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Study cuisines from around the world, and you'll find that many tend to rely on fairly consistent bases of aromatic vegetables, no matter the dish. In France, this vegetable base is known as mirepoix, and features celery, onions, and carrots. In Creole cooking, it's known as the holy trinity—onion, celery, and green bell peppers. Italy, Spain, German, and other countries and cuisines have their own variations as well. So what would the Chinese equivalent of mirepoix or the holy trinity be? The answer depends largely on the region.
In this series, we're looking at two of the most fundamental aromatic bases used in Chinese cooking: spicy (chili peppers and garlic) and aromatic (ginger, scallion, and garlic). This week, the focus is on the latter group of ginger, scallion, and garlic, which is common to the Southern Guangdong province and, more specifically, the famed Cantonese cooking of that region. To read more on the basics of this flavor base, take a look at our primer here.
Today, we'll examine one Cantonese dish in particular that uses a variation on the ginger, garlic, and scallion flavor base: stir-fried shrimp with eggs and Chinese chives. It's a dish that is frequently cooked in many Cantonese homes, and there are many variations of it, with or without shrimp, or with roast pork as the protein, instead.
It's quick to cook, and includes one of my favorite Chinese vegetables—Chinese chives. As I mentioned in the primer, other members of the onion family are sometimes substituted for the scallions in the basic garlic-ginger-scallion trio, and the use of Chinese chives here is an example of that. If you are a fan of ramps, you will love Chinese chives for their equally oniony, garlicky flavor.
They somewhat resemble the thin round chives that are more common in Western cooking, except that Chinese chives are more flat, and a bit longer and wider. You can also find a yellow variety that is slightly more tender and has a more delicate flavor, but also tends to be more expensive.
Here's how I make it:
First, I soak the shrimp for 30 minutes in cold water with some baking soda in it. The baking soda alters the texture of the shrimp, helping to prevent them from becoming soft and mealy while giving them a wonderful juicy, popping bite.
One the shrimp are soaked, I rinse them and pat them dry with towels. Then I mix them with a little oil and some salt and white pepper.
I beat the eggs with some milk and seasonings.
The shrimp go into a smoking hot wok and cook over high heat for one minute.
Then I add the Chinese chives, along with minced garlic and ginger. It's important not to add the aromatics at the beginning with the shrimp, because the minced garlic and ginger could scorch if they're in the wok too long.
As soon as the shrimp are cooked through and the chives are just starting to wilt, I scrape them out of the wok and onto a plate.
Next I cook the eggs in the wok. I start off with the wok smoking hot, but as soon as I add the eggs I lower the heat so that the eggs don't cook too aggressively. I let the eggs sit for about 30 seconds or so, until the bottom layer has set.
Then I start pushing the eggs from the sides in towards the middle, forming large, fluffy curds.
When the eggs are about halfway cooked, I add the shrimp and chives back into the wok, and stir them all together until the eggs have just set but are still soft. Then they're ready to eat.