Fresh shrimp are easy to find – they’re available year-round at wet markets and some of the larger supermarkets – and they’re easy to cook. The flavour and texture of fresh shrimp are almost always better than those of the frozen variety. Overcooking makes shrimp tough, though, so be vigilant.
Thai fried shrimp salad
My husband and I are lucky enough to have a Thai helper who is a very good cook. Tass made this pretty, delicious and vividly flavoured dish one night for our dinner, and I liked it so much I asked her to cook it again for the next photoshoot I did. It’s a very spicy dish (although, of course, you can use less chilli), but the mint cools the palate.
This recipe calls for Thai tempura flour, which is available in small packets at shops specialising in Southeast Asian products. Tass recommends the Gogi brand.
450 grams fresh shrimp (about 20), with bodies about 8cm long
About 10 grams red bird’s-eye chillies
2 shallots (about 50 grams)
2 spring onions
2 lemongrass stalks
10 grams fresh coriander leaves and stalks
20 grams palm sugar
20ml fish sauce
25ml fresh lime juice
40 grams dry-roasted cashews
A handful of mint leaves
Thai tempura flour
Oil, for frying
1 Remove the heads and shells from the shrimp but leave the tail on. Make a shallow, small cut in the back near the tail and pull out the vein. Put the shrimp belly side-up on a cutting board. Without cutting all the way through the flesh, slice the shrimp down the belly so the body opens up and flattens. Make a 1cm slit in the middle of the shrimp, cutting all the way through to the back. Pull the shrimp tail through the slit from the front to the back, to create a firm “knot” (this helps to keep the shrimp flat when it cooks).
2 Roughly chop the bird’s-eye chillies (Tass includes the seeds, but remove them if you want to lessen the heat). Thinly slice the shallots. Cut the spring onions into 5mm pieces. Trim the lemongrass stalks so only the bottom 5cm-6cm remains, then cut it into thin rounds. Put the chillies, shallot, spring onion and lemongrass into a bowl and mix well. Roughly chop the fresh coriander but keep it separate.
3 Crumble the palm sugar into a bowl, add the fish sauce and lime juice and stir until the sugar dissolves. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings if needed.
4 Pour some cooking oil into a pan to a depth of about 4cm and heat to 180 degrees Celsius over a medium flame. Put some of the tempura flour onto a small plate. Coat the shrimp lightly but evenly with the flour and shake off the excess. Fry the shrimp in batches for a minute or two, or until done; do not crowd the pan. Drain the shrimp on paper towels when they are cooked.
5 Place the shrimp on a serving plate. Add half the chilli/shallot/spring onion/lemongrass mixture into the bowl holding the palm sugar, fish sauce and lime juice. Stir well, then spoon this mixture over the shrimp.
6 Arrange the cashews, chopped coriander and whole mint leaves over the shrimp. Scatter some (or all) of the remaining chilli/shallot/spring onion/lemongrass over the ingredients and serve.
Mexican-style shrimp cocktail
This is a dish that my father loves; he orders it whenever we go to one of our favourite taquerias in southern California. Don’t scoff at the tomato juice – it works.
12 fresh shrimp, with bodies about 8cm long
About 50 grams white onion
1 spring onion
1 small serrano chilli, or to taste
6 fresh cherry tomatoes
1 ripe avocado
A few sprigs of fresh coriander
About 200ml canned tomato juice, chilled
A few drops of Tabasco
Fresh lime juice, to taste
Fine sea salt
Plain corn tortilla chips, for serving
1 Remove the heads and shells from the shrimp, but leave the tails. Heat a medium-sized pot of salted water over a medium flame. When the water boils, add the shrimp. Cook the shrimp until they curl and turn pink, then drain and cool to room temperature.
2 Finely chop the white onion and cut the spring onion into 5mm pieces. Finely dice the serrano chilli and halve the cherry tomatoes. Cut the avocado flesh into 1cm cubes and roughly chop the coriander.
3 Pour the tomato juice into a bowl and mix in the white onion, spring onion and chilli (you might not need all of the chilli). Season to taste with Tabasco, lime juice and salt. Spoon the mixture into two individual serving bowls. Divide the tomato and avocado pieces between the bowls and add the chopped coriander, and more tomato juice if it seems dry. Hang the shrimp, tail-side outward, from the edges of the bowls and serve with the tortilla chips.