Lent: A Season of Fasting *gulp!* and Meatless Fridays
Today is Ash Wednesday, and for many practicing Catholics it is a solemn first day of the Lenten season, a season of preparation for the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday, where on this first day we practice strict fasting. Abstinence from meat and all things made with meat and only one full meal for the day. Many of us would have attended mass today to receive the Eucharist and to also receive our ashes. The ashes are made from the burned palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday. To receive the ashes on Ash Wednesday is to remind us of our mortality and a call for repentence and marks the time where we take stock of our spiritual goals during Lent.
While not all of us are devout Catholics, my family still observes Lenten practices. Every Friday during Lent are Meatless Fridays, so what do we eat? I'll post some vegetarian recipes for ideas and many of us turn to seafood. Tonight I made, by request from Mom, my Dungeness Crabs in Salted Black Bean Sauce and my Chinese Five-Spice with Salt & Szechuan Pepper Prawns.
For the Dungeness Crabs in Salted Black Bean Sauce, I bought two crabs. I'm guessing they were about 2 lbs a piece. I cleaned them then I asked my Dad to pull its legs and claws off and remove the body from the shell, and cut it half. Meanwhile, I measured out and combined:
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shao Xing rice wine
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
Then I prepared the aromatics:
1 medium shallot, sliced
2 scallions, chopped
2 inch piece of ginger root, julienned
4 cloves garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped, leaves and stems
1 small can (about 1/4 cup) salted black beans
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water, set aside
In a large wok, I heated 3 tablespoons of oil and added the aromatics: ginger, shallots, scallions, garlic. Saute for about 2 minutes until the onions are translucent, then add the black beans. Add the crab legs, claws, and body into the wok and toss all the ingredients together. Add 1/2 cup of water and cover. Cook for about 8 minutes with lid on so that the crab will steam cook. Remove the lid, add the crab shells. Replace the cover and cook for about 3 minutes more.
Remove the cover and begin plating the crabs onto a warm plate. Reserve the black bean sauce in the pan and reduce the heat to low. If some of the liquid has reduced too much, add another 1/4 cup of water. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper or soy sauce. Bring the liquid to a boil and add the cornstarch slurry (you may have to mix the cornstarch and water together again because the cornstarch tends to separate from the water.) Mix thoroughly and wait until the liquid comes up to a boil....then add half of the cilantro into the sauce and stir well. Remove from heat and pour over the crab shells and legs. Sprinkle the remaining cilantrol over the crab and serve immediately.
For the Chinese Five-Spice and Salt & Szechuan Pepper Prawns
I bought 2 lbs of shell on shrimp (16 to 20 per pound, or extra large shrimp).
I have on hand some homemade Salt and Pepper mix. It is table salt mixed with ground Szechuan peppercorns (aka prickly ash). You can find Szechuan peppercorns at a well stocked Asian store. I love the unique fiery taste of this "pepper". Use about 1/4 cup table salt with 3 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns. Combine well and store in an airtight container. (I use it in everything: fried chicken wings, seafood, pork, vegetables...very versatile seasoning!)
In a large bowl, add the shrimp/prawns and season with 2 teaspoons Chinese Five Spice powder and 3 tablespoons of the Salt and Szechuan peppercorn mix. Toss, using a spoon. Those prawn tails will poke you in a worse way. Ouch!
In a large wok, heat about 4 tablespoons of oil on high heat. Wait until the oil is smoking and add the shrimp. Toss the shrimp for about 10 minutes until cooked. You will know when the shrimp is cooked when they start to look like the letter "C". Remove from the pan and serve immediately.
Really great tapas-style dish. We ate the crab legs and shrimp just as they were and sopped up the sauce with some bread.