Dinner:  February 11, 2009

In the afterglow of what was one darned fine bowl of noodles, I’m wondering: why did it take me so long to discover the wonders of fish sauce? I mean, honestly, I’m thinking of all sorts of dishes past that could have benefited from a hit of that fabulous savory nectar, and I’m trying very hard not to sneak spoonfuls of it straight from the bottle.

Mike and I enjoy all sorts of Asian cuisines, but again, they are a bit outside our comfort zone for cooking at home, so we haven’t done so often. Now I’m thinking that’s just crazy, and I’m looking forward to doing some research and experimenting more.

These brothy noodles weren’t just about the fish sauce, though – they were about beautiful Maine shrimp (yes, we’re still on that kick), the shells used for stock and the tender flesh just cooked through before serving; they were also about sweet local carrots, peppery hydroponic watercress, and bright spring onions, all of which added a pop of color and clean bursts of flavor to the dish.

Shelling the tiny shrimp was really the most complicated part of this dish, and it wasn’t difficult at all. The rest came together quickly and easily, and the result was so good, there’s no way I won’t make this again. Here’s what I did (and I actually measured, so you even get something resembling a recipe):

Brothy shrimp noodles

A glug of olive oil
1-2 large-ish spring onions, bulbs and green tops sliced and separated
1 long, thin dried chile pepper, lightly crumbled
1 lb. Maine shrimp, peeled, shells reserved
6 cups water
1 package thin cellophane noodles, plus water for soaking
2 tablespoons fish sauce (or more to taste)
Juice of one lime (or more to taste)
1-2 medium carrots, finely shredded or grated
1-2 handfuls of watercress
Asian chile sauce (like Sriracha) for serving

In a large pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced spring onion bulb and the chile pepper and cook until fragrant. Add the shrimp shells, tossing to coat with the oil, and cook 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the water, cover the pot, reduce heat to low and cook 20 minutes or so, then pour through a cheesecloth-lined strainer, pressing down with a ladle to extract all of the liquid from the shells. Discard the solids and return the stock to the pot (wipe out any remaining solids from the pot first). Add fish sauce and lime, stirring through, cover and bring to a low boil.

In a kettle or separate pot, bring several cups of water to a boil, and then pour them over the cellophane noodles in a bowl. Let noodles soak for 10 minutes, then drain noodles and set aside. To serve, place some of the noodles in deep bowls; scatter the sliced green tops of the spring onions over, as well as some of the grated carrot. Place some of the shrimp on top, and then carefully ladle the hot stock into the bowls, gently stirring through – the shrimp will cook in a minute or two just from the heat of the stock. Top with watercress and serve, passing chile sauce, additional fish sauce and lime juice at the table to adjust seasoning to taste.

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