Sunday, January 17, 2016

Hainan-Style Spicy Shrimp Rice Noodle Bowl...

My food radar immediately switches on when roaming my multicultural neighbourhood with restaurants frequently shutting its doors making way for new ones-- who's moving in this empty spot and what will they be serving never fails to peak the curiosity. And then I happily discovered a small eatery serving Hainan cuisine-- the only one in Toronto, and it's in my 'hood! :) Sprout Hainan Noodles, a newbie local noodle shop is a gem-of-a-find. With more restaurants and eateries focused nowadays on regional specialty foods, you know a small menu offering just noodles, they must be cooking up something authentically good. 

Hainan literally translates to "South of the Sea" and is the smallest and southernmost province-- an island of the People's Republic of China. When people think about Hainan, often chicken comes to mind. Their Hainan-style Chicken and Rice was made world famous by street hawkers in Singapore and Malaysia. This dish originated from Wenchang in north-east Hainan, and is made from a certain type of free range chicken with yellow oily-looking skin. The chicken is boiled, cut into pieces, then eaten by dipping them in a mixture of spices, including chopped ginger and salt. However, as Amy owner of Sprout explains, it is not their most characteristic dish. It is in fact, their rice noodles that are eaten ubiquitously by the local Hainan people-- as breakfast, snack, staple food and celebratory food at festivals. The Cantonese invite their guests with the saying "Come to have some soup with us." The Hainanese invite their guests with the saying of "Come to have some rice noodles."

Hainan rice noodle is like a thick vermicelli served with a dozen special condiments. The vermicelli is often eaten at room temperature, topped with things like fried peanuts, roasted sesame, bean sprouts, garlic, chopped green onion, shredded meat, sesame oil, Chinese sauerkraut (
pickled mustard greens) or cilantro. Then a big ladle of clear conch soup or signature brown gravy (how unique) is poured over top. But what makes this dish distinct is their unique spicy attribute Amy says, if you can take the heat. A tiny dollop of chilli sauce made from Hainan yellow lantern chilli peppers also known as the Yellow Emperors Chilli, blended with garlic and spices, can send off five alarm bells in your taste buds. A searing heat that had my sinuses going and my mouth nursing a budding flame when I experienced it in Sprout's Garlic Explosion noodles smothered in thick brown gravy. If you visit Sprout, let Amy know I sent you :).

Coincidentally, Pearl River Bridge USA, approached me to brainstorm recipe development using this very chilli sauce in their jar condiment line up. There was no contest that delicious noodles came to mind and trying to recreate Sprout's flavours was both a happy personal and a work-related conquest-- I was determined to make my very own Hainan noodle bowl. As part of my "research", I tasted again Garlic Explosion (with slices of pork belly) and also tried the Funky Shrimp (see descriptions in menu below) to dissect their components. Loved the loads of garlic and slightly sweeter gravy in the first and the chilli marinated shrimps and savoury gravy in the next, and double thumbs up to the bits of pickled mustard greens in both! Combining my favourite elements from both stupendous noodle bowls, I came up with my own concoction with pan-fried shrimps marinated in the yellow lantern chilli sauce, loaded with garlic, pickled mustard, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, peanuts, and my own touch of green onions, cilantro and fried shallots. My gravy profile has both sweet but more savoury flavours made with soy and oyster sauces. 

Noodles served individually in bowls with a toppings spread laid out on the table, this makes for a fun, DIY customizable bowl to each of your family member's liking. And for my husband and I, a topping of the kickin' yellow chilli sauce. Voilà-- savoury, sweet, slightly sour and piquant flavours intermingled with an array of textures and sauciness makes for a party in the mouth that won't quit until you're finished. Even then, you may still have that lingering fire in the mouth to extinguish. Something I will surely make again and again-- as an everyday noodle dish and for my next big family gathering- a definite crowd-pleaser hit!

The menu at Sprout Hainan Noodles

Amy, owner of Sprout ladling her gorgeous shiny gravy

Love the shrimps in Sprout's Funky Shrimp noodles and crazy garlic dosage in the Garlic Explosion.

You can make a dish of just shrimps as an appetizer or part of a meal sans noodles. Follow my recipe* accordingly with tips on dividing it up to make half spicy and half non to appease to the family. I like using zipper back shell-on shrimps which allows the spicy chilli marinade to seep and the shells pan-fried to aromatic crispiness with shrimps that slip out for easy eating.

Hainan-Style Spicy Shrimp Snack Noodles
Makes 6 servings

1 lb. medium to large shrimps, shell-on and deveined
1 to 1-1/2 tsp. Pearl River Bridge Yellow Lantern Chilli Sauce (a little goes a long way)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. potato starch
2 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, minced, divided
400 g dried thick vermicelli noodles, cooked according to package instructions
3 cups bean sprouts, washed
1-1/2 cups bamboo shoot strips from a can, rinsed
1/2 cup potherb mustard (aka pickled mustard greens)
green onions, green part, thinly sliced
cilantro, leaves plucked, chopped
fried shallots
peanuts, roasted
Pearl River Bridge Yellow Lantern Chilli Sauce
optional: sesame oil

2 Tbsp. Pearl River Bridge Superior Light Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp. Pearl River Bridge Mushroom Flavoured Superior Dark Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp. oyster sauce
3 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
dash of ground white pepper
1-1/2 cups water
2 Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water

Mix shrimps with 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 cup water with your hand for one minute. A bubbly grey foam will appear. Run cold water into the bowl and rinse well until the foam disappears and the water is clear. Drain and place shrimps on paper towels and pat fry. In a bowl, toss shrimps with chilli sauce* and salt; let marinate for one hour. Just before cooking, toss shrimps with potato starch (this will make the shells crispy when pan-frying).  

Note*: Split the shrimps into two batches to make one non-spicy. Use half less chilli sauce in the batch that is spicy for marinating. Cook separately non-spicy first then the spicy batch.

Heat oil in wok or skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add shrimps, and let one side cook and crisp for two to three minutes before flipping over; cook another few minutes until almost done. Add 2 tsp. garlic and toss with shrimps for a minute and remove onto plate. 

Note*: if you are serving the shrimps as a dish itself, cook with as much garlic as you wish and garnish with onions and/or cilantro upon serving.

Crispy on the outside, succulent meat on the inside, with flavourful piquant notes outside and in!

If you are making the noodle bowl, while shrimps are marinating, prepare the ingredients. Blanch separately (in boiling water, quickly cook for one minute) bean sprouts and bamboo shoots (this rids beany and strong flavours); drain well. Cover potherb mustard with water and drain well right away (to get rid of excess salt); roast peanuts in 325F preheated toaster oven for 8-10 minutes, or pan-fry over the stove on medium for a few minutes until roasted.

To make the gravy, add all the gravy ingredients except cornstarch into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil; stir in cornstarch mixture until thicken. Lower heat to a gentle boil and add bamboo shoots to cook for one minute; turn off heat.

Divide the noodles in individual bowls. Lay all your ingredients in bowls on the table, and let everyone customize their own noodles to their liking! Be careful with topping the chilli sauce-- a little goes a long way, plus if you are having the marinated shrimps, these would be kicked up with spicy heat already.

An attractive colourful and textural array of toppings awaits the diner for customization.

The crunchy peanuts, sour pickled mustard and pungent garlic are my favourite elements! 

The hallmark of divine umami-punctuated gravy is made with oyster and two soy sauces!

A small dollop of chilli sauce on top for the heat-lovin' palate with its spicy intensity growing with each bite. 

A happy pappy camper!

A beautiful saucy mess of savoury, sweet, slightly sour and piquant slurpeliciousness!

Yellow Lantern Chilli Sauce is also very delicious marinated on pork belly and shoulder, and as a dip. 
Here it is served as a dip for my Pork Shoulder Roast with Chinese Spices.

NOTE: I am honoured to work with Pearl River Bridge @PRBUSA as a partner to develop recipes using their products. They have been a household brand growing up and they continue to be savoured with my own family as I thoroughly enjoy using their line of products in recipe experimentation and home-cooking. The information I share is completely my opinion, as are all my posts.

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