When you have access to hopping fresh shrimp, it’d be a pity not to take advantage of it. And when I say hopping fresh, I mean that literally. Living by the sea gives us the blessing of incredibly fresh (i.e. still alive) seafood, and being in China means that it is almost dirt-cheap.
Am I concerned with possible contaminants in the water? Yes, of course. But my friend Lali, who is studying environmental management here, says that in comparison to a lot of places, Xiamen’s seafood is not too bad. The municipal government has managed it so that the areas where industries may potentially pollute the ocean are located far from the areas where fish are usually fished or farmed. And you’re unlikely to get sick or blemished seafood, because local markets, in deference to the Southern Chinese preference for all things fresh, sell the fish live. You choose the most energetic fish of the lot, and the fishmonger clubs it and cleans it right in front of your eyes.
Anyway, the aforementioned shrimp were literally jumping; making little popping noises against the plastic bag I was holding them in. I tried my best to give them a humane death by popping them in the freezer to numb their senses for about half an hour, then dumping them in a pot of boiling water.
Then I made a pot of creamy polenta, flavored it with basil, and threw together a quick spicy tomato sauce with bacon. In went the peeled and beheaded shrimp, and this easy weeknight meal was ready. Astonishingly, the short and simple list of ingredients yielded a dish with deep flavor, and the shrimp had that deliciously springy mouthfeel characteristic of fresh seafood. We polished the whole lot off in one sitting.
Shrimp and Bacon on Polenta
Serves 2 hungry people
From Marcella Hazan’s recipe on Epicurious
1 cup polenta
4 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp dried basil
2 tbsp butter
Shrimp and Bacon Sauce
Gourmet Nov 2009
¾ pounds shrimp, cooked and peeled
1 can diced tomatoes in juice
3-4 strips of bacon, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp red pepper flakes
olive oil for cooking
Start the polenta – bring water and salt to a boil in a saucepan. Over medium heat, stir in the polenta gradually, whisking to incorporate. Whisk for about 2 minutes, until polenta thickens. Stir in the dried basil. Cover pot. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for about ½ hour, stirring vigorously every 10 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, heat about 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, bacon, and red pepper flakes. Cook until bacon is browned. Add the can of diced tomatoes and cook until sauce is thickened, about 5-8 minutes. Add cooked shrimp and stir just until warmed through, about 1 minute. Taste for seasonings and add salt if needed (though the bacon is usually salty enough).
Stir the butter into the polenta until melted and incorporated. Spoon polenta onto plates and top with shrimp-bacon mixture. Serve immediately.