Serious Eats (the best cooking website ever IMO) posted about Marcus Samuelsson’s salmon in a sea of coconut milk from his recently published Marcus Off Duty (http://www.amazon.com/Marcus-Off-Duty-Recipes-Cook/dp/0470940581). I love salmon, I love coconut milk, so I made a riff on it (no way the Bob was eating avocado in soup, hearts of palm don’t kill me, and the miso seemed sort of out of place). It was pretty good. But then I got to thinking, what I really wanted was a coconut shellfish soup.
So recently I have been making one with what I would call more of a procedure/plan rather than a recipe. Lobster tails are key here (our Harris Teeter has them for four to six bucks a piece for small wild caught Canadian ones – you probably wouldn’t steam them and serve them with drawn butter but they work admirably in this preparation) as are shrimps (head on if you can find them). I set a cup of light chicken broth (though you could really just use water) on the stove and toss in the lobster shells, shrimp shells, shrimp heads if I have them, and some aromatics (usually lemon grass, a Thai chili, some cilantro stems, a slice of ginger, a kafir lime leaf, a few scallions, and a couple smashed cloves of garlic). Then I let it boil. Meanwhile, sous vide the lobster and shrimp meat (around 130 ish) for 20-30 minutes. This doesn’t have to be perfectly exact since they will be going into hot broth.
Add water to the broth as necessary and after about 20-30 minutes you should have a rich broth redolent of the sea. It really is that easy. Fish everything out and strain through a cheese cloth (usually only necessary if there were shrimp heads) until you have a broth that looks something like this:
At that point add coconut milk to taste (though really don’t use the light stuff) and toss in some Asian greens (this time I used the tops of baby bok choi) and sliced water chestnuts.
While the greens are softening prepare a nuoc cham type sauce (palm sugar, fish sauce, lime, chili, garlic). I doctored the nuoc cham from the market run by the chaps from Toki Underground in Union Station (http://unionmarketdc.com/market/artisans/honeycomb-grocer/) by adding some garlic and a hint of agave. As an aside, that market is seriously amazing since they make so many Asian sauces fresh so I don’t have to any more. Also chop up some scallions and cilantro leaves. And pull out your chili garlic oil (you can make this ahead, just buy from the Asian market – or if you live in DC swing by Union Market and pick it up from Honeycomb). Seriously I can’t tell you how great having that shop around is. It’s like somebody’s nice Asian grandmother in the form of tatted up hipsters.
When the leaves are cooked as you like them, dump in the nuoc cham and seafood and you’re good to go.
There are so many ways to serve this. You could omit the greens and serve it alone as a fancy appetizer – which is quite charming for dinner parties. But on most nights I want a full meal in that bowl so I pour it over rice or pre-cooked fresh ramen noodles (also from Honeycomb – have I mentioned that place is ah-mazing?). Finish with fried garlic and a drizzle of chili oil.
However you serve it, you get a satisfying dish that packs all of the sweet, sour, spicy, and salty flavors one craves from Southeast Asian cuisine. And if you hate seafood, just stick with good homemade chicken stock, sous vide a breast so it stays tender and use that. I bet it will be good too. Or pork … the options abound!