Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thai-Chinese Stir-fried Shrimp with Asparagus in Oyster Sauce

For reasons I don't understand, I have put few stir-fried dishes on my blog. A reader asked for more recipes after I posted one on stir-fried broccoli (5/26/09). In three years of this blog, I only have one other stir-fry recipe (on 10/27/08).

Yet at home, basically Chinese stir-fries have been pretty much my most frequent dishes for family and friends. Ever since our years in Malaysia and sharing kitchen duties with a skillful Chinese cook, quickly made stir-fried treats have been family favorites.

The dishes are sometimes the main course with unsalted Thai jasmine rice (blog post of 1/26/08). Sometimes they are side dishes for Thai curries. Healthy, economical and quick to make, stir-fries typically use meat or seafood in small quantities as flavoring rather than principal ingredient. There are, of course, both purely vegetarian stir-fries and those heavy in meat or seafood. But even for the meat or seafood dishes, vegetables are present in quantity for contrast and texture.

Here is a colorful stir-fried vegetable dish garnished with shrimp that in Thailand would accompany a richly flavored curry or other meat or fish dish. It could also, along with rice, stand as the principal dish for a lunch.

Of obvious Chinese ancestry, this recipe nonetheless has uniquely Thai touches, including the use of fish sauce (nam pla) rather than soy sauce. Another Thai feature is that the sauce around the vegetables is neither oily nor thickened, as Chinese stir-fried dishes can be.

The recipe serves six as a side dish, or 4 as a main luncheon or supper dish. Either way, it would always be served with white unsalted rice.

Thai-Chinese Shrimp with Asparagus

1/2 pound shrimp, as fresh as possible (or frozen, raw)
1 small bunch of thin asparagus
1 medium crown of broccoli
2 large scallions (green onions), including the greens
1 large clove of garlic
1/2 inch fresh ginger
2 tablespoons canola oil (not olive)
1-1/2 tablespoons Chinese oyster sauce (available at Asian groceries)
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce (available at Asian groceries), or soy sauce

If using frozen shrimp, defrost them quickly in a bowl of cool water, changing the water once or twice. If fresh shrimp, rinse well.

Drain shrimp. Peel them, leaving tail shells on. De-vein by cutting shallowly down the middle of the back of the shrimp and lifting out vein with the tip of a knife. Butterfly shrimp, if desired, by slicing down part way into the middle of the back (near the head end) along the vein line. Rinse, then pat shrimp dry with paper towels. Refrigerate until needed.

Prepare vegetables, placing them in separate piles until needed: Cut off tough lower third of asparagus stems. Cut asparagus into 2-inch lengths, slicing stem on an angle. Cut off all but about 1-1/2 inches of broccoli stem. Cut broccoli lengthwise into small, similarly sized flowerets, each with a strip of stem. Cut scallions diagonally into 1-inch lengths. Mince garlic. Slice ginger paper-thin. Stack up slices and shred them into narrow threads.

In wok or large frying pan, precook asparagus in one cup of boiling, lightly salted water, stirring and tossing until bright green and crisp-tender, about 1/2 minute. Lift out of water and store on a plate. Reheat water and precook broccoli similarly. Reserve blanching water in a cup. Rinse wok or pan.

Reheat wok or pan to medium high. Add oil, garlic and ginger. Stir and fry briefly until fragrant but not browned, 10 to 15 seconds. Add shrimp and stir and fry until the color has mostly turned pink. Add precooked vegetables plus scallion. Stir once. Add oyster sauce and fish or soy sauce. Add one tablespoon of vegetable water. Stir and fry briefly.

Taste sauce. It should be slightly salty (the vegetables will soak up salt). If necessary, add a little salt. Serve immediately on a platter or plate, heaped up in the middle.

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