Sabor de soledad in Baltimore, part ii: fig and chicken liver salad and gambas flambées with pastis

Gambas Flambées with Pastis

If the galettes were a foray into the unknown, the following week was a retreat into the familiar and easy. Initially my plan was to have dinner planned for three nights, but Michael’s schedule changed and I ended up only needing plans for two, so one of my favorite meals alone–ricotta dumplings with arugula–had to wait until lunchtime on Friday. Oh well.

Still, I ate very well: Tuesday I made Rachel Khoo’s delicious fig and liver salad. I wrote about this salad last year when I first read about it and felt compelled to make it, but Fairway didn’t have any fresh figs at the times so I subbed in some Italian plums instead. Thanks to Whole Foods I was able to make it as written, and I even splurged and bought some organic chicken livers. I’m not one to get up on soap boxes to sing the praises of organic foods, but I’ll make an exception for chicken livers. Since they are organs that filter things, the fact that they come from chickens fed an all-vegetarian diet means that they definitely taste way better than the super-cheap ones I’d find at the grocery store. They still don’t break the bank (a pound of them cost me $4) but the difference is extremely notable.

Rachel Khoo’s chicken liver and fig salad.

I also realize that livers may not be everyone’s cup of tea, so to not completely weird you out, I also must share Mimi Thorisson’s gambas flambées with pastis. While this technically falls in her “Autumn” section, it’s really the perfect late-summer meal: fast-cooking, light, and of course puts to great use some late-summer cherry tomatoes.

Really, the only challenge with this dish is how to do the flambé. Usually when we light pans on fire we don’t go at it alone, but I approached this with as much care as I possibly could:

  • I turned off the heat (after a rather impressive flame erupted)
  • I used a grill lighter and assumed the position of protecting my eyebrows as this is what Michael does every time he sets food on fire
  • I had a pot lid handy to extinguish it and a fire extinguisher right behind me just in case
  • I did not stop to take a picture of anything so as to make sure I was focused on the task at hand.

Mimi actually doesn’t tell you to turn off the heat (hence why you get a rather impressive flame at first by following her recipe), and that might be because she’s much more adventurous than me, but I’m going to urge you to not go that route. The flame is much more manageable by just letting it peter out on its own, so there’s less of a need for either the pot lid or the fire extinguisher. Hers in the book as a result get a little more singed than mine shown here, but it’s a small concession to make in the name of kitchen safety.

When it comes down to it I still successfully set something on fire by myself, so either way it’s a win for me.

Gambas Flambées with Pastis

Serves two as an appetizer or one very hungry person for dinner
Adapted from A Kitchen in France by Mimi Thorisson

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 pound shrimp, shells on but deveined
  • 15 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 shallot, sliced thin
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons pastis or anisette
  • 3 tablespoons dry white wine or white vermouth
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes or Alpeppo pepper
  • Small bunch of chives, finely chopped

In a saute pan, heat the oil on medium heat and then add the garlic and shallots and let them cook for about 3 minutes or until softened. Raise the heat to high, add the shrimp, and cook on each side for about one to two minutes each until they are opaque throughout.

Get ready to flambé: make sure you have the pan’s lid handy in case you need it, and then add the pastis to the pan. Turn off the heat, and very carefully ignite the cooking liquid (a grill lighter is good here) and let the flame burn while shaking the pan vigorously. Once the flame is out, turn the oven back on to high and add the white wine and cook for another 3 minutes or until reduced.

Add the tomatoes and season everything in the pan with salt and pepper, and then reduce the heat back down to medium once you’ve stirred everything together. Add the butter and red pepper and let the butter melt to make the sauce glossy. Move to a serving dish and serve immediately, sprinkling the chives over all of the shrimp.

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3 comments
  1. Brianne said:

    I love chicken livers. Your note on why you went for organic chicken liver was sadly mind-blowing to me. I mean, duh. And gross! Why did I not ever think of that before?! Now I’m always gonna go organic if I’m cooking with chicken livers. Also, if I’m eating by myself it’s a big bowl of spaghetti with canned sauce on the couch, so mad props for flambeing shrimp! That recipe sounds totally boss.

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