This may startle you: I have difficulty following recipes.
Strange, I know, considering my obsession with baking and the art of perfection. And maybe it’s not recipes for cakes, cookies, and cream puffs that make me squirm at the very thought of precise completion, but more the ones for savory stuff. Cooking. Whereas with baking I get a tingle when I measure to the fraction of an ounce, fold in freakishly well, and frost with almost maniacal attention to detail, cooking with exactness makes me claustrophobic.
Hand me an index card with your great grandmother’s famous lemon pound cake and I’ll follow it so closely you’ll swear Great Grammie was in that kitchen sashaying in her finest floral housecoat. Wafts of Jean Naté will swirl in the air as you bite down. You’ll bet your life your dear old mammy greased and floured the pan with love. And then you’ll realize that I made it, and you’ll smile remembering that your great grandmother could barely mix together anything more complex than cottage cheese and canned pears. That’s what I’d do, anyway.
The point is that when it comes to baking, I’m your girl. I can go toe to toe with Jacques Pepin. Don’t tell Jacques, though. But cooking, as much as I love it, means that I can’t execute a recipe as it’s written to save my soul. Or at least, I don’t want to. There is so much to play with, so many avenues and angles to a dish, that I feel sticking to the printed word would be a disservice to my creativity. And maybe my midsection.
Wait, so…I have to…follow the di-rec-tions? And this list here- “ingredients” as you’ve titled it, I should use only these?
Uh…yup. That’s generally the protocol with cooking, my dearest.
But but but- parsley is expensive, and I don’t know about you, but I simply can’t trust a recipe that only calls for two teaspoons of garlic. I’m warding off vampires over here. And I typically get the willies when I think of needing a new spice bottle. Those are monetary land mines, for pete’s sake!
A large chunk of the claustrophobia I have surrounding exact cooking execution comes from the cheap side of me. I’m just unwilling, generally speaking, to shell out a five spot for a single use spice, a rare red chile, or anything on the cranny of the bottommost shelf of aisle 4. Sorry. It’s just not in the cards for me to have these special ingredients, even if that means making a dish that doesn’t quite taste as…mmm….as Ina would have made it. For this reason, I take liberties.
Funny that I write recipes, then, no? Am I expecting (praying) that you all lack the recipe-induced attention deficit disorder that I suffer from? Maybe.
All that being said, swallowed, and digested, there are moments in my life when I calculatedly carry out a recipe. Times when I measure each carefully called-for ingredient, read each line of the instructions, and precisely practice what they call, “cooking.” You know, those people who get their names embossed on the spines of hardcover cookbooks. They.
And I really hate to break the news to you like this, but, the result? Fabulous. Just pure unadulterated bliss and satisfaction. I know, it’s a hard pill to swallow. Some recipes are meant to be followed. Sometimes a tablespoon of parsley matters more than you might imagine. And the recipe creator may indeed mean it when they call for a quarter teaspoon of sugar. I wouldn’t have believed it, myself, but it’s true.
So, what’s the good news in all of this?
That recipes are written by and from people who haven’t followed another’s instructions. I play more than anything in my kitchen. And I expect that you do too. It’s more fun to flit about and fling things in a pot, swirl stuff in a pan, and crazy up a casserole than it is to follow directions. So, friends, take heart: making a recipe as written, as decided by the creator, is almost always worthwhile. But if you can’t, it’s cool. That’s how you hit your stride, how you find your style in the kitchen. It’s the way good recipes are born.
I like to doctor things, to let my hair down with savory fare, so to speak. It’s fun, and quite honestly- more rewarding when I get it right. An extra large slice of pride is served when you create an original, delicious dish. It means it’s your own.
Thanks for the inspiration, [insert famous chef name], but this one’s all me.
One part inspiration, one part creativity, and one part “hey, this could blow up and cost me an arm and a leg in fire damages and pride, but…I’m okay with that.”
And so we arrive at…Shrimp Cakes.
This recipe was inspired by one that practically leapt from the pages of my current favorite cookbook, Cooking For Isaiah. Yes, Silvana Nardone has captured my taste buds once again. I’m going to write her a love letter at some point. And a thank you card. I urge you to check out the book, or at the very least her blog for beautiful and delicious meals and sweets.
These are shrimp cakes, similar to crab cakes in that they’re thick patties and they taste like summery spice, but are- dare I say- more full flavored? I know there are crab cracking enthusiasts out there who’ll wince and shake their heads, but trust me. If you love seafood, if the very thought of biting into tender, succulent chunks of shrimp just sends you straight over the moon, if you lust over the way garlic and parsley and scallions fuse and almost melt together in a recipe, if you want to pretend it’s summertime…this is your recipe. Texturally, they’re so satisfying- the bites of shrimp are soft, the grains of rice remain chewy, the panko gives each cake filling heft. And then there are five or so pure and booming flavors to swoon over. Lemon and herbs and a kick of Sriracha chili sauce.
Serve them with a quick homemade tartar sauce composed of equal parts mayonnaise and sweet pickle relish and a side of big ol’ baked russet potatoes fluffed with a fork and dolloped with sour cream.
(serves 2, making 2-3 thick patties)
- 1/2 lb raw shrimp, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup cooked rice
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic (1 large clove)
- 2 tablespoons minced scallions
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons hot chili sauce (recommended: Sriracha)
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice OR 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- olive oil, for brushing
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well with your hands. Refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes to allow all flavors to marry. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Form two (or three if two seems too big) even patties from the mixture. Place them on a lightly greased baking pan, brush them lightly with olive oil, and bake for 13-15 minutes, or until the visible shrimp pieces have turned pink and opaque.
Nutrition Information for 1 Serving (1/2 of Entire Recipe): Calories 235, Total Fat 3.7 g, Total Carbohydrate 18.8 g, Dietary Fiber 0.4 g, Sugars 0.4 g, Protein 28.9 g