Friday, November 2, 2012

A Shrimp (or Prawns) Spectacular For Emily

A longtime reader named Emily asked for an entire post on shrimp back in 2010. (Except, since she's in the UK, she asked for prawns.) And I said sure, because I love shrimp. Just the other day, she left a comment here, and I asked what had become of her blog, as it has not been updated in many months. I promised her another shrimp post if she updated it. She confessed that she is a university student and doesn't have the time nor the resources to eat enough interesting things to maintain her blog, but that she would love to see another prawns post anyway.

That seemed like a simple enough request to please a broke college kid. So here we go.

Frozen dim sum can get tricky. Sure, potstickers are easy, you just fry them up, but things like shumai are much harder. You can bake them in the oven, and they taste just fine, but then they also get crispy, which is not at all how they are served in dim sum palaces. You can steam them (which is what I usually do), but that presents its own problem: the frozen dim sum has accumulated ice crystals, which melt and turn the skin very gummy, unless you remove them from the steamer at the precise moment.

I mostly over-steamed these Shrimp Hacao, which I got from a local market. They tasted fine, sure, but they were a mess. The ginger dipping sauce was delicious; I probably would have been better just throwing everything together in a bowl and eating it like a stew. Oh well, it tasted fine.

A few years back, I was watching college football with my dad when a commercial for Hooters frozen wings came on TV. I don't remember how many years ago this was (maybe 7 or 8?) and I have not seen Hooters frozen products for years, so I don't believe they still make them, but I remember his reaction.

"That's how you know a restaurant chain has jumped the shark," he said. "They start making frozen foods."

I had two reactions to this.

First, what the hell is my dad doing using the phrase "jumped the shark"? How do you know when a phrase itself jumps the shark? When tax lawyers in their 60s start using it in everyday conversation.

Second, he's got a good point. What restaurant chains make decent frozen products? Sure, I just wrote last month how much I love CPK's frozen Jamaican Jerk pizza, but that's the exception. Most of their frozen pizzas taste like blander versions of their restaurant pies, which already have a terrible crust. TGIFriday's appetizers are pretty mediocre. PF Chang's frozen foods admittedly taste very similar to their restaurant dishes, but that's just because their restaurant dishes all tasted like frozen, microwaved crap. (They are probably my least favorite restaurant chain; I would rather eat at Applebee's.)

So I ignored Joe's Crab Shack's frozen foods for a long time. I'd only eaten at a Joe's once, in Sacramento, where the food was spectacularly average and the server didn't seem to care if we lived or died. In my memory she actually said to us "I don't care if you live or die," but I admit this probably isn't accurate.

But then one day a few weeks ago I noticed these "Great Balls of Fire" for half price at the supermarket a mile away, and I decided to try them. I baked them in the oven for ten minutes. It turns out they are delicious. The jalapenos mixed in with the with shrimp and crab provide a really nice heat, the seafood is good and the gooey cheese is fun to eat.

They are a little overpriced (eight bucks for a package, although remember these are New York prices) but I still watch out for when they are on sale and pick up a couple of boxes every time.

Elizabeth and I were at our favorite local bar one evening, having a couple of beers, when I overheard the bartender say that they had a special appetizer that evening: popcorn shrimp. I immediately placed an order. It turns out they were drenched in buffalo sauce. Some people may not like that, but we loved it. The shrimp were crispy, meaty little guys. The buffalo sauce was nothing out of the normal, but that's okay, I like the normal. And the blue cheese dressing was really good. The pictures aren't that great, because it was dark inside, so I couldn't do an entire post on them, but it'll work here.

A few years back, I was watching college football with my dad when a commercial for Hooters frozen wings came on TV. Wait... we've been over this already.

Since the Great Balls of Fire were so good, I decided to try the Sweet Chili Shrimp as well. And they were delicious, but I have to let you in on a little secret: they tasted exactly the same as the Trader Joe's Firecracker Shrimp I wrote about the other day. It wouldn't surprise me if it's the same items. But the Joe's Crab Shack version costs more. 

But, like I wrote, they were delicious, so if you don't have a TJ's near you and you can get these, I would give them a try.

Remember that appetizer that Elizabeth's dad ate over the summer at Red Brick Tavern? Barbecue sauce and shrimp, a combination I'm not sure I've had before. But it was really good, tied together with a sweet corn salsa. I thought it would be pretty easy to replicate that one day when I was in need of a snack. I fried up some of the SeaPak shrimp that were left over after I made fried shrimp tacos.

Then tossed them with Dinosaur Bar-B-Que's roasted garlic & honey sauce.

And added Trader Joe's corn salsa.

They were a delicious snack. I don't think I would enjoy eating much more than the amount I did here, so I would not make a whole meal out of these, but I really liked what I had.

For the first time I tried the garlic shrimp at Fortune House. They were just fine, but not as good as the garlic chicken I have gotten more than once. There weren't a whole lot of shrimp here - it was still only a $6 lunch special, so I'm not complaining - but it wasn't enough to satisfy me.

Elizabeth was off doing something while I was eating at Fortune House, and I figured she'd be hungry when she was done, so I decided to surprise her with her favorite dish: shrimp with walnuts. I've shown pictures of it before. I don't get it myself because it's a little pricey (it's not on the lunch menu) for the amount of shrimp you receive, but there is no denying that the shrimp are great. They are always big, meaty shrimp, in a tasty, slightly-spicy sauce. 

I wrote a couple of days ago that the catering business/deli on our street stayed open during the hurricane. So on one of my trips there, I picked up these shrimp dumplings. I got the oil very, very hot, and dropped the dumplings in it for thirty seconds on each side, just enough to crisp them up.

They were very good. The sauce was terrible - it was the saltiest soy/teriyaki sauce I have ever tasted. So I mixed it with some water, vinegar and sugar, and it became delicious.

Elizabeth has been working from home this week since her office, like much of lower Manhattan, is without power. So we went to Fortune House for lunch one day and I, knowing that this shrimp-or-prawns post would be coming up, ordered another shrimp dish: curry sauce shrimp. I liked this a lot, much more than the garlic shrimp I wrote about earlier. (But I will be returning to the chicken dishes from now on - you get more protein.)

Yesterday I picked up these dumplings at a local store. As you can see, they had already been pretty well fried, so I couldn't quick-fry them like I did the earlier dumplings - that would have burned them. I opted to heat them in the oven, which turned out... just okay. The outsides were crispy, no doubt, but the insides didn't get heated enough. They were merely average. I do not think I will be buying these again.

I hope you all enjoyed this shrimp spectacular. Unless you don't like shrimp, then I guess you probably hated it. But either way, have a good weekend.


Emily said...


The dedication you have to your readers is very impressive. Those dumplings - the ones with the terrible sauce - look really good. I'm jealous!

Anonymous said...

great post, pp

Bekah said...

Shrimp is possibly my most hated meat ever. Next to lobster and oysters. I know, I know. It's a texture thing.

However, "I don't care if you live or die" made me literally laugh out loud. And those first dumplings look incredible.

My sister is in Brooklyn. She is also lucky enough to have power. I can't imagine the emotions in the air there. Best of thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I noticed I hardly ever (maybe never) see you mention or use sriracha. Why is that? It's a heavenly hot sauce.

JustinM said...

Sriracha is good. If you search for it on the right of the blog, you will see I have used it to make sauces quite a few times, though nothing in 2012.

But I don't think there is anything too special about it - I certainly don't consider it "heavenly" - and I think it has become quite overused, especially where I live. The term "Hipster Tabasco" might very well have been invented here in Brooklyn for the tatooed types who seem a little too pleased with themselves when they ask for it.

Ali said...

Never been to Joe's Crab Shack, but I very much want to try those (terribly named) Great Balls of Fire. I'll need to look for them the next time I'm at the store.