Prawns & chillies
7 November 2002
[Later, in the same part of another wood]
Sophie's had one pill, less than eight hours ago, and is already phenomenally better: bright-eyed, eating, purring like a very purry thing, doing all cat-things according to cat-occasions. 'Straordinary. Miracle Cat strikes again. I suppose one should say 'Miracle Vet', but she always makes me feel that it's all her own work, when she bounces back from death's door this way.
So I went to my Chinese lesson with a spring in my step; and came home, and cooked, and have been lying in my bath musing on the relationships between certain food groups, and how universal they are across cultures. Prawns and chillies, for instance: go to India, Indonesia, Malaya, Thailand, China, doesn't matter, you'll find the two inseparable. Even here in dull old England, we put cayenne in our potted shrimp (well, I do...). Or try this:
De-seed and slice a good red pepper (one of those long thin pointy ones that supermarkets stock these days; have no truck with the fat thick-fleshed tasteless Dutch stuff), chop up a chilli or two without de-seeding (actually, contrary to popular opinion, less than 5% of the heat of a chilli is in the seeds; the majority is in the membrane that connects seeds to flesh, but never mind that, just chuck it all in anyway) and fry in a mixture of butter and olive oil. What kind of chilli is up to you; me, I just picked a couple off the cayenne plant on my windowsill. Smugly.
After a minute or two, add a crushed clove of garlic and then break in some mushrooms (snap 'em into chunks between your fingers; much more fun than slicing, and far better texturally) and add a generous handful of peeled tiger prawns. Squeeze in half a lemon, and stir it all around for a couple of minutes. Take off the heat, season with sea salt and black pepper, and add a good dollop of double cream. Serve on spaghetti, and yes: do scatter with parmesan, by all means. There is a myth abroad that seafood sauces should never be seen in company with parmesan, but this is - no, let's not say ignorance, it's a misunderstanding, a post hoc, propter hoc fallacy. Italian cooking has two generic sauces, one made with butter and one with olive oil. It is generally felt that cheese marries happily with other dairy products, poorly with oil; most seafood sauces are traditionally made with olive oil; therefore most seafood sauces should not be served with parmesan. This one is so laden with butter & cream, there is no concern. Besides which, exceptions abound: the most famous of all Italian sauces, pesto, is compounded with both olive oil and cheese (sardo pecorino for preference, but a lot of people do use parmesan). The confusion still persists, though. I've been told in seriously smart restaurants that I shouldn't have parmesan on a seafood sauce, even where it was swimming in cream. Quiet, I say, and wield the grater, thanks.
© Chaz Brenchley 2002
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.