Pantry Update #6: Salt & pepper & vinegar

These past two weeks featured the basics: hot and salty, sweet and sour. Salt and pepper on shrimp, vinegar in pie, vinegary chopped “mayo”, salty fish sauce with lime and sugar.

Vinegar! pie

Dish #22: Salt & pepper shrimp

I have loved dry salt & pepper shrimp since the first time I tried the version at Kom Jug Yuen on Spadina.

Good salt & pepper shrimp has three key elements: an intoxicating scent and taste of pepper that also provides heat and tingle, a generous amount of salt that also manages to not overwhelm, and juicy shrimps encased by dry and perfectly crispy shells.

I made two tablespoons worth of a blend of dried black, red, green, and white peppercorns, long pepper and Sichuan pepper. The long pepper gave the mix a warm cinnamon note, and of course the Sichuan pepper gave it tingle.

Toasting peppercorns until fragrant

After toasting the blend in a pan for 15 minutes, I let it cool, then ground it to almost a powder with my hefty granite pestle and mortar. I mixed the resulting powder with a tablespoon of ground Himalayan salt. I like Himalayan salt because 1) it’s mild, so I can add a lot for crunch and still not over salt the food and 2) it’s pretty pink colour looks nice in my clear salt grinder. I’ve used it as my main salt consistently ever since Allison gave me some as a gift years ago.

To fry the shrimp, I used a shallow-fry method: heat 1/3 of a cup of neutral oil in a tall-sided pot (because this splatters a lot). Pat the shrimps as dry as you can, then dust them in cornstarch or similar (I used sticky rice powder). Shake off the excess cornstarch by tossing them lightly in a mesh strainer. Fry the shrimps on one side until they are cooked (i.e. opaque) just under halfway through, then flip and fry until pink and opaque all over.

I sprinkled about a third of the salt and pepper powder onto 8 nice sized shrimps. The mix should be made fresh to get a good aroma, and the leftovers can be sprinkled on anything else you typically season with the salt and pepper.

I think these turned out pretty much perfect

Dish #23: Dry-fried green beans with Taiwanese rice

This dish is officially a new standard. You can read all about it in Pantry Update #1.

Dish #24: Vinegar pie

I had never heard of vinegar pie before I read about it in a tweet by Munchies, the food magazine by VICE, but given my reputation as a vinegar drinker, I thought I should try making it.

A more appealing and equally valid name would be “sour custard pie”. The custard is made from whole eggs and white sugar, thickened with cornstarch, flavoured with vinegar, thinned with water and refined with a touch of butter.

The Munchies recipe called for lemon juice, but I decided to let the vinegar sing solo in my attempt, since all the other vinegar pie recipes I consulted only called for vinegar, and less of it. I chose apple cider vinegar, but since I did not trust the crusty sludgy stuff I had, I bought a fresh bottle for this purpose. I’m already eager to experiment with other vinegars. I’ve said I want to try black vinegar and Sichuan pepper, which sounds like a joke but is very serious.

I already had an extra pie crust rolled out and in a form tucked in away in the freezer, which meant this no-bake pie was easy to put together on a weeknight. After baking the crust, the custard took 10 minutes to combine then thicken on the stove top. Then the assembled pie is chilled in the fridge overnight.

It’s a delightful surprise. Most who tried the pie were not only stunned that they liked it, they really liked it. Only one person who tried it disliked it so much they stopped after one taste.

I made a shallow pie, which I think made for an elegant looking slice
I also assembled a cake out of a store bought shortbread, unsweetened whipped cream, and berries for a friend’s birthday.

Dish #25: Sauce gribiche on string beans

Red wine vinegar
Red wine vinegar

For reasons I can no longer remember, I decided I wanted salmon for dinner, with a green vegetable on the side. For reasons I can no longer remember, I decided I wanted to make sauce gribiche to go with it.

Sauce gribiche is sort of like a chopped chunky mayo, in that it is made with eggs and oil, but the big (critical!) difference is that the eggs are hard boiled, and then their yolks and whites are chopped separately, and then they are recombined together with oil, loads of red wine vinegar, chopped capers and cornichon (though I went for straight capers in my version), and herbs (which I skipped).

I seasoned the salmon simply, and then served it with steamed green beans and dijon roasted potatoes.

Green beans with sauce gribiche, seared salmon, dijon roasted red potatoes

Dish #26: Nước chấm for summer rolls

Fish sauce
Fish sauce

Nước chấm is the hot sour salty sweet sauce, though this time I skipped the “hot” since I did not want to buy a package of chilis just for one. The more specific name for what I made is nước mắm pha, since I used lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and water.

I had intended to make summer rolls wrapped in rice paper, but not realizing the key difference, I bought rice paper with sesame seeds it in, which do not get soft with soaking like the standard kind. Luckily, the lettuce I bought had big soft round leaves that made a nice, fresh substitute. It became a more hands on affair for the eaters, but I liked it enough I may do it on purpose in the future, with more filling options. Fronx suggested they might be good with mayo, and I completely agree.

Note to future self: I soaked the vermicelli for 5 minutes in boiling water taken off the heat, then rinsed with cold water, then patted it throughly dry with paper towels. Perfecto.

Ingredients for summer rolls


Items used up: none
Items added: four – a fresh bottle of apple cider vinegar, cornstarch, rice vermicelli, sesame rice paper
Items partly used: eight + three of the new items
Items used from the “Just use already” category: one!

Newest pantry items: sesame rice paper that I have no idea how to use, and rice vermicelli

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