Spring Thing 1: Spot Prawn Tacos

Yes, it’s been a while. As you’ll see, we’ve been busy cooking, but life hasn’t permitted us time to blog about it. With vacation upon us (well, one of us, at least), it’s time to catch up. Here’s the first in a series of posts on what we’ve done with some springtime delicacies.

Spot prawns: a sort of Faustian bargain. Once you’ve tasted them, you will always and forever be disappointed by almost any other shrimp, particularly the bagged, black tiger specimens that find their way to our freezers from some murky water-farm in the far East. Spot prawns are special. Sweetly, saltily rich. They’re very tender and delicate – somewhere between shrimp and sole – so their quality depends on their freshness, much more so than many other proteins. Try to buy them alive and literally kicking, taken fresh from the water at your command. (You can get good frozen ones, but it’s a gamble, since poor handling – namely, leaving the heads in contact with the bodies for more than a few minutes after they croak – leaves them mushy).

When you do find good ones, you’d do well to make Hapa Umi Spot Prawn Tacos. But beware – there’s a serious error in that recipe, so read on for the authoritative version.

First, swallow your aversion to killing long enough to throw the angry little beasties into a sauté pan with a little canola or peanut oil.

When they turn red, throw a little sake in the pan, give it a shake, scrape up any browned bits, and empty the pan into a bowl. Let the prawns cool enough that you can handle them, then tear off their heads and shells and reserve them along with the juice. Set the prawns aside.

Take the reserved heads and shells, and sauté them with the chilis, garlic, and shallots. Add 1C of canola oil, and simmer gently for half an hour.

Strain, and there’s your shrimp oil. Here’s where the recipe runs into trouble. “Whisk egg whites with vinegar and oil slowly to egg mixture and continue whisking to form mayonnaise.” Leaving aside the grammar and spelling, there are no egg whites in the ingredient list, and using them won’t give you mayo. So:

Blend egg yolks with vinegar. With your blender running, add the shrimp oil very slowly, drop-by-drop at first, then in a thin stream. Once it’s all incorporated, you’ll have shrimp mayo. Add a little salt (1/4 tsp or so) and some medium-hot chili (ancho or piment d’Espelette).

Get yourself some corn tortillas (no wheat wraps, please, ick), some home-made salsa, maybe a little mashed avocado, and build your tacos. Baja on a plate!


Tortas de Lentejas: I will not be beaten by a lentil

When MC was home in his fabulous home town, he was taken by his equally fabulous sister to an excellent Mexican restaurant,  Cilantro Bar and Grill. Oddly, it’s in a strip mall between an unsuccessful insurance company and a particularly vile shopping centre, but it doesn’t matter. Perhaps to ward off the anger of Tea Party barbarians, the wait-staff is eerily blond, in that transparent skin kind of way. My sister’s largely Latin American circle finds it hysterically funny to be served authentic and delicious Mexican-food-like-you-can-only-get-in-Mexican-home by the Dane County Sons and Daughters of Finland. But as MC is wont to do, he digresses.

As a true nomnivore, MC doesn’t usually notice when a truly excellent meal is lacking in meat or dairy. But the tortas de lentejas he was served were so delicious, a meeting of the American Cow Association would not have batted an eye:  firm, earthy lentils fried in golden cakes, served with delicious homemade salsa, wilted spinach and thin yam fries.  His own attempt (below) was not so delicious, but he’ll try again and again, positing the results here. Please help him out if this is something you can make.

The recipe was lifted word by word in Vegetarian Times from Rick Bayless.