I’m not sure what’s gotten into him, but Chopper’s been chomping at the Paper Chef bit extra hard for days. Usually, when the time grows nigh, he gets notions. “Whatever the ingredients are,” he says, days before they’re announced, “I’m gonna use _____.” And then he proceeds to name some exotic item in our pantry or our freezer that quite possibly won’t go with anything on the final Paper Chef ingredient list.
And so, on Friday afternoon, when we checked the list, it was no surprise that thoughts of the freezer item du jour fled out the window and instead we began the required pondering of item number four.
Ingredient 1: Rice
Ingredient 2: Carrots
Ingredient 3: Anchovies
Ingredient 4: Something from the other side of the world that helps make this dish a celebration for you.
Hmmm… Something from the other side of the world, we contemplate, conveniently forgetting the whole “celebration” bit because just finding something from the other side of the world around these parts can be quite the challenge.
Immediately, Chopper starts talking Asian food because, well, the ingredients rather scream Asian, but I interrupt and say, “hey, let’s figure out where exactly the other side of the world is. Who knows. It could be nowhere near Asia, geographically speaking.”
So, after several minutes of semi-fruitless longitude, latitude, and antipode googling, we pull out our trusty National Geographic Atlas of the World and do the math.
Ahah. Page 168, 48S, 57E give or take a few degrees, and there we are. In the middle of the Indian Ocean.
But wait! There’s land nearby! Maybe they’ve got a national cuisine!
Right. The nearest land to our antipode, as it happens, is a tiny little island called ÃŽle de l’Est, the (appropriately named) Eastern most member of the Crozet Islands.
Hey! They’re a French Colony — we can cook something French! Wait a sec. France still has colonies?
Well, an interesting thought, but probably not exactly what Owen, our illustrious Paper Chef host, had in mind. No, let’s check out the local flora and fauna… No trees, not much growing on the ground that looks edible… a few imported species that, for the most part, have vanished… Ah, here we go:
Whoa. Okay, okay, we’re not really going to cook penguin. They’re too cute and fluffy, and honestly where is one supposed to find penguin meat on this short notice?
(By the way when searching (unsuccessfully) for nearby penguin vendors, we happened upon a place in Seattle that sells kangaroo! Note for future reference…)
So then, no food from the antipode, sad to say.
We stare at the map a while longer.
“Well,” I offer, “it’s kinda close to Africa.”
(And no, we are not googling that scary place in the Midwest that sells lion meat.)
So, Chopper dives into a bit of quick spice research and comes up with tamarind, a tasty fruit native to tropical Africa. He jumps in the car, heads out to the store and… comes back empty-handed. Tamarind is not to be found on our island.
Back to the spice research.
Ahah! Fenugreek, indigenous to Northern Africa through the Mediterranean and into Asia, this herb is extremely common in African cuisine, so that could count, right? You know fenugreek was used by ancient Egyptians to embalm mummies? How cool is that?
Okay, that’s one… close to our antipode, though rather far to the north. So, we fudge a little.
Meanwhile, there’s that whole “celebration” thing we’ve forgotten about. We ponder a bit further, and unable to settle on a single ingredient number four, decide to celebrate the following cool, far-from-home items we’ve located on recent culinary expeditions, first to our local favorite shop The Gourmet’s Galley, and then to Uwajimaya in Seattle.
1) Szechwan peppercorns. I spotted a bag of these at Gourmet’s Galley a short while back and sent Chopper into paroxysms of joy. These babies aren’t easy to find. For a while, the FDA had a complete ban on their importation because they carried a citrus canker, but this past spring that ban was lifted after it was discovered that heating the peppercorns to 160F killed the canker bacteria. Now, they’re simply heated before importation. (And there was much rejoicing!)
2) From Uwajimaya, dried shitake mushrooms. Yeah, they’re not that hard to find — unless you live on an island, and then the come in tiny, “gourmet” packages that cost an arm and two kidneys. So, we got the nice big bag at Uwajimaya, and again, there was much rejoicing!
3) Last, because it’s on the list already, the piece de resistance for our festive dish: anchovies. Not anchovies in a tin, or anchovies in a jar, but dried anchovies from Japan. The ones that still look like cute little fishies, so much so that if you glued strings to them and hung them from the ceiling under a blue light you’d have quite a lovely little aquatic mobile (not to mention one hell of a great Christmas present for the cat). Yes, those anchovies, because there’s nothing that says Insane Belly Timber Paper Chef Entry quite like dried fish leaping out of shitake mushroom cap siu mai.
Special Siu Mai and Fried Shrimp in Chili Sauce
Flavoring paste (for both recipes)
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- 8 anchovy fillets
- 2 teaspoon Szechwan peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon fenugreek
- 1/4 cup sesame oil
Toast spices and grind them with mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
Blanch carrot in boiling water until soft, then place all ingredients in a blender and puree.
Special Siu Mai
- 3/4 pound pork spare rib meat
- 6 whole water chestnuts, julienned
- 2 tablespoon flavoring paste (see above)
- 15 dried shitake mushroom caps
- 15 dried anchovies
Cut sparerib meat into cubes and place into a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped.
Place meat and flavoring paste in a mixing bowl and gently kneed together with your hands and then refrigerate for at least eight hours.
After meat mixture is chilled, soak mushroom caps in enough water to cover for 30 minutes.
Remove the mushroom caps from water and squeeze out excess.
Take meat mixture and mold it into small balls. Fill the mushroom caps with meat and place a dried anchovy in each as garnish. Steam for 20 to 25 minutes.
Serve with steamed rice.
Fried Shrimp in Chili Sauce
- 15 21/30 shrimp, peeled and deveined
- Flour, egg, and panko for breading
For the sauce
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil
- 3 tablespoons Chinese hot bean paste
- 2 tablespoons Flavoring Paste (see above)
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
Bread and fry shrimp in vegetable oil until golden brown.
Remove from oil, drain and set aside.
In a wok, heat peanut oil until smoking.
Add hot bean paste and flavoring paste
When the aroma becomes thick and ingredients begin to smoke, add fish sauce.
Add shrimp and toss until the shrimp are thoroughly covered with the sauce.
Serve with steamed rice.
Serving suggestion: Furikake for an extra fishy kick.
(Okay, we admit, the rice isn’t so much in the dishes as under the dishes, but we’ll just plead “dim sum” as an excuse and suggest that one does not ever eat dim sum without copious amounts of steamed rice.)
Now, for this month’s Paper Chef, previous winner Noodle Cook (and yes this is, happily, all our fault!) has created categories! And there are prizes! (I now officially feel like a complete slacker.)
So, without further ado, here are Noodle’s categories and our self-nomination within each appropriate one.
Paper Chef Personality – creative, clever or witty writer. ::cough:: Um, penguin meat and fishie mobiles. Do you need to ask?
Paper Chef Super Saver – budget meals or crowd pleaser specialist. We’re probably not suited to this one because, frankly, I’m too lazy to do the math. I will say that the only items that cost more than a buck or two were the shrimp and the pork spare rib meat, and even all of that was pretty darned cheap. Hell, if dim sum’s not cheap, it’s not doing its job and should be sacked immediately.
Paper Chef Prestige – food styling, presentation or plating up expert. Styling? Hahahahahahahah. Sorry. Do leaping fishies count?
Paper Chef Nutrition Genie – magician for getting fussy diners to eat veggies, less salt, less fat. Usually, Chopper Dave and the phrase “eat veggies, less salt, less fat” do not belong in the same kitchen, but with Asian food he makes an exception. On the Chopper Health Scale, I’d give these dishes a solid 8.5.
Paper Chef Supreme – the champion for Paper Chef #13. Well, one would assume that if we’re here at all, we’re here for the big prize, eh?
So then, clear as mud.
But wait, there’s more! Didn’t Noodle say something about bonus points?
Oh crap! We forgot the festive atmosphere! Quick! Scramble for the camera and –didn’t Noodle Cook say something about — what was it — beer? Incense?
Ah, here we are:
Hey, don’t bogart that siu mai, man.
So, how’d it all taste? Bonus versatility points to Chopper for inventing a distinctive flavoring paste that stood out in both recipes, even though one was pork and the other seafood, and one was mild and the other hot and spicy. The water chestnuts added a great texture to the sui mai and the fish didn’t so much add a fishy flavor but a perfect salty seasoning. The shrimp, despite being tossed in a sauce, remained crunchy, yet succulent. I was amazed at how well I could discern each individual ingredient in the mix for both dishes — even the fenugreek and the carrot, which I would have expected to be lost, were evident. All in all a splendid meal!