Saturday, July 4, 2009

Tekito Shrimp Stir-fry

As both an island and the home of sushi, seafood is kind of a big deal here in Japan. Though the popularity of red meat has risen in recent years, seafood is still a major part of the Japanese diet. Back in Michigan, most types of seafood cost 2-3x what I spent on chicken, pork, and beef, pretty much a deal-breaker for a poor college student, so it rarely figured into my dinner plans. Here in Tokyo, however, there is an amazing variety of fresh fish available year-round and it is generally less expensive than in the US (though the price of the really high quality stuff is through the roof), so I’ve been trying to incorporate more of it into my diet.

The biggest problem I run into is not knowing what the hell anything is. Besides the fact that I have to learn the Japanese name for everything I know in English (though, admittedly, that’s not a lot), there are dozens of kinds of fish here that aren’t available in the US to begin with. I don’t know a terribly large amount about the characteristics of different fish to begin with so figuring out what to buy or how to cook it is a bit of a hurdle. I’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s available, but I’m hoping to be able to convince myself to be more adventurous with my future purchases. In the meantime, my local fishmonger almost always has shrimp available at a reasonable price so I can fall back on that even when the fresh fish is not looking so great or has sold out. It's also nice because peeling and deveining shrimp is a good bit easier than dealing with all the little bones in a piece of fish. In the US, fish is usually sold in steaks or filets with the bones removed, but here they tend to be sold whole or fileted, with all those pointy little bones lurking in them...

I bought 3/4 lb of shrimp earlier this week and split it between a lunch and two dinners. One of the toughest parts of cooking seafood is not overcooking it. Of my two dinners, I managed to get it right for the first one, with tender juicy shrimp that sort of burst with seafood goodness in your mouth. The second dinner was not nearly as successful, the shrimp turning out pretty firm (fortunately not to the point of rubbery though). It wasn't bad, it just wasn't great. Clearly some practice is needed.

This is a good example of one of my tekito stir-fries: I took a the protein and veggies I had available, gave them a quick whirl in the wok, and threw together a sauce from what was on hand and sounded good. I make a lot of meals like this. Marinading the shrimp didn't help much, but that's probably due more to the fact that I cooked them too long. I'd been hoping that the corn starch from the marinade would help make them fry up golden brown, but that didn't work out so well. However, I did give the tofu lots of time to drain, then powdered it with corn starch, which resulted in a nice crust on the tofu and helped keep it fall apart under the constant stirring. The sauce was really good and the veggies all turned out well; the only problem was the shrimp being cooked to long. I suppose you can't get it all right every time, so all I can do is take away the little lessons learned and hope to do better next time.

2 parts Shiao Xing rice wine
1 part Soy sauce
1 part Corn starch
1/2 part Chili oil

2 parts Soy sauce
1 part Shiao Xing rice wine
1 part Hoisin sauce
1 part ginger (finely minced)
1/2 part sugar
5 thai chilis (thinly sliced)

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