Twice-Fried Shrimp Pinecones with Pine Nuts

Ebi no Matsukasa Agé

The Japanese use a great deal of symbolism in the presentation of their food. Pine trees, for example, represent constant hardiness and are popular motifs in menus celebrating the New Year. These edible pinecones are shaped from a shrimp forcemeat studded with pine nuts and then fried. The forming of these spheres is a bit tricky, but even slightly misshapen, they make delicious hors d’oeuvres!

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces uncooked shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 teaspoon saké (Japanese rice wine)
  • pinch salt
  • 1 generous tablespoon egg white
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2-3 firm white turnips or radishes (to be used for shaping, not for eating)
  • ¼-⅓ cup pine nuts
  • vegetable oil for deep-frying, at least 2 inches deep
  • 1 lime, cut into 12 wedges
  • soy sauce for dipping, optional

Method

  1. Chop the shrimp coarsely and then place it in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse/process to finely chop. Add the rice wine and salt, and process until a smooth paste is formed.
  2. Combine the egg white with the cornstarch in a small cup, and mix to form a smooth paste. Add the paste to the shrimp mixture, and pulse/process until smooth. Chill, covered, in the refrigerator, at least twenty minutes.
  3. Cut twelve rounds from the turnips, each about ¼ inch thick and inches in diameter. Stick a single bamboo skewer through each turnip round. These will be used as bases for forming the pinecones.
  4. With hands moistened in cold water, divide the shrimp paste into twelve portions, forming each into a rounded oblong shape. Keep the shrimp paste chilled when you are not handling it. Place a single oblong portion of shrimp paste through the skewer so it rests on top of the turnip round. Starting at the base, gently press four or five pine nuts into the shrimp paste. Work your way up the shrimp paste, making four or five rows. Placing the nuts pointing upward gives a more realistic rendering of a pinecone.
  5. Heat the oil in a deep-fryer or wok to about 325 degrees; a pine nut should barely sizzle and color ever so slowly when tested. Holding the exposed portion of the skewer, carefully lower each shrimp pinecone into the hot oil, with the turnip still attached. Gently twirl the skewer to help withdraw it from the center of the shrimp paste. Remove the skewer. Fry only one or two pinecones at a time to keep them from sticking to each other. Fry the shrimp pinecones for 2 minutes, or until fairly firm and slightly golden. Carefully remove them from the oil and drain on paper towels, then slice off the turnip rounds (some may fall off before this point, which is fine). Repeat until all the pinecones have been fried once. You may find that several pine nuts have fallen off; remove them from the oil and either nibble them on the spot or scatter them over the finished pinecones.
  6. Raise the heat of the oil to about 350 degrees, and re-fry the pinecones, three or four at a time, for another 1-1½ minutes. The nuts will become golden and the shrimp paste opaque and firm to the touch. Test for doneness by spearing a pinecone with a toothpick; it should come out clean. Drain the pinecones well on paper towels, and serve them hot or at room temperature with lime wedges. Offer soy sauce for dipping, if you like.

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