2017-07-29 / Food

A (bitter)sweet and spicy farewell

Staff Writer

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but, then again, I am a journalist.

The past week was my last at the Journal Tribune. Some might say I’ve gone to the “dark side,” but I have accepted an offer to begin a career in public relations in Portland, where I live. I am excited for what’s to come; I think the switch will be good for me both mentally and physically, and I’m ready to get to work.

I graduated from the University of Maine in May 2016 and this was my “first job” straight out of college. I’ve interacted with many of you readers, and you may remember me as the shy new reporter in town. Biddeford has certainly broken me free of my bubble, and I’m beyond grateful for the opportunity provided by my superiors to serve you and to develop myself professionally.

But I’m in need of a change.

That said, I will greatly miss this newspaper. I’ll miss the pace of the job, the communities I’ve covered for the past 14 months, the friends I’ve made and the colleagues I’ve come to respect along the way.

Thank you — all of you — for welcoming me and my words into your homes this past year. I’m grateful for you all.

Back to food, because food makes everything better. This dish started as my typical Friday night dinner, on a day when I was craving two things: spicy shrimp and cool, creamy dipping sauce.

“How can I class this up?” I thought, as I perused the grocery store aisles. I thought of making shrimp tacos, slathered in citrusy sour cream. I contemplated grilling the shrimp and serving them with a Mexican crema — however, I don't have a grill. You can imagine how that would complicate things.

At this point, it was 6 p.m., the daylight was fading and so was my motivation to make anything. I settled on the idea of baking shrimp at a really high temperature, smothered in a sweet-and-spicy sauce, served with a cool and flavorful cumin aioli.

I’ve been meaning to use up a jar of Indonesian sambal sauce since I bought it this spring, and I saw this as the perfect opportunity to do so. If you haven’t had it, it’s a fantastic ingredient to keep on hand. A blend of hot chiles, shrimp paste, herbs and vinegar, it imparts a spicy, yet nuanced and savory, flavor anywhere it’s added.

If you can’t find sambal, you can certainly use Korean gochujang and, if you can’t find that, feel free to sub in sriracha or your favorite hot sauce, or even a mix of chopped hot peppers.

My shrimp are accompanied by an aioli — the smoother and tastier mother of mayonnaise — made flavorful by a hefty dose of ground cumin. You can certainly doctor up mayonnaise with lemon juice and cumin, but homemade aioli isn’t any harder, and it’s certainly worth learning to make.

While lemon, cumin and spices aren’t traditional in aioli (the sauce is generally seasoned with just garlic, salt and pepper), my version is vibrant and zesty.

In fact, the entire dish is in no way traditional, but everything about it is delicious. I recommend pairing this fiery dish with a cold, sweet glass of rosè wine to cut the spiciness of the chiles.

I’m exploring the possibility of continuing my column as I move forward into my next career move. But until I know more, I thank those of you who have reached out to me to tell me how much you’ve enjoyed reading “Vacationland Eats,” and now, “Extra! Extra!” over the past year, and I hope to stay in touch.

Until later, stay hungry, my friends.

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or abennett@journaltribune.com.

Sweet and spicy shrimp with cumin aioliA glass of sweet rosè is the perfect accompaniment to a dish of hot and spicy seafood. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune
A glass of sweet rosè is the perfect accompaniment to a dish of hot and spicy seafood. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune
Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 3-4

For the shrimp:
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons sambal, more to taste
⅓ cup honey
1 tablespoon red chile flakes
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
2 tablespoons soy sauce
½ cup finely-chopped scallions
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil or sesame oil
1 pound large cleaned shrimp, tails left on
2 tablespoons butter, cubed
Chopped scallions, for serving
For the aioli:
2-3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
½ teaspoon fine sea salt, more to taste
½ teaspoon ground black pepper, more to taste
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice, to taste
1 large egg plus one egg yolk (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chopped chives
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Make the aioli. In a blender, pulse together the garlic, salt, pepper, chives, cumin, cayenne (if using) and lemon juice. Add the egg and optional egg yolk (the extra yolk will make the aioli thicker and more pungent). Blend to combine.

Slowly, with the blender running, stream in the olive oil a little bit at a time through the top of the blender. It shouldn’t take more than a couple minutes to incorporate. When the aioli is done, check for seasoning and adjust to taste. Transfer to a bowl and chill while you make the shrimp.

(Tip: Check your aioli halfway through adding to oil to see if it “breaks,” or if the oil has separated from the eggs. If it does, beat another egg yolk in a medium bowl and stream in the broken aioli, whisking constantly. Return to the blender and continue adding the oil).

Make the marinade. In a large bowl, combine the garlic, lemon juice and zest, sambal, chile flakes, salt and pepper, soy sauce and scallions. Add the honey, olive or sesame oil and whisk to combine. Taste the marinade at this point and adjust seasoning to taste, if necessary.

Add the shrimp and coat in the marinade. Let sit at room temperature up to 20 minutes, or in the fridge up to two hours (bringing to room temperature before baking).

Heat oven to 450 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, spread shrimp in a single layer and dot with cubed butter. Bake shrimp for 3-4 minutes, until opaque. Meanwhile, pour remaining marinade into a small saucepan set over high heat and bring to a boil (it should only take a minute). Allow to reduce until a thick glaze forms.

Remove the shrimp from the oven and brush with glaze. Return shrimp to oven and broil for 30 seconds, until glaze begins to brown. Remove immediately and serve hot with aioli, over rice, vegetables or with bread, and chopped scallions for garnish.

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