Shrimp with Cinnamon and Noodles
Serves 2-4, depending on the appetites and what else you’re eating
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 stalk celery, cut into one-inch lengths crosswise, then julienned lengthwise
A 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into small matchsticks
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 large or 2 small cinnamon sticks, broken or chopped into very small shards
2 star anise (optional)
7-8 tablespoons soy sauce (preferably low-sodium)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons oyster sauce (you can swap out a mixture of hoisin sauce and a little bit of fish sauce)
½ teaspoon ground white pepper (or black pepper)
2 teaspoons chicken or vegetable stock concentrate (such as Better than Bouillon)
3/4 cup plus 2 or 3 tablespoons water (divided use)
1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
12 asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths, or about 1/3 pound green beans, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 1-inch lengths, or ½ cup peas (thawed if frozen)
½ pound rice stick noodles, or ½ pound spaghetti, cooked, drained, and rinsed in cold water
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
Put the cinnamon stick pieces and 2 tablespoons of the water in a small microwave-safe bowl. The pieces of cinnamon should be nearly covered, so add another tablespoon of water if you need to. Microwave for 15-30 seconds until the water is hot, depending on the power of your microwave. Cover the bowl with a plate and let the pieces soak for about 10 minutes to soften a bit, then drain the cinnamon pieces, reserving the water (if there’s any left).
Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet until just about smoking. Add the celery, ginger, garlic, cinnamon pieces, and star anise and stir fry for a minute. Add 7 tablespoons of the soy sauce and simmer for 30 seconds, then add the oyster sauce, white pepper, brown sugar, the water (including the cinnamon soaking water, if you have any), and the stock concentrate. Bring to a boil.
Add the shrimp and the vegetables (except the carrot), stirring everything together and submerging as much as you can. Make sure it’s boiling, then lower the heat a bit and put the lid on for a few minutes. Check to see that the shrimp are cooked and the vegetables are just about tender, and keep cooking until they are.
Stir in the noodles or spaghetti and the grated carrot. Cook, uncovered on high heat, tossing everything together for a minute or two. The noodles will absorb most of the liquid, leaving you with enough sauce to glaze everything. Taste a noodle and see if you want to add another tablespoon of soy sauce. Remove the star anise pods if you see them sticking out. Serve immediately.
Note: I like eating the cinnamon pieces, which is why I modified Nigella Lawson’s original recipe to soften them up in hot water ahead of time. You don’t have to, although the pieces won’t soften up much during the cooking, even though they flavor the dish.