Here’s how I decide what’s for dinner:
- I think of a main ingredient I want to cook (in this case, the pound of shrimp in my freezer).
- I think of a secondary ingredient I want to use (in this case, Asian noodles).
- I do a preliminary Google search for ideas.
- I check Pinterest for ideas.
- I vomit when I see how someone put all of the ingredients in a crockpot and deemed it a “great meal.”
- I pick a recipe or recipes to adapt or come up with a basic idea of my own.
With shrimp and udon on my mind, I came across a recipe from Cooking In Sens that utilized hot peppers (which were not missed), but looked easy enough to assemble. Until I went grocery shopping and looked for something called kecap manis.
What the hell is kecap manis? Let’s see what Wikipedia says:
Sweet soy sauce, which has a thick, almost syrupy consistency and a unique, pronounced, sweet somewhat treacle-like flavor due to generous addition of palm sugar. In cooking, it could be replaced by molasses with a little vegetable stock stirred in. However this is different than the smooth and mild sweetness of palm sugar and the strong flavor of fermented soy, as molasses can tend to have bitter flavors.
Huh. Surely Wegmans must stock it in its Asian foods section, right? Right? Wrong. As it turns out, Indonesian kecaps are not among the thousands of sauces stocked by Wegmans. It didn’t even muster a mention when I searched for it at their website. So, my options were to visit one of the local Asian groceries or make my own. I opted for the latter. So, in what aisle does Wegmans stock palm sugar? I’ll let you look for that the next time you hit the store.
The Interwebs say different things: Fuss Free Cooking says equal parts soy sauce and brown sugar, as does The Perfect Pantry but they offer a one part soy to two parts molasses option. Since I couldn’t find the brown sugar (I think we ran out the last time we did non-GF cookies), I opted for the jar of molasses in my cabinet. I didn’t, however, use the stovetop. Instead, I opted for nature’s heating process known as emulsification.
The Kitchn explains this process nicely:
Think of a liquid–a cup of vinegar, for instance–as made up of millions of tiny droplets. If you pour oil into the vinegar, at first the oil will float on the top of the vinegar because it’s less dense. However, if you whisk them together, the tiny droplets forming each liquid start to mix together and become suspended within each other. This is an emulsion.
The thick molasses suspended itself in the liquidy soy sauce. By whisking vigorously, it heats up and excites the molecules, which then (cue Barry White) enter a period of culinary coitus and become one.
WHAT WORKED: Shortcuts. Homemade kecap manis. Wegmans bagged cole slaw in favor of a quarter-head of cabbage and one carrot.
WHAT DIDN’T: Canola oil. I don’t have peanut oil and didn’t buy it, figuring canola would work here. It was fine, but the higher smoking point of peanut makes it more desirable for frying. At the very least, I should have used sesame oil.
WHAT DID THE WIFE SAY: “I like this. It’s tasty. Wait, is this cabbage?” Heh heh. Almost snuck it by her.
WILL IT MAKE ANOTHER APPEARANCE: Yes. I wonder how miso paste would work. Or soba. Or rice noodles, for that matter. And I might actually try to track down the kecap manis.
Udon Shrimp Noodles
Adapted from Cooking In Sens
- 3 packages of instant udon noodles, rinsed in cold water and drained
- 4 bird’s eye chillies, cut into 3 or 4 pieces (I opted out)
- 1/4 cup soy sauce (this goes with the chillies)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tbsp. hoisin sauce
- 2 tbsp. kecap manis (store-bought or homemade)
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- 3 large garlic cloves, slivered
- 2 tbsp. peanut oil
- 1 lb. large shrimp
- 6 cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 1 carrot, halved vertically and thinly sliced
- 1/4 small head cabbage, shredded
Put the chillies into the 1/4 cup of soy sauce and set aside.
Mix the water, hoisin, kecap manis, sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil together and set aside.
Saute the garlic in the peanut oil until aromatic, add the shrimp and saute until half cooked. Add the mushrooms and saute for 30 to 60 seconds. Add the carrots and cabbage and saute for 1-2 minutes. Finally, add the noodles with the kecap manis mixture and cook until the noodles are heated through.
Serve with the chilli soy sauce.