I made one of the biggest blunders of my fairly short cooking career last night. It’ll ensure that I will never again be so careless, mostly because it is so damn embarrassing. I pride myself in my knife skills; I tell people that sharp knives are actually safer than dull ones because sharp ones will make clean cuts into the food and dull ones will end up slipping and sticking a hand.
But to my delayed realization and horror, I made one of those nice clean cuts straight onto myself. I cut myself! I’ve never cut myself in the kitchen before! I cut myself so badly that I sheared off half of the nail of my left index finger and took a chunk out of the nail bed. Distraction + sharp knife + slippery onion + cockiness = nine fingers. My friend now calls me 9 Fingers.
I was cooking for a friend and father’s business dinner gathering, and it happened right at the beginning. I didn’t bleed all over the food or anything (and don’t worry, the shard of nail and slab of flesh was disposed of and never touched the ingredients), but I had my poor, destroyed finger wrapped in paper towels and actually managed to continue chopping the onion, the garlic cloves, the ginger, and the three tomatoes required for an Indian-inspired shrimp curry. (The recipe is a Lagasse but it was heavily modified due to a lack of certain ingredients.) My friend stepped up and chopped the four jalapeño peppers, but ended up maiming himself too by foolishly rubbing his right eye afterwards. What a fiasco.
I also came up with a nifty panko-crusted shrimp recipe that I was able to bread and fry with one hand and without egg. Yay for improvisation! I served it with a honey Dijon mustard dipping sauce, and it was a hit. Definitely worth making again, especially with two hands.
The other very exciting thing about that evening was being subjected to Aryuvedic medicine. That is another passion of mine: medicine and healing of all sorts, especially complementary and integrative forms. Since it is an Indian household, my friend’s father had a whole closet full of different oils for different ailments. Having bled for several hours, I was starting to feel lightheaded and tired; just as my friend was about to take me to urgent care, his dad stepped in, cleaned the wound and pressed clover oil into my very severe cut. Oh. My. God. I think I know now what it feels like to be burned with a strong acid. It burned for three straight minutes with an intensity that nearly knocked me unconscious. I would have let out the most ear-splitting scream if not for my pride and the fear of frightening the many guests downstairs. But I survived, and to my joy and complete shock, it stopped the bleeding. So, now, back to work!
Later I was called on to (literally) slap some pupusas together– it was a fusion creation of my friend’s father, a cross between Indian and Salvadorean cuisines. Although tricky at first, with minimal instruction I was patting them together, throwing them around like a pro, stuffing the moist dough with curried potatoes, refried beans and Monterey cheese. They then sat on a thin bed of ghee on a pan to grill until cooked through, flipped when golden. I worked like a madwoman, and it was so gratifying.
I got compliments all night as dinner proceeded, and I tried my best to be graceful in accepting them instead of bowing my head, clasping my hands behind my back, shuffling my feet saying Oh garsh, it was nothing, it couldn’t have been that tasty. (I am that kind of moron.) I was asked again and again where I learned to cook Indian food, and the crowd, save for one person, were all Indian people! How flattering is that! I was thanked by my friend and his father profusely too, but after having catered a 25-person party all by myself, cooking 12 hours straight and 18 hours total for it, I feel like I can take on anything. But that’s a story for another time, another time soon.
The two big lessons I learned from that night: do not get cocky with a sharp knife (and curl your fingers as you were instructed by the chef, for god sake!), and do not be afraid to improvise. The recipe, as I have always known, is only a guideline; I finally and wholeheartedly put that into practice and reaped the astounding benefits.
And now, for the loose guidelines that are my recipes from that evening. Sorry folks, I have no idea how to make those delectable Indian pupusas save how to put them together. Shrimp lovers, you are in luck. I also apologize for the lack of pictures; I blame it on the lack of finger.
Panko-Crusted Shrimp with a Honey Dijon Dipping Sauce
For the shrimp:
3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons of honey
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ginger, minced
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten OR (improvisation) a generous scoop of mayonnaise
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
vegetable oil for frying
For the dipping sauce:
1/2 cup of mayonnaise
1 tablespoon of honey
2 tablespoons of dijon mustard
(These are guesses! I really don’t know how much I used of each. You can adjust the amounts of honey and mustard to fit your taste!)
In a bowl, throw together the oil, honey, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Add the shrimp and toss it around some. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or so.
Meanwhile, in another bowl, mix together the ingredients to the dipping sauce. Again, the amounts are guesses. Adjust amounts according to your preference of level of sweetness and tang.
Once done marinating, set up some bowls: one for the flour, one for the egg or mayo, and one for the Panko. Take each shrimp and dredge them in the flour. Then dip them into the egg or spread the mayo on them and roll them in the Panko to coat the entire surface. Shake off the excess breadcrumbness.
Pour vegetable oil so that it comes to about half (or a little less) than the shrimp’s width and heat it at medium high. When the oil is shimmery, carefully place them so that they don’t spatter and fry until golden brown and beautiful, about a minute on each side. Transfer them to a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb the excess oil. Make sure that the Panko doesn’t burn, and scoop out the burnt excess crumbs that are at the bottom of the pan.
Indian-inspired Shrimp Curry
Modified from a recipe taken off of Emeril Lagasse’s collection from footnetwork.com
1/4 cup ghee or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons of mustard seeds
2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
1 cup of red onion, chopped
4 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
3 tablespoons of ginger, minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste (or ketchup)
3 large tomatoes, chopped
1 (13.5 ounce) can of unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 pounds of shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 teaspoons of salt
1/4 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped
Steamed basmati rice with a few teaspoons of ghee for serving
Put a large pan on medium heat. Add the ghee or oil and toast the mustard and cumin seeds until fragrant, 2 minutes. Add the onion, jalapeños, ginger, and garlic and sauté, until the onions soften, about 7 minutes or so. Add the tomato paste or ketchup and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Add the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes release some liquid and are soft, about 4 minutes. Put the heat to high and add the coconut milk. Cook the concoction until it is reduced by about half, about 5 minutes.
Season the shrimp with the salt and add it to the pan, stirring frequently, and cook until the shrimp is pink and happy looking, about 5 minutes. Garnish with the cilantro and serve over the rice. YUMMY!