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CHARLIE DON'T SURF & TURF

For my (long-belated) 65th birthday dinner, we turned to classic cinema for culinary inspiration.



Some movies are especially memorable for their great lines. Here are a few that most film buffs my age will instantly recognize--


"I going to make him an offer he can't refuse."

"Here's lookin' at you, kid."

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

"I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

"I coulda been a contender."

"You're gonna need a bigger boat."

"You can't handle the truth!"

"What we've got here is a failure to communicate."

"I'll have what she's having."

"There's no crying in baseball!"


Francis Ford Coppola's epic "Apocalypse Now" (1979) has more than its share of signature dialogue, including "Terminate with extreme prejudice" and, of course, "Charlie don't surf!" The film's menu that inspired mine appears in an early scene in which our protagonist, US Army Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) is given his covert assignment over luncheon with three intelligence officials. One of them, General Corman (G. D. Spradlin) does most of the talking, initially about the spread of food before them--


VIETNAMESE SHRIMP

("Captain, I don't know how you feel about this shrimp, but if you eat it, you'll never have to prove your courage in any other way.")


ROAST BEEF

("Let's see what we have here... roast beef, and usually it's... not bad.")


Courage? Well, the shrimp in the movie are kind of scary-looking with their heads (and piecing black eyes) still attached. The dish doesn't look anything like the widely-known Vietnamese delicacy known as Tôm Rim, a.k.a. Caramel Shrimp, and it's hard to tell what it actually is. But since my shrimp of choice for this special dinner are Organically-Farmed Tiger Shrimp from Vietnam, I felt free to experiment and go in any direction I pleased and still call it "Vietnamese," so long as the seasonings were culturally correct. After multiple trials, here's what I came up with for my final version--


VIETNAMESE GINGER SHRIMP


1 pound of size 8-10 organic Vietnamese tiger shrimp-- raw, de-veined, shells on. (These are normally sold in 2-lb. bags; it's easy to use half and keep the rest frozen.)


(SIZE MATTERS. Shrimp are sized by the number of them per pound. During my trials I settled on size 6-10 per pound, a.k.a. U-10's (as in "under 10 per pound.") My go-to store occasionally offers size 4-6, the size of a small lobster tail, but these proved difficult to cook completely without overcooking the exterior. Also worth noting is the correlation between size and price per pound-- when you buy bigger shrimp with accordingly fewer per pound, the price per pound goes up. The price per individual shrimp, therefore, increases exponentially with size.)


Exactly how big are size 6-10 (or U-10) shrimp?

Here's a helpful visual reference, courtesy of AndyS.


For the Marinade:

  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced (I always keep pureed garlic in oil handy)

  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

  • 2 tablespoons ginger marmalade

  • 2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce

  • Juice of 2 fresh limes

  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon

  • 2 tablespoons Vietnamese fish sauce


Remove the shells from the shrimp, carefully keeping the tail segment in place. (Consider saving the shells for stock. More on that later.) These shrimp were already de-veined, i.e., the digestive tract that runs along the back had been removed through a slice in the shell; however, with shrimp this size I also like to remove the thread-like white nerve that runs along the length of the belly. A quick flick of a small sharp knife will free it, and I just wipe it off the blade onto a square of paper towel.


Marinate shrimp for at least 2 hours, but no more than 4;

Remove shrimp, pat dry, sear one side then the other in grapeseed oil.

When the outside begins to scorch slightly, they are thoroughly cooked...

and ready to enjoy, either right away or a little later.



Sweet, spicy, and scrumptious Vietnamese tiger shrimp.



WAGYU PRIME RIB w/ THE BEST POSSIBLE GRAVY


As the loyal followers of Danny's Table well know, I've been working on perfecting prime rib for much of the website's existence. This version was the culmination of my efforts to date... light years better than the "usually... not bad" roast beef in the movie.


This special November birthday dinner was finally scheduled for a late winter Tuesday night. On the prior Monday afternoon I pulled a Snake River Farms boneless Wagyu Prime Rib-- "Black" grade-- from my deep freezer and thawed it for a few hours in a pot of water. I then gave it a generous salting and positioned it on a rack for overnight refrigeration. Come morning I set it up with a fan (at room temperature) to accelerate the formation of the exterior's dry crust. (The drier the better when it goes in the oven.) 20 minutes at 475º in my convection oven gave it a gorgeous brown exterior. Then it went into the regular oven at 175º until it reached 122º, which required about 4 hours.


Why such a low roasting temperature? Because in the course of my multiple experiences with prime rib, I've come across and tried a wide range of recommended cooking temperatures, and I've drawn two important conclusions:


ALL prime rib recipes recommend "resting" the meat for a spell between the oven and the carving board, during which, we are told, the internal temperature will continue to rise. Through repeated trials I learned that the lower the oven's roasting temperature, the less the rise in temperature during the rest period. This is an important factor when aiming for an exact internal temperature at serving time. Also, a worthy goal when roasting prime rib is to achieve as uniform a degree of done-ness as possible, i.e., the same desired shade of reddish-pink throughout. This, too, is best accomplished with a low roasting temperature.


A dark & tasty crust, and then uniformly medium-rare from coast to coast.


As previously mentioned, the roasting at 175º required about 4 hours to raise the internal temperature from 59º to 122º. However, every roast is at least somewhat unique, and your mileage may vary. (Pro-tip: according to the immutable laws of thermodynamics, the rise in internal temperature is not linear, i.e., not a steady progression of x degrees per hour from start to finish. It will rise not at all for the first 15 minutes or so, then rise quickly, then slow down as the internal temperature approaches the roasting temperature.)


And what about that "Best Possible Gravy?"


Dear Reader, I hereby confess to blatant culinary cheating. Of course I used my "faux jus," but I jacked it up to the highest possible level by combining it with something special-- while the rib roast was slowly roasting to perfection, I simultaneously made a basic red wine pot roast, the flourless version I posted last year in the essay "Five Easy Pieces." (Good thing we bought that new range last year with the two separate ovens.) Then I drained all the luscious liquid from the pot roast, de-fatted it, and combined it with the faux jus. After reducing for a while and adding a few shakes of salt and some potato flour roux, we had wagyu-worthy gravy... the best I've ever tasted.


All in all, it was a feast for the ages.


NOTES:


I generally avoid tiger shrimp because a lot of it is raised in Asian sewage. However, I have come to thoroughly trust the seafood departments at Whole Foods and Wegmans because they stand out as especially diligent about ethical sourcing and chain of custody.


Wagyu prime rib is really expensive. Never pay full price; always keep a sharp eye for sales.


That being said, properly-cooked Wagyu prime rib is cheaper and better than any prime rib you'll ever get in a restaurant.


This dinner took place some 16 weeks after my actual birthday. It was worth the wait.


Shrimp shells make excellent and useful stock. Cook them first by sautéeing them in a saucepan with just enough grapeseed oil. ("Get'em pink," as my son Chef Remi likes to say.) Simmer in just enough water for maybe half an hour, strain, and then reduce by half. Allow to cool, then freeze in a sturdy deli-type container. Shrimp (and lobster) stock is good for seafood soups and luxurious sauces.


And in case you were wondering, we washed this dinner down with a ripe and smooth Chianti Classico and a Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon.





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My wife and I were invited to embark on this culinary journey and we were not disappointed. We were thrilled to embark on this tantalizing, "Charlie Don't Surf and Turf" with Danny, his lovely wife, and a very special neighbor, who happens to be his mother-in-law. “ This culinary masterpiece will tantalize your taste buds and leave you craving more. Bravo Chef Danny, Bravo.

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