It wasn't until she moved away from California to a suburb of Tampa, devoid of good Asian markets and her mother's home cooking, that Jaden learned to cook. She earned her culinary degree via a $448.63 cell phone bill, and when I read her dedication on the front page of her book ("To my Mom, who spent thousands of hours reciting family recipe over the phone...and to my Dad, who patiently translated when our Chinglish didn't suffice."), I was reminded of my own inadequate Chinglish...and all the times I called my own mom from the grocery store, or begged her to just estimate how much soy sauce/rice vinegar/black bean sauce she used in a dish so I could piece together some semblance of a recipe.
Steamy Kitchen honors the passing down of recipes from generation to generation, from friend to friend, and recognizes that in doing so, it becomes more than just a recipe, but a tangible expression of family and community. I love that. I also love that the cookbook lends a real-life perspective on learning how to take what you have available and adapt it to your family meal. And, I love that this is a "homegrown" cookbook, written, styled, and photographed by Jaden herself. (True fact, the photos where you see her hands preparing a dish were taken by her 4-year-old son via tripod, wireless remote clicker, and chocolate bribe.)
Below is a recipe for Firecracker Shrimp, straight from The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook. It is a recipe that has become a regular at Jaden's dinner parties, and she warns, they rarely make it to the table because guests stand in the kitchen snagging them as they cool on the rack. The recipe is originally from Rice and Noodles by Mae Gabriel, a blog that inspired Jaden to take food photography seriously.
A good indication of the other dishes in The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook, these Firecracker Shrimp are enticing and accessible. And, I'm fairly certain they won't be making it past the cooling rack at my next party either.
Firecracker Shrimp, Photo by Jaden Hair
From The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook by Jaden Hair
Serves: 4-6 as appetizer
1 tablespoon cornstarch or flour
¼ cup water
24 medium tail-on shrimp, shelled (leave tails on) and deveined
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup sweet chilli sauce, divided *Recommended brands: Mae Ploy and Lingham (thicker, spicier and less sweet than Mae Ploy)
12 eggroll or fresh spring roll wrappers, cut in half diagonally and covered with plastic wrap or a damp cloth
High-heat cooking oil for frying
1) In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with the water to make a slurry.
2) Lay the shrimp flat on a cutting board and using a sharp paring knife, cut a few nicks on the inside curve of the shrimp. Be careful not to cut through the shrimp. Pat the shrimp very dry.
3) Season the shrimp with the salt and pepper. Pour ¼ cup of the sweet chilli sauce on a small plate. Hold the shrimp by its tail and dip both sides of the shrimp in the sweet chilli sauce. Avoid getting the tails wet (if the tail of the shrimp is wet with marinade, it will splatter in the hot oil). Let the shrimp marinade for 10 minutes at room temperature.
4) Use paper towels to pat the shrimp slightly, to soak up the extra marinade. Some of the sticky sweet chilli sauce should still be on the shrimp.
5) Roll the shrimp in the halved wrappers, following the instructions below.
6) In a wok, deep fryer or large sauté pan, add 1 ½ inches of oil and heat it to 375 degrees F. Add the firecracker shrimp a few at a time to the oil and fry until golden brown on each side, about 3 minutes. Drain on a baking rack and serve with a side of sweet chilli sauce for dipping.
Option: Add a thin slice of mango with the shrimp with wrapping to make Firecracker Mango Shrimp.
Step by Step Wrapping