Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ode to the Lunch Buddy

Sociologists know that food-sharing is one of the stickiest glues that binds us together. What do we do on a date? We eat. How do we "meet the parents"? We go to dinner. How do we bond with our infants? Milk. Weddings? A ceremony, followed by 30 linear feet of food. Owl monkies and bottlenosed dolphins have their own versions.

I'm grateful for all of my mammalian food-sharing activity, but where can it be more sorely needed than at work? We spend the most central 40+ hours of our week there, many of them stressful and annoying. Being able to relax long enough to eat a sandwich with a friend is one of life's great joys, but the true lunch buddy can be a tough find when most people just snarf something at their desk while emailing or, um, blogging. (Crunch. Crunch.)

Some people have a romantic soul mate, I have a lunch soul mate named Jill. We worked on the same team at my museum for three years. I'd go to her (much bigger) office, and she'd pull out of her mini-fridge whatever her delightful husband Henry had made for us that morning. Pizza with caramelized onions and goat cheese? Yes please. Salmon chowder? Yum. Sauteed garlic shrimp pasta? Ooooo. Neither of us eat red meat or poultry, so it was a perfect match, and the conversation was equally as excellent.

Sadly, Jill left the museum two years ago. I moved into her old office, and we still email each other about food, books, and Fonzie jokes. Usually at lunchtime. Below is a recipe that Henry would have made for us:

Coconut Shrimp with a Tamarind Ginger Sauce

For sauce

1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate*

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2/3 cup mayonnaise

1 1/2 tablespoons mild honey

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

For shrimp

4 cups sweetened flaked coconut (10 oz) 

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup beer (not dark)

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cayenne

1 large egg

6 cups vegetable oil

48 medium shrimp (1 1/2 lb), peeled, leaving tail and first segment of shell intact, and, if desired, deveined

Special equipment: a deep-fat thermometer 

Make sauce: 
Whisk tamarind concentrate into lime juice in a small bowl until dissolved. Stir in remaining sauce ingredients and chill, covered.

Prepare shrimp: 
Coarsely chop coconut and transfer half to a shallow soup bowl or pie plate. Whisk together flour, beer, baking soda, salt, cayenne, and egg in a small bowl until smooth. Heat oil in a 4- to 6-quart deep heavy pot over moderately high heat until it registers 350°F on thermometer.

While oil is heating, coat shrimp: 
Hold 1 shrimp by tail and dip into batter, letting excess drip off, then dredge in coconut, coating completely and pressing gently to help adhere. Transfer to a plate and coat remaining shrimp in same manner, adding remaining coconut to bowl as needed.

Fry shrimp in oil in batches of 8, turning once, until golden, about 1 minute. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain and season lightly with salt. Skim any coconut from oil and return oil to 350°F between batches.

Serve shrimp with sauce.

Tamarind ginger sauce can be made 6 hours ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature before serving.

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