Craig accused me of trying to kill him on Saturday night. Keep in mind he said dinner was outstanding, even posted about it on Facebook. I questioned him as to how silly such a thing would be since I was eating the same Spicy Shrimp Soup was he was as our starter. It was based on a recipe by local St. Louis author, Naam Pruitt, from her cookbook, limegrass & lemons. She comments that it’s not a soup for the faint-hearted, and she's not kidding (and instructs you to keep a box of tissues around – good advice, too). But it’s much more than simply a burn-your-lips spicy dish. The broth has depth and a rather addictive complexity. It is very simple, basically shrimp and straw mushrooms, and the fish sauce and lemongrass add unique sourness that offsets the spice. This is a keeper.
NOTE if you’ve never used fish sauce, seek it out from your local Asian market.Now. Yes, it’s made from fermented fish (typically anchovies), which means it does not need to be refrigerated and lasts forever. It is a staple in Southeast Asian cooking, but be forewarned, fish sauce does have a pungent odor and is quite salty. The fishiness is far less noticeable when cooked/baked/grilled in a dish. I’ve read that it hits the umami “fifth" taste bud (besides sweet, sour, salt, and bitter) – an indescribable flavor enhancer. Savory and funky are the words that comes to mind. I read somewhere it is great in a Caesar salad, which makes sense since anchovies are a key ingredient in the dressing. Note to self to try next time.
Spicy Shrimp Soup
Serves 2 to 4
6 cups shrimp stock
8 kaffir leaves (“our” West County Whole Foods couldn’t give them away and doesn’t stock such any more, go figure, so I used a few bay leaves and zest of a whole lime)
2 stalks lemongrass, sliced into 2” pieces
1 lb. shrimp, peeled, deveined (reserve the shells for stock – see below)
1 15-oz. can whole straw mushrooms, cut in half
3 T roasted chili paste
1/4 C fish sauce
1 T chopped chili peppers – I used 4 whole dried chile de arbol peppers
3 T lime juice
1/4 C chopped cilantro
Bring the stock, lime leaves (or bay leaves and zest), lemongrass, and dried chile peppers (if that is what you are using) to a boil over high heat. **I lowered the flame and simmered for likely at least 15 minutes.**
Add the shrimp, mushrooms, chili paste, and fish sauce. Cook just until the shrimp are pink. Remove from the heat. If you have fresh chili peppers, stir them in now. Add lime juice and cilantro.
Ladle into bowls and garnish with additional cilantro.
Fish stock: Combine 7 cups of water and the reserved shrimp shells. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and discard the shells. Stock keeps covered, in the refrigerator, up to 3 days.
Our entrée was Halibut Fillets with Teriyaki Glaze, from Cooking Light, which Craig deemed “company worth,” and I agreed. I used orange juice in making the teriyaki glaze (doubled it), and it thickens beautifully in really only a minute. Craig dipped the fish in a egg-milk wash (knowledge gained from his St. Clare of Assisi Lent fish fry days) and used panko instead of plain breadcrumbs - adds such great crunch. We also made a rice-noodles and veggie stir fry from lemongrass & limes.
We’re having a dinner party in a few weeks, and Craig later suggested perhaps we could use this as our base menu. Guess we’re gonna test our friends' spiciness tolerance.