Spicy, crunchy, deep-fried shrimp fritters. Sort of Thai-Vietnamese flavors. Amanda Hesser wrote about these a couple of weeks ago, as part of a polemic exhorting us to make and eat more fritters of any and every kind. Good for us or no, it's really rather refreshing to have someone encouraging us to eat more deep-fried food. She also makes the excellent point that if fried at a hot enough temperature, fritters aren't particularly fat-laden. These were strikingly crisp and quite greaseless for something that had gone bathing in hot oil.
It's pretty rare that I jump right on a recently-published recipe and get to work. Usually it simmers with me for some period of time; then I start tinkering with it in my head, and by the time I finally get around to actually making it, my end result may only barely resemble the original. Although this recipe isn't exactly hot off the press anymore, my having cooked it last night (almost exactly as it was writtten, too) represents a fairly short leap from print to reality, at least by my standards. I just had to try them. Puffy shrimp patties with a resonance of fish sauce and ginger and chilies were singing to me, virtually crying out to be made. They occupied a disproportionately large area of my food-imagination head-space for a couple of weeks; all I needed was an excuse, and a particularly beloved cousin's arrival for dinner provided me with one.
Deviating from standard operating procedure, which is to mess with everything, I really didn't play around with this recipe. The one change I made was to use a teaspoon of Vietnamese chili-garlic sauce instead of bashing up a dried chili in the mortar and pestle. This recipe is a bit time-consuming only if you do as I did (in the interests of our current household state of frugality), and buy smaller (actually graded "large," as opposed to extra large, colossal, jumbo, mammoth...) shrimp in the shell. Per pound, the little ones are of course going to take more time to shell and scrupulously clean, de-vein and chop. If you're pressed for time and/or not financially challenged, buy shelled and cleaned shrimp, and it will take you almost no time at all. In either case, you can prep this early in the day: clean, chop, mix it all up, chill it and be ready to fry when your guests arrive. Or even pre-fry, as suggested in the article, and have them in a warming oven, which doesn't take a whole lot away from these crisp little devils.
My longing to make this helped me conquer my loathing of deep frying, reinforced by recent disasters in this area. Again, I did as Amanda (may I call her Amanda?) suggests, and used a taller, narrower pot with only a couple of inches of oil. This cut way back on spatter, and since I covered the pot as soon as I was finished frying, my home didn't reek of cooking oil either.
All I can really say is make them, wrap them up in leafy bouquets of lettuce and cilantro and mint with a squeeze of lime juice, and eat. Eat them right away, and be happy. Whatever else you're serving isn't going to matter much, honestly. We had a perfectly nice spicy hot-pot of soba noodles, chicken, bok choy, carrots and such, but I really just wanted to go back and eat more shrimp fritters.
Shrimp Fritters Wrapped in Lettuce and Herbs
adapted from the NY Times Magazine, September 16, 2007
Chopped raw shrimp are sticky, so no batter is needed — a little rice flour holds the fritter together.
10 ounces small shrimp, peeled and chopped (I used a pound of raw shrimp, which came to 13 ounces after shelling and cleaning)
¼ cup minced scallion
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 dried red chili, ground with a mortar and pestle (or 1 tsp. chili-garlic sauce)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons rice flour
Canola oil, for frying
12 cilantro sprigs
24 mint leaves
12 bibb lettuce leaves
2 limes, quartered.
1. In a bowl, combine the shrimp, scallion, ginger, chili, fish sauce, sesame oil, salt, sugar and rice flour.
2. In a heavy saucepan, heat 2 inches of oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, drop the shrimp in flattened golf-ball-size patties into the oil. Fry until golden on all sides, turning once, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels. To serve, place a fritter, a cilantro sprig and two mint leaves on a lettuce leaf, sprinkle with lime juice, roll up and eat immediately. Makes about 12 fritters.
I ate the last of these for lunch today, ice-cold from the fridge, not even bothering to reheat them -- although I did give them their lettuce/herb wraps and their splash of lime juice. They were delicious cold, too.