Shrimp and chive tortellini with sake beurre blanc, a Chinese-Italian-French-Japanese dish, is slightly more complex than my usual recipes.
The filling is a classic Cantonese pairing of shrimp and chives (use Chinese chives, which are strongly flavoured, not the more delicate Allium schoenoprasum used in European dishes), and the wrappers are what you would use for sui gau (boiled dumplings). The dumplings are made into a typical Italian stuffed-pasta shape, tortellini. The beurre blanc is a traditional French sauce that goes well with seafood, but here we make it with sake rather than white wine. Confused? Never mind, just try it – the dish is delicious.
Shrimp and chive tortellini with sake beurre blanc
As with all shrimp dishes I make, I start with fresh seafood, with the heads and shells on, purchased from wet-market vendors. Once, to save time, I tried using frozen shrimp meat and the result was so bad I had to throw away the dish.
600 grams fresh shrimp (with bodies about 8cm long), to yield at least 250 grams shrimp meat
80 grams green Chinese chives (use the flat chives, not the flowering chives, which are tougher)
3 grams fine sea salt
1/8 tsp finely ground white pepper
1 tsp cornstarch
About 40 thin sui gau pei (round dumpling wrappers)
A little cooking oil, for coating the tortellini
For the sake beurre blanc:
5ml cooking oil
1 small shallot
120 grams unsalted butter, chilled
Fine sea salt
A few fresh chives, finely minced
Small greens such as nasturtiums, pea shoots or shiso leaves
Pull the heads and shells off the shrimp. Slit the shrimp down the back and remove the vein. Use a sharp chef’s knife to hand-chop the shrimp into very small pieces. Do not use a food processor – you want texture in the filling, not a purée. Put the chopped shrimp in a bowl.
Cut the chives into 3mm pieces and add them to the bowl. Sprinkle the salt over the shrimp and chives, then add the sake, white pepper and cornstarch. Mix thoroughly, then cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour so the mixture firms up.
Make the tortellini. Pour some water into a small dish (this is for dampening the edge of the wrappers, so it adheres). Line a flat baking dish with parchment or cling film. Place the stack of dumpling wrappers on a plate.
Put a spoonful of the shrimp/chive mixture in the centre of a dumpling wrapper. With your fingertip, very lightly dampen the edge of half of the wrapper. Fold over the other half of the wrapper so it covers the filling, pressing out as much air as possible. Press on the edges of the wrapper so the filling is securely enclosed. Dampen one corner of the wrapper then bring the other side over. Firmly press the two corners together so they adhere. The dumpling should be plump but not overfilled, or it might burst. Place the dumpling on the baking tray and use the remaining filling and wrappers the same way; this makes about 40. Place the tortellini slightly apart on the baking tray so they are not touching. After shaping all the tortellini, place the tray in the fridge while making the sake beurre blanc and heating the water.
Fill a large pot with water to a depth of about 15cm and heat it over a high flame.
Finely mince the shallot. Cut the butter into small cubes (about 5mm). Heat the oil in a small pan placed over a low flame. Add the shallot and a light sprinkling of salt, then cook until the shallot starts to soften. Stir in the sake and increase the heat to medium. Simmer the sake until it reduces to about 10ml. Turn the heat to low and, whisking constantly, start adding the butter one or two chunks at a time. Whisk until almost all the butter is melted and emulsified into the liquid, before adding another one or two chunks of butter. Whisk constantly and don’t add the butter too quickly or the emulsion will break (the fat will float to the surface). After adding all the butter, the sauce will be light and cohesive. Turn off the flame and taste the sauce, adding salt, if needed.
When the water is boiling, start cooking the tortellini. Add about a dozen of the tortellini to the boiling water. They should sink to the bottom of the pot, then eventually float to the surface. Stir them occasionally so they don’t stick to each other. After they float to the surface, cook them for about 30 seconds, then taste one to check if the filling is done. Use a large, flat slotted ladle to scoop the tortellini from the water. Drain them briefly in a colander, then put them in a bowl and drizzle very lightly with oil. Mix gently so the tortellini are lightly coated. (If you don’t do this, the tortellini will stick to each other.) Cook the remaining tortellini the same way.
Place the tortellini on individual plates and drizzle the beurre blanc over them. Cut the chives into 3mm pieces and scatter over the tortellini, then garnish with the greens. Serve immediately.
I usually make shrimp stock out of the heads and shells, but they also make an intense, vividly coloured oil.
The heads and shells from 600 grams of shrimp
About 300ml cooking oil
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Spread the heads and shells on a lightly oiled baking tray and place in the oven. Bake for one hour, stirring occasionally, or until the heads and shells are dry and brittle.
Transfer the contents to a medium-sized saucepan and add about 300ml of oil. Heat over a medium flame and when the oil starts to sizzle, turn the heat to low. Cook for about 45 minutes, frequently pressing down and crushing the heads and shells so they are almost submerged by the oil. The oil will take on a beautiful, reddish-orange colour. Cool the oil then strain out the heads and shells. Pour the oil through a fine sieve into a clean, sterilised bottle. Use it as a substitute for plain oil when sautéing seafood, or drizzle it over seafood dishes just before serving.