In our cooking series Quickies, we invite chefs, bartenders, and other personalities in the world of food and drink who are serious hustlers to share their tips and tricks for preparing quick, creative after-work meals. Every dish featured in Quickies takes under 30 minutes to make, but without sacrificing any deliciousness—these are tried-and-tested recipes for the super-busy who also happen to have impeccable taste.
When chef Mei Lin stops by the MUNCHIES Test Kitchen, we're excited to try her take on shrimp toast: At her new Los Angeles restaurant, Nightshade, she serves shrimp toast with a velvety, yellow layer of Cantonese-inspired curry. While we're quite familiar with the crisp, fried magic that is shrimp toast, we can't say we've ever had it served like this before.
For Lin, the pairing just makes sense. "When you have curry and you don’t have rice, what's the natural thing you want to do?" Lin says as she unpacks her knives. "You want something to sop it up—that was the idea behind this dish." She's in town from LA for just a few days, trusting her four-month-old restaurant in the hands of her small team. Luckily, she tells us with a smile, "It’s a good squad."
RECIPE: Easy Shrimp Toast
As Lin explains, she'll whiz the shrimp into a mousse that's made richer using schmaltz, sesame oil, and Shaoxing wine, and spread it onto bread, which she'll then deep fry until the toast is golden and the shrimp is pillowy and moist. The classic preparation would stop there, but she'll break from the norm with a spicy, aromatic coconut milk curry. In Chinese cooking, Lin says, "This type of curry is usually served with brisket."
Though it might sound like a lot to do, we're pleased to find out that this recipe will take only about 30 minutes. First, Lin puts slices of dense pain de mie in a warm oven. "If you put the shrimp mixture on fresh bread, it’ll soak up too much of the oil," she warns. The bread will stay in the oven until it's crisped slightly.
The curry needs some time to cook down, so Lin starts that next. She cuts an assortment of aromatics—ginger, lemongrass, onions, shallots—as well as a combination of serrano and fresno chiles, for a mix of fruitiness and spice. Everything goes into a food processor, and it's blended until smooth. "I want to break down all the fibers," Lin says. "You could make this in a mortar and pestle—if you want a workout."
She drops the curry paste into a deep pot, along with some oil, sugar, and a dose of Madras curry powder. "You definitely want to cook out and toast the curry paste. You don’t want it to taste raw," she tells us. After a few minutes, the curry paste should look a little darker in color; at that point, you'll want to give it a taste. With the paste browned, Lin adds coconut milk and chicken stock, then lets the sauce simmer until it reduces by about a third. Before serving, she'll pass the curry through a strainer.
Next, Lin makes the shrimp mixture. Using a food processor, she pulses the shrimp with schmaltz, sugar, fish sauce, cornstarch, and an egg white. The goal, she explains, is a thick paste that still has some distinct chunks of shrimp. "I don’t like to add all the salt up front because it can vary depending on the fish sauce you use," she tells us, as she seasons. Into the shrimp, she throws in minced ginger, garlic, and cilantro stems.
At this point, the bread should be done—not dark, but lightly crisped—so we heat oil to 350°F in a Dutch oven. To check that the shrimp's seasoning is on point, Lin carefully spoons a small ball of the shrimp mixture into the hot oil. She scoops the fried shrimp ball out once it's golden, tastes it, and tinkers with more fish sauce, salt, and pepper.
Going edge to edge, Lin spreads the a layer of shrimp paste onto the bread. Into the hot oil it goes; Lin says, "I like to say farce side down." When the bread and shrimp looks golden, she gives it a flip. For frying novices, Lin tells us that a cake tester is helpful here. Poke through it and if the cake tester comes out cold, she says, "Then it’s not ready—you want to make sure it’s hot." The smell of shrimp fills the air, and we're ravenous. As the toasts finish frying, Lin swoops them out with a spider and onto a rack to drain.
To serve, Lin fills a wide bowl with a few ladles of curry and tops it with a sliced piece of shrimp toast. We thought shrimp toast was perfect as-is, but we were wrong: Add a little curry and it's next level.