Shrimp in Clear Broth with Fresh Shiitaké

Ebi no Musubi Wan

This soup is a fine example of Japanese cooking at its most elegant: a few delicate, symbolic morsels resting in clear broth. Here each pale pink shrimp is “knotted” by pulling its tail through a slit in the body, and the garnish of flat-leafed parsley or mitsuba is also “knotted” by twisting several stalks together. These knots symbolize a binding relationship, and the Japanese might serve this soup to celebrate a wedding or a business merger.

Ingredients

  • 4 large shrimp, with shells and tails intact
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons saké (Japanese rice wine)
  • 4 large fresh Shiitaké (dark oak) mushrooms or other fresh wild mushrooms such as chanterelles

Garnish

  • 8 stalks mitsuba (trefoil) or flat-leafed parsley

Broth

  • 3 cups dashi (basic sea stock)
  • 1 teaspoon saké (Japanese rice wine)
  • teaspoons usukuchi shōyu (light soy sauce)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Method

  1. Remove the shells from the shrimp, keeping the last segment and the tail intact. With a knife make a shallow slit down the curved back and remove the vein. Turn each shrimp over and make a shallow slit the length of the belly. Gently exert pressure to flatten and “butterfly” each shrimp. With the point of the knife make a deep ¼-inch slit ½ inch from the head end to make a vertical hole. Carefully curl each shrimp and thread its tail through this hole so that the shrimp is knotted upon itself. Each tail should fan out slightly where it emerges through the hole.
  2. Mix the cornstarch with the rice wine, and toss the shrimp in this mixture. Bring a small pot of water to a rolling boil and blanch two of the coated shrimp for 1½ minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the shrimp and place them on paper towels. Cook the remaining two knotted shrimp. Place a shrimp in each of four bowls.
  3. Remove the mushroom stems and reserve them for flavoring the broth. Wipe the caps to remove any traces of grit. Cut each cap in half, slightly on the diagonal, and set the pieces aside.
  4. Fill a small bowl with boiling water and dip the stems of the trefoil or parsley in the water to wilt them. Be careful not to wilt the leaves. When the stems are pliable, take two stalks and lay them parallel to each other, leaves facing the same direction. Loop the stems over your finger and knot them together about ¾ inch below the leaves. Trim the bottom of the stems to make them even. Repeat to make three more knotted garnishes. Set the four green knots aside.
  5. Prepare the broth: Heat the stock in a saucepan. Season it with the rice wine, soy sauce, and salt. Add the mushroom stems, and simmer the broth for 5-10 minutes; add the mushroom caps for the final 3—5 minutes. Skim away any froth. Discard the stems.
  6. Place two pieces of mushroom cap and a single green knot in each bowl, then gently ladle hot broth over all the ingredients. Serve immediately.

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