March 31, 2006

Shocking shrimp

I can't count how many times I've cooked shrimp. Tiny shrimps, medium shrimps, large shrimps, tiger prawns; white shrimps, pink shrimps; head on, head off, de-veined; steamed, scampi, sweet-sour, chili-garlic, fried, breaded, roasted, broiled, grilled. So, you can imagine how many meals I ruined.

To save you the same misery, here are my learned-the-hard-way tips for cooking tasty, delicious shrimp:

1. Room temperature. Frozen shrimps thaw quickly, so it won't be too much of a hassle. Unless you're thawing the really big ones, in which case you just need to take them out of the freezer earlier. (No matter how much of a hurry you're in, DO NOT thaw in the microwave! Seafood and microwave don't go well together. Thaw them in water instead. Give your guests something to play with while they wait.) This room temperature requirement is important because otherwise the next tip won't work.

2. Shock treatment. Shrimp becomes tough the longer it cooks. So, the best tasting shrimp would be opaque but not tough. The solution: shock. If you're steaming, let the steam build up before you put in the shrimp. If frying, heat that oil to smoke point. If broiling, pre-heat the oven. If grilling, let's see those bright red coals! The shrimps should curl up almost instantly, and when they're whitish and all curled, take them out pronto and serve! (Remember, only a few seconds spell the difference between "flaky-scrumptious" and "hard-as-rubber" shrimps. So, practice, practice, practice!)

3. Season with a reason. Shrimps are like most seafood -- bland. Sprinkle salt and pepper, or whatever your poison is, before cooking. And unless the shrimps are a minor part of a major dish, season them again just before serving. The best just-before-serving seasoning for shrimp would be melted butter, garlic powder, flavored extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, and/or a squeeze of lemon. Of course, there's the ubiquitous marinara dipping sauce (speaking of which, soy sauce and wasabi would be fun, too!). Now, don't get carried away with the sprinkle-sprinkle-bamm seasoning -- it's easy to overwhelm these little shrimpies. Of course, if you're the adventurous type, no harm no foul!

About guest satisfaction...

Before I came to America, I thought everyone knew how to eat shrimp. Then I met folks who have zero experience in shelling cooked shrimp (they never bothered to figure out how the guys in the kitchen prepared their favorite shrimp cocktail). I even know someone who gets goosebumps at the sight of cooked shrimp with their heads on (I plan to teach him how to suck the tasty shrimp fat from inside those spiny heads! Yum!). So, ask your guests beforehand if they have qualms about consuming sea creatures -- the ones that look like insects. It would be a golden opportunity to teach someone something new.

Bon appetit!

March 29, 2006

Dishwasher lesson

I was born and raised in a tropical island. I didn't grow up operating dishwashers much like Paris Hilton didn't grow up pitching hay.

We didn't have dishwashing appliances because hand dishwashing is considered an integral part of tropical island life. And also because dishwashers require hot and cold water, an indoor engineering application that we had absolutely no use for in our lovely, steamy equatorial climate. We take refreshing cold showers 24/7.

So, when I came to America, this dishwashing contraption was as alien to me as a snow plow. But hey, I gotta learn to use it, so I used it. How hard was that -- turn knobs to settings that said Hot Start, Heavy Wash, Normal Wash, Short Wash, Rinse Only, Drying, and Stop. Simple.

I loaded the dirty dishes. Of course, dishwashing needs detergent, right? Hmm. I have detergent. There's a cup in the dishwasher door that's obviously for the detergent, so I pour it in there, close the cup, shut the door, and engage the lock. Turn knob to... uhm... Normal Wash should be good.

And the machine goes whirrrr. Okay. I can get used to this world of machines doing housework.

A few minutes later, my guardian angel whispers in my ear. "Check the dishwasher."

I go into the kitchen and notice bubbles streaming out from under the dishwasher door, and a white foam starting to crawl across the floor. Argh!

Stop! Stop! Where's the stop button?! Unplug! How do you unplug this thing? Panic!

I unlock the door and swing it open. Woah! More bubbles! Everything covered with bubbles! More bubbly water flowing onto the floor! Mop! Get the mop! Get the rags! Panic!

When I finally pulled myself together, I called the apartment maintenance.

"Our dishwasher is busted! The drain must be clogged. Could you send someone to our apartment?"

I had transferred the dishes to the sink and handwashed everything when the maintenance guy arrived.

As soon as he saw the bubbles, he looked at me and asked, "Ma'm, what detergent did you use?"

I paused, and realized I had obviously used the wrong detergent. How was I to know? Thinking quickly on my feet, I said, "Uhm, I didn't load the washer myself. Why?"

"Well, your husband might have used -that- detergent over there." He pointed at the dishwashing handsoap pump that was sitting next to the sink.

"Oh, really? Why, what's wrong with that detergent?" Busted.

"It's not for dishwashers, Ma'm. They produce too much bubbles, so they will flood the dishwashing machine."

"Ye, my husband might have used that detergent by mistake." I was certain he knew it was me.

He soaked up all the soapy bubbly water from around and inside the machine and wrung the rag over the sink. After he had wiped off all the bubbles, he ran the machine for a bit until it rinsed out whatever soapy water lurked in the plumbing.

When the man of the house got home, I told him about the incident and warned him that if the maintenance guy ever confronts him about using the wrong detergent in the dishwasher, to say, "Yes, my mistake!"

Luckily, no confrontation ever took place. And we've long moved out of that apartment complex. Since then, we... er... I... have always used the right detergent in our dishwashing machine.

March 28, 2006

A good day to learn

I always say, "Learn something new everyday."

It's actually an excuse for my ADD.

Today, I will learn to work with Blogger.

Then I'll tell you about my Chicken Cacciatore... and how I flooded the dishwasher.