Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Test Kitchen: Zucchini Carpaccio with Salt-Broiled Shrimp

This month’s Test Kitchen featured recipes from Food and Wine magazine’s best new chefs of 2010. It was a close race among the recipes, but the winner with 35 percent of the votes was the Zucchini Carpaccio recipe from Chef Jason Stratton of Seattle’s Spinasse restaurant.

Stratton’s recipe barely beat out the Salmon with Cantaloupe (34 percent) from Chef John Shields of Town House in Virginia and local Best New Chef James Syhabout of Oakland’s Commis who offered up a Green Tomatoes recipe (29 percent).

Now, I’m always a bit wary using a recipe from a restaurant chef, mostly because they often involve many ingredients and a lot of steps. And while the Zucchini Carpaccio (with shrimp) sounds simple, it was quite cumbersome. Here’s how it went in my kitchen when I tried out the recipe. As always, you can get the full recipe on the Food and Wine website.

Most of the ingredients for the recipe were easy to find (although there were a lot of them), except for the main feature: large shrimp in shell. (BTW, I cut the recipe in half.) As you can see in the picture above of the final dish from the magazine, the shrimp was cooked with the head still on. So I had to find large shrimp with head on, and it’s not as easy as you might think. It’s not at your basic Safeway and even some of the gourmet-type shops. So you have to either go to Chinatown (and for added freshness buy the shrimp live) or a specialized fish shop. I luckily found them at the seafood stand at the farmers’ market at the Civic Center on Sunday.

With my full shrimp in hand (I only paid about $3 for the six large shrimp), I started with the recipe, making the zucchini carpaccio first. I had to slice the zucchini lengthwise and then pan-fry them for a few minutes until they were slightly browned in a skillet.

After removing the zucchini strips from the pan, I then cooked the onion until they were soft and golden brown. Then I added the garlic and crushed red pepper and cooked it some more before adding the white wine and red wine vinegar. (See what I mean by a lot of ingredients.)

After adding the liquid, I had to wait until a third of it evaporated, or about 5 minutes.

When the onion mixture was cooked, I added the parsley AND mint.

Then the recipe said I had to layer the onion mixture with the zucchini strips in a shallow glass dish. I did as told, but I really have to say I didn’t understand the reason for doing this step. Maybe it was to marinate the zucchini strips with the onion mixture, but it’s not really explained. After creating almost what seems like a Napolean, I had to let the zucchini and onion mixture sit for at least an hour at room temperature. Again, for no other reason than that’s what the recipe said.

While the zucchini sat, I worked on the pine nut sauce. But you know what? The day I wanted to make this recipe, my grocery store didn’t have pine nuts! And I wasn’t about to go around town looking for a store with them, especially since they’re kind of expensive. So I went with sliced almond instead. This was my only substitution to the recipe. After toasting the nuts, I cooked them in a saucepan with chicken broth and lemon zest for more than 35 minutes waiting for the nuts to soften. When they were, I pulsed them into a puree, but the result was more of a peanut sauce rather than the creamy sauce promised by the recipe.

With the sauce done (this has already been more than a hour in the kitchen) I could finally cook my shrimp. I had to create a bed of coarse sea salt mixed with some lemon zest and crumpled bay leaves. I have to tell you, I hate using a whole bed of salt to cook seafood (which is why I will probably never do that salt-baked whole fish recipes you see sometimes) because it seems like such a waste of salt, and the bay leaves (but my bay leaves were old so I was willing to give them up).

Cooking the shrimp was pretty easy. After heating up the dish of salt under a broiler, I just placed the shrimp and cooked them under the broiler for about 3 minutes each side. Here’s how they looked after they came out of the kitchen. And then I plated everything up with the zucchini as a bed with the almond nut sauce and the shrimp on top. Here’s how the plate looked finish? What do you think?

My tips and warnings about this recipe:

  1. I really don’t get the whole layering of the zucchini strips and onion mixture. To me, you can probably just pile the onion mixture under and on top of the strips, but don’t worry about being so meticulous as to create almost a Napolean-style of layers.
  2. The nut sauce didn’t turn out creamy or white looking like in the photo. In the photo the sauce looks almost like yogurt. So I actually might add some yogurt and maybe less of the chicken broth.
Ease of cooking: Oh, you know what I’m going to say. This was not easy. Doing the steps on their own was simple, but combined together this was a lot of work resulting in a dish that in my mind would be a nice appetizer and not necessarily a main dish.

Taste: The shrimp was perfect, albeit a bit difficult to eat with the shell and everything. But it’s hard to spoil the shrimp if you cook it right and not over or under cook it. And actually, the zucchini wasn’t that bad with the onion mixture because of the bright mint in the mixture along with the twist of red wine vinegar. The recipe turns out a lot of the mixture and in the end I threw out almost half of what I made. What I found weird about this dish was you had to eat the shrimp with your fingers because you have to peel the shell, but then you have the zucchini, which you probably need a fork to eat. I don’t like dishes that don’t make sense that way.

Overall grade: C+ because while it tasted OK, it was a lot of work for just an OK dish. Maybe it might taste better at the restaurant.

Don’t forget to vote for my next Test Kitchen poll in the upper right hand corner as I test recipes from Food and Wine’s August edition. And this may be my last Test Kitchen using Food and Wine because I’m letting my subscription run out. I’ve found their recipes don’t always taste as good as the pictures.

Previous test kitchens:
Ginger-Marinated Bulgogi
Espresso-Shortbread Brownie Bars
Basil-Crusted Leg of Lamb
Pork Tonkatsu


Hungry Dog said...

Well, I won't be trying this one. Too much work! But your final photo is gorgeous!

Secret Restaurant Recipes said...

You are very brave trying out this chef's recipe.

We like to stick with a little simpler stuff but your success might have just been enough encouragement to help us try out some harder recipes!

Thanks and good job!

secret restaurant recipes

foodhoe said...

isn't carpaccio sliced thin and served raw? sometimes I think food stylists take liberties because the white stuff looks like chunks of goat cheese to me, not like a creamy sauce... btw I love shrimp roasted over rock salt, they serve it at Guaymas in Tiburon and it is very delicious! and I agree that F&W recipes are often kinda bland...

Single Guy Ben said...

Foodhoe, that's what I thought about carpaccio, but I guess if you make zucchini carpaccio, then that's just a salad! LOL. I think he was thinking the cooked zucchini would then have a meaty texture, and it kind of did. I think I rather liked it cooked than probably raw and thinly sliced. Yeah, sometimes I wonder how the picture doesn't totally sound like the recipe, like they added extras and didn't say.

Anonymous said...

Did u see my CH post? I hope u can try it since u live in Oakland: