Shrimp Cakes with Aioli and Chilied Sweet Potato Nuggets

The FIRST recipe! Or at least the first one I’ve tested, photographed, and been able to add to the page! More to come – I promise! I’ve adapted this recipe from Paula Deen’s The Lady and Sons cookbook. I know, I know, she’s not well liked by most right now, but her food can be pretty damn scrumptious. Plus, relax friends, as with most recipes I find, I’ve tweaked it to make it my own.

Shrimp Cakes – Paula calls them Croquettes, but let’s call them what they are – are basically like crab cakes. I try to make sure mine are chock full of shrimpy flavor, by leaving some shrimp pieces relatively large, and making (for lack of a better word) a paste out of half of the shrimp too. I hate when it tastes like you are eating just breadcrumbs or flour – where’s the fish?! I want chunks of meat in there too to confirm that it is actually seafood I’m eating. I know paste sounds gross and scary – swear it’s not. More on that later. Aioli is basically homemade mayonnaise…like a better, tastier (maybe healthier?) dipping sauce here. It does contain raw eggs, so if you are sensitive to that or don’t trust your egg guy (who is lucky enough to have an egg guy?), then I might suggest foregoing the aioli and doctoring up store bought mayonnaise with a bit of garlic and lemon juice to taste. But let’s be honest here, store bought mayonnaise (ok, most pre-packaged food these days) has a lot of unhealthy stuff in it, and also contained raw eggs before stabilizers and chemicals were added. Plus, this is stupid easy to make yourself (and tastes better too!).

I’ve added a side of chilied sweet potato “nuggets” because I’m constantly being reminded that there needs to be healthier vegetables in my diet. These are healthy, easy, and only require two or three ingredients outside of your normal pantry horde. The chili powder doesn’t make them spicy, it just warms them up a bit and works as a good yang to the sweet ying of the potatoes. Adding a bit of honey brings out the natural sweetness but doesn’t make them too cloyingly sweet. The recipe for those follows the entire ingredients/directions for the cakes and aioli. Be warned – those also take a hot minute of prep time and cooking, but you’re already slaving in the kitchen for the rest of the meal right?

Two words of caution. This is a make-ahead dish. Once you make the patties, you really do need to let them firm up in the fridge for at least ONE HOUR (Paula suggests two) or so before you actually start cooking. Add in prep time, I’d allot at least TWO TO THREE HOURS for this. Just don’t be like me and promise DJ Snuggle Monster dinner at 6:30 and you start these bad boys at 6:00. Whoops. Second word of caution: As with most of my recipes, I tend to vary things every time I make them. Many a friends have bemoaned they they want my recipes but hate that I tell them “a little bit of this” or “to taste of that” or I can’t write anything down. I have attempted to do my best at being precise here, but I always encourage you to add or subtract and make it your own. Have fun!

Ok…here it is!

Timing: 2-3 hours with rest time

Servings: 10-12 medium size patties…so depending on how many hungry hippos you have, probably 4 servings (or leftovers)

INGREDIENTS:

Shrimp Cakes:

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked rice (can be brown or white – I suggest brown here to be a little healthier and if you hate the taste of health food, everything basically covers up the rice flavor; also, make sure to salt the water well before you cook the rice for better flavor)
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 – 2 1/2 cups diced cooked shrimp (you can use frozen, fresh steamed, or fresh and cook yourself – but don’t sweat this part…also, it doesn’t really matter the size or number per pound…I got salad shrimp from my freezer section, as long as you have 2 to 2 1/2 cups once you’ve cut it into large pieces. NOTE: if your shrimp are frozen, be sure to thaw completely and try to drain or pat off as much excess moisture as possible!)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped green onions (see: scallions; dark to light green sections only)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Garlic Powder, Salt, and Pepper
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 5-6 tablespoons flour
  • 2-3 cups breadcrumbs (use whatever kind you desire)
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

Aioli:

  • 3 egg yolks (NO – do not add the whole egg. Just stop right there. Separate using your hand/fingers as a strainer or the egg shell halves. I’m confident they also have a gadget for this if you aren’t confident in your own skills or this grosses you out.)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons smooth Dijon mustard
  • 2 garlic cloves (don’t get crazy here – I made that mistake and got it too spicy because of the garlic. You could also use garlic powder or that pre-chopped garlic in a can)
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt and Pepper

DIRECTIONS:

For the cakes, start by adding the butter to the hot rice off the heat so that it gets nice and coated. Add in the green onions and lemon juice. Don’t season yet. In a food processor or blender (or with some serious elbow grease, by hand with a knife), puree 1 cup of the shrimp into a smooth paste. Looks gross, I know, but it will help bind and get more shrimp flavor in every bite. You can always skip this step and leave all of your shrimp chopped, but this really does make a difference. Add both the shrimp paste and the remaining shrimp pieces into the rice mixture. Mix thoroughly and season with garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. When you’ve got your seasoning right, add the eggs and the flour. Start with four tablespoons of flour and see how much you need to make sure the patties will stay together (test this by pinching the dough or gathering in your hand and see if the shape maintains). You don’t want too wet of a patty, but you don’t want it to dry either. When you are satisfied, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for no less than an hour (one hour is the minimum, two hours is preferred, if you need more, also totally ok as long as you use it by the next day). Now, turn to the aioli.

For the aioli, let’s discuss tools. I prefer to make most sauces (including this one) in a blender. Sure, it’s a pain to clean, but it’s better than a food processor because food processors tend to shove all of your ingredients against the sides of the bowl and away from the blade (especially for small amounts), so effectiveness goes out the window and you’ll have to struggle for far longer. I don’t have the patience, but be my guest if you do! Add the egg yolks to the blender, along with the mustard and garlic. Start the machine and give it a good 30 seconds to get blended and mince up the garlic cloves if you are using raw, whole garlic.

Remove the lid of the blender (or that plastic covering the hole in the top) and get out a paper towel to cover. SLOWLY – I repeat – SLOWLY stream in about 1/2 cup of the oil. DO NOT just dump it in here – you want the finest, slightest stream – barely a dribble – of olive oil. You are making an emulsion here…and too much olive oil too quickly will cause it to break and become a big heap of oily, gross, separated mess. Not cute. Use the paper towel to protect that gorgeous mug of yours and your kitchen from being sprayed with garlic eggy goodness. Ok. Once you’ve SLOWLY streamed in that bit of olive oil, shut off the blender. Add in the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. And you better taste it. No one likes under or over salted stuff. Blend for just a second to combine. If you feel that you need to add in more garlic, I’d suggest using the powder or really finely minced jarred stuff, as adding in a big hunk of solid matter here might kill your newly perfected emulsion. Once you are satisfied with the taste, put the lid and paper-towel contraption back on. Slowly stream in the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil (if you want to bump it up to another 1/2 cup here to make a total of 1 cup of olive oil used, I won’t yell at you – hey, you’re going to want leftovers of this stuff to smear on everything). Process until thick and smooth. Fish out all of the goodness from whatever device you are using and refrigerate this with plastic wrap too until you’re done cooking your cakes.

Back to the cakes: Shake out your breadcrumbs onto a shallow, large plate (always add more breadcrumbs than you think so that you don’t have to use your goopy hands to add more to the plate mid-cake frying…plus breadcrumbs are cheap, so you aren’t throwing away your fortune). Shape the cooled down mixture into patties about palm sized or a bit smaller (you want smaller patties? Go smaller. You want gigantor sized patties, load em’ up!) and coat in the breadcrumbs. Do about five of these at a time (or two plates of breadcrumbs if you want to streamline this process and then all of your patties can be formed at once) and leave in the breadcrumbs to get all nice and coated and soak up any excess moisture. Place a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add enough vegetable oil to rise about an inch or so off the bottom (you want your patties surrounded by oil, but not completely submerged and deep fried). Wait for that to heat. In the meantime, set up another plate with paper towels to drain the cakes on. Once you think the pan is hot enough, test it by throwing a bit of the breadcrumbs in the oil (don’t get too close). If they sizzle, you’re in business. If they sink, wait another two minutes or so. Carefully add in about five or so patties – but don’t overcrowd the pan – give these babies plenty of room. Leave them to cook on the first side for about three to five minutes or until you can see their undercarriage crisp up nicely. Flip – CAREFULLY – so that you don’t burn yourself. I like to flip them up onto another patty and then slowly let them slide/slip into the oil to minimize greasage on me.Wait another three to five minutes, remove to the drainage plate of paper towel. Repeat with your remaining cakes. NOTE – if you made HUGE cakes, drop the heat down to a touch lower than medium (between medium low and medium) and cook for about 6-7 minutes per size so that you cook the egg in the batter and it isn’t mushy on the inside. Smaller cakes should be fine using the directions above – just flip when you see them get crispy on one side.

I added a bit of green under my cakes for beautification, and because it’s another vehicle for aioli to make it’s way into my mouth. You don’t have to though – you can slap those pretty bad boys onto a plate, dollop with aioli and call it a night. Feel free to serve with the sweet potatoes I’ve included the recipe for below.

CHILIED SWEET POTATO “NUGGETS”

Timing: One hour

Servings: 2-3

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons honey (or maple syrup if you’re feeling randy…but I didn’t want too much “Thanksgiving-y” flavor here)
  • Chili Powder
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Oil (of your preference – I suggest vegetable, canola, or olive)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. Peel the sweet potatoes (I prefer a vegetable peeler since sweet potatoes are tough and nobby…using a paring knife is asking for frustration and actual pain). Make sure you get down to the orange section (there’s a thin film of whitish-orange right underneath the actual skin). Rinse and then dice into bite size pieces (about 1 inch by 1 inch). Here’s a good chance to practice your knife skills…or get close enough if “ain’t nobody got time for that.” Just make sure all of your pieces are roughly the same size – they can be bigger than 1 inch or smaller, but they all have to be uniform that size to ensure even cooking. Toss onto a sheet pan (or cookie sheet) and coat with a good helping of oil. Season with a generous portion of salt and pepper and chili powder (make sure each piece gets some love). Toss (you can use your hands, I promise). Then make sure they are all spread out on the tray and pop them into the oven. Cook for about 15-20 minutes and then toss. Cook for another 10 and then check the doneness with a fork. If your fork can make it all the way through without getting stuck and the potatoes also don’t turn to mush/disintegrate, you’re golden. If not done yet, return to the oven for another 10 minutes and check again. Remove from the oven and turn the oven onto broil at 500 degrees. Drizzle the honey over the potatoes and toss again (let’s not use our hands this time, as it’s hot). Pop back under the broiler to get them a bit crispy and caramelized. This shouldn’t take any longer than 5 minutes, but keep an eye on them so that the honey doesn’t burn. Serve!

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