It was so polite, the way she said it. You shouldn’t feel obligated to bring anything. But we’ll be putting out cheese and olives and such, and there’s always room for an appetizer. As if I thought I might be imposing, if I actually decided to bring something. Like I was afraid one more dish might cause the table’s legs to buckle, like some overburdened pack horse.
As soon as I realized we were actually going out—to an engagement party, at someone else’s house, with the express intent of talking to people whose conversations just might veer off the too-worn path of dirty diapers and breast milk—I knew I had to bring something that looked fancy. Not so much because I wanted to spend tons of energy in the kitchen, but because I felt ready to buzz again. Ready to spin from the sink to the cutting board to the stove and back without thinking about it.
The buzz happened, albeit slowly. I started with a square of banana leaf from the freezer, and little twirly bamboo skewers–the ones I’ve been hoarding in my kitchen drawer for probably the better part of a decade. These, I thought. I’ll put something on these.
It wasn’t the least bit complicated. I gave a couple pounds of shrimp a quick bath in curried coconut milk, then threaded them onto the skewers and grilled them. On a whim, instead of stirring together a separate dipping sauce, I plunked the marinade on the stove, where it simmered and bubbled and (surprise!) caramelized into a sticky, spicy, faintly sweet glaze for the shrimp. I brushed it on the shrimp, so I didn’t have to bother with transporting a dipping sauce, or watch people juggle baby kebabs and sauce and cheese and olives and champagne flutes all at once.
And it was all really that simple. I made a great appetizer, and brought it to a party.
On the way there, I looked at my husband with a broad grin. We’re on time, I said. (We’re not typically late people, but we’re often late for these friends.) And we’re bringing food and a baby. I told Jim I felt like I was back in the saddle again.
So, okay, it took me five (wait, six) days to type this recipe. And thinking back, I remember I did realize, halfway through cooking, that my t-shirt was on inside-out and backward.
So what? The shrimp tasted really good.
Onward and upward.
Here’s a two-for-the-price-of-one sort of recipe: the marinade, sharp and sweet with red curry and coconut milk, makes for tasty, mildly spicy grilled shrimp. Simmer the marinade down, though, and the coconut milk caramelizes, making a pleasingly sticky glaze that’s fancy and beautiful but not actually messy. This dish is great for a party; because you brush the sauce right onto the shellfish, it also travels quite well.
You’ll need about 3 dozen small (4” or 6”) skewers; be sure to soak them in water for about 30 minutes before threading the shrimp on, to avoid burning.
TIME: 45 minutes active time, plus marinating
MAKES: About 3 dozen skewers
2 tablespoons roasted red curry paste
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
2 pounds shrimp (16-20 per pound size), peeled and deveined, tails removed
6 kaffir lime leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro
1/4 cup loosely packed chopped fresh mint, plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
3 dozen small (4” or 6”) skewers
Vegetable or olive oil, for the grill
1 tablespoon honey
Place the curry paste in a large mixing bowl. Add about a quarter of the coconut milk, and whisk until blended. Add the remaining coconut milk, whisk again, then add the shrimp, lime leaves, cilantro, and 1/4 cup chopped mint. Stir to coat and refrigerate, covered, at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours.
Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to medium-high heat. While the grill heats, thread 2 shrimp on each skewer, so each skewer goes through each shrimp twice, reserving the marinade in the bowl as you work. Lightly oil the grill and cook the shrimp in batches for 2 to 3 minutes per side, until just pink and slightly charred.
While the shrimp cook, transfer the remaining marinade to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reduces to about a cup of liquid and darkens as the coconut milk caramelizes. Stir in a pinch of salt and the honey, then strain the sauce (through a fine mesh strainer) into a bowl. When the shrimp are done, brush the sauce onto the shrimp on both sides. Sprinkle the shrimp with the remaining tablespoon of mint, and serve warm or at room temperature, with extra sauce on the side, if desired.