I actually made this dish a week or two. The experience was so traumatic that 1) I never wanted to cook seafood again, and 2) I was embarrassed to blog about it. However, some of my friends have been encouraging me. After all, if this blog is about trying new things, there’s no shame in trying something new and it being awful. Even if it was primarily due to cooking errors. Oops!
I found this recipe in a cookbook I’ve had for several years, and have been meaning to make it for a year or two now. The recipe sounded tasty, and different from our usual fare. I didn’t eat seafood or even see the ocean in person until I was seventeen, and haven’t been very brave about trying seafood other than common types of fish since then. This recipe was a bold step for me, only the second time I’d ever tried cooking shrimp. The rice and spice blend sounded like as good of a way to try shrimp at home as any, reminiscent of some Indian biriyanis I’d tried in the past, but with seafood instead of chicken or vegetables.
Aromatic Seafood Rice (Cooking for Today: One Pot, no author listed, p. 62)
- 1 1/2 cups basmati rice
- 2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2-1 tsp chili powder
- 4 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick or a piece of cassia bark
- 2 tsp curry paste
- 8 oz/ 225 g shelled shrimp
- 1 lb 2 oz/ 500 g white fish fillets (such as angler fish, cod, or haddock), skinned and boned, and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 1/2 cups boiling water
- 1/3 cup frozen peas
- 1/3 cup frozen corn
- 1-2 tbsp lime juice
- 2 tbsp toasted shredded coconut
- salt and pepper
- TO GARNISH:
- fresh cilantro sprigs
- 2 slices of lime
“1. Put the rice in a strainer and wash well in cold water until the water runs clear, then drain thoroughly.
2. Heat the ghee or oil in a pan over a low heat. Add the onion, garlic, spices, and curry paste, and cook gently for 1 minute.
3. Stir in the rice and mix well until coated in the spiced oil. Add the shrimp and white fish. Season well with salt and pepper. Stir lightly, then pour in the boiling water.
4. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add the peas and corn, cover and continue cooking for an additional 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes.
5. Uncover the pan, fluff up the rice with a fork and transfer to a warmed serving platter.
6. Sprinkle the dish with the lime juice and toasted coconut, and garnish with cilantro sprigs and the lime slices. Serve immediately.”
Perhaps some of the problems with this recipe came from my squeamishness with seafood. I did NOT want to have to clean shrimp. Handling them was a big enough step for me. So I bought little frozen pre-shelled and pre-cooked shrimp. I take shortcuts frequently, usually without negative consequences. For instance, as I mentioned in my other post today, I don’t buy spices whole. I let someone else handle the toasting and grinding, saving me buying yet another kitchen appliance, as well as some work.
So I threw the chopped onion and garlic in the pan with the ground spices and oil. I did have a cinnamon stick on hand, so I put that into the pan whole. For curry paste, which usually comes in different colors/ flavors, but wasn’t specified for this recipe, I used red curry paste, since that’s what I had on hand. I cooked everything up as directed, then mixed in the rice.
The fish fillets I used were also frozen, and I realized as I chopped them up that they weren’t totally thawed. No problem–they’d cook through as the dish cooked. I tossed the pieces into the rice along with the frozen shrimp. That was my first definite mistake–I noticed on the bag after I’d added the appropriate amount of shrimp to the recipe that since it was precooked, it should only be cooked for another 3 minutes, or long enough to warm it. Not good, since I had at least another 18 minutes of cooking left, but they were already mixed into the pot, and I wasn’t going to pick them all back out.
In my confusion about the shrimp, I somehow missed the directions to salt and pepper to taste, and didn’t add any of either to the dish. I did add the boiling water, and then the corn and peas, more than called for of either, since we enjoy vegetables. I followed the rest of the directions, and removed the pot from the heat finally, prepared to fluff, serve, and enjoy.
Unfortunately something had gone wrong with the rice. It had not absorbed all the liquid, despite measuring in the correct amounts of rice and water, and cooking for the correct amount of time. Perhaps all the frozen ingredients made the dish more moist? Regardless of why, I needed to let the rice cook a little longer, in the hope that it would absorb the rest of the water without turning into a mushy mess from overcooking. I cooked everything for another ten minutes or so. Finally, despite a rather ominous consistency to the rice, I decided we should just eat. The spices smelled good, we were hungry, and neither the rice nor the pre-cooked shrimp could sustain being cooked any longer.
The dish was awful. The spicing was tasty, and the vegetables were good, but the texture was dreadful–mushy rice, soft, pale, overcooked shrimp, and chunks of fish that, while thoroughly cooked, turned out to have small bones mixed throughout them. Brian hates nothing more in his food than “stuff” he needs to pick out, things like bones and shrimp shells. The more we ate the more shrimp shells and bones we found, and the more disgusted we both became. We each managed to choke down most of our initial serving, before admitting defeat. I was nearly tearful, after spending so much time on a dish that didn’t satisfy and actively disgusted both of us. Brian didn’t want to upset me further by commenting on it, but I could tell he was nauseated. And there was still a huge pot of leftovers! I don’t care if the recipe says it makes four servings. It yielded closer to eight servings for us.
About six of those servings got thrown out the next day, after I tried to choke down another bowl of it for breakfast. I frequently eat leftovers for breakfast, but that day I just couldn’t do it. Even the toasted coconut and lime juice barely improved the taste. I don’t typically garnish, since we just eat what I make, not stare at it or take pictures, so I hadn’t worryied about cilantro or lime slices. I’m glad I didn’t. There would just have been more wasted food.
I’m not sorry I tried this recipe. I’m sorry my stomach wasn’t stronger, so I could have eaten more of it, instead of wasting it. I have confidence that in the right hands, following the recipe carefully, this dish would taste good. But clearly I did not succeed at that. The point isn’t that I always succeed, but that I keep trying, new foods and spices and food preparation techniques, ways to keep my limited diet fresh and enjoyable. So I won’t let this fiasco stop me. I just might not cook any more shrimp any time soon.