Tuesday, December 14, 2010
I'll be the first to admit that shrimp paste isn't for the squeamish. Pungent—and not in a good way—and pasty, for lack of a better word, the ingredient made of ground fermented shrimp might scare away even the most adventurous foodies. However, as any lover of Southeast Asian cuisine is aware, shrimp paste makes pretty much everything taste better. Just take Thai curry or papaya salad: yup, you guessed it, shrimp paste is an active player in their deliciousness. As much as I try, I can't quite live off of curry and papaya salad, so I'm always looking for new ways to use up some of the jar of shrimp paste in my fridge. This pork recipe, loosely adapted from Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, was one of those attempts. Typical of most Southeast Asian dishes, this one plays off of a contrast of flavors, with sweet, salty, and spicy well represented. I still have half a jar of shrimp paste left, but I suspect I'll be purchasing more in no time.
Ground Pork with Shrimp Paste and Lemongrass
3 tbsp peanut oil
3 dried Thai chiles
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 lemongrass stalks, trimmed, cut in thirds, and pounded with the flat side of a knife
1/2 pound ground pork
12 shrimp, peeled, deveined, and minced
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp shrimp paste, diluted in 1/4 cup warm water
1 tsp sesame seeds
2 Kirby cucumbers, thinly sliced
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the chiles to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until they are fragrant and blackened.
Add the garlic and lemongrass to the skillet and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the pork to the skillet. Use the back of a wooden spoon to break the pork up as it cooks, and cook until the meat is no longer pink, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the shrimp, sugar, and shrimp paste and cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture caramelizes, turning a reddish brown. If the pan dries out, add a tablespoon of water at a time.
Remove the mixture from the pan and serve immediately with rice, topped with sesame seeds and garnished with the cucumbers.