When the oil is ready, add all the paste and sauté, stirring as needed to prevent scorching, until the garlic and shallots no longer smell raw and the paste begins to separate from the oil, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the asam gelugor and basil, if using, and the shrimp, stirring well to combine. Raise the heat slightly and cook until the shrimp turn pink, about two minutes.

5. Add 1/2 cup of the coconut milk, all of the water, and the fiddleheads and stir well to combine. Raise the heat slightly and bring the coconut milk to a gentle simmer. Immediately reduce the heat a bit and continue to cook, stirring often, until the fiddleheads are fork-tender but not mushy, about ten minutes. They should be deep forest green, not spring green, by the time they're finished cooking. Add the salt and sugar and stir to combine.

6. Stir in the remaining 1 cup coconut milk and then raise the heat slightly. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, stirring constantly, until the coconut milk is heated through, about two minutes. Remove the basil stem and asam gelugor, if used. Taste once more for salt, and add a pinch if needed.

7. Transfer to a serving dish. Set the curry aside to rest for 10 to 15 minutes or longer before eating, which will allow the flavours to intensify and mingle.

1 comment:

Andrea Hensen said...

Gosh you have a way with words! This post was most excellent dude! And just a heads up, if you wrote a book (covering any topic with the exception of mathamatics) I would most certainly purchase it and relish every bit of wit as if it were your last:D
Thanks for sharing!