The only thing more satisfying than teaching people how to cook is doing so with ingredients that are easily and locally procurable, once you know where to look.
I have to admit that this is one of the complaints that I get on my column from time to time — I explain a technique or dish that simply can’t be recreated by a reader without a trip to the finer markets in the city. And by “city” I don’t mean Salisbury or Berlin.
It is important for people in love with food to explore products with which they have never worked. They need to play with their food. This is how one grows his or her repertoire, a common theme in my writings. And the larger your repertoire, the smaller the world. I guess Disney got that one right, after all.
In what seems like a different life, I worked at Michel Richard’s Citronelle during its short tenure on the top floor of the Latham Hotel in Baltimore. I was an expediter, so I was in the kitchen regularly. Among other things, I was to ensure that all food was perfect and to the likings of the chef.
It was here that I first saw the mystical food known as kataifi, and I have been a fan ever since. Michel’s chef de cuisine, Karim Lakhani, was a talented chef who added new dimensions to an already impressive menu and did so by incorporating regional ingredients from his homeland.
We were told that Mr. Richard didn’t earn a penny on the food; that the food was his passion and as such only the finest ingredients were procured. The market wouldn’t bear prices higher than they already were, so emphasis was placed on the server’s ability to up-sell cocktails, wine, cigars and brandy. Of course, banquets were easy money, as they often are.
Karim’s signature appetizer at Citronelle was the Kataifi Crabcake. The appetizer was breaded in the same fashion as the shrimp below and then dropped in the deep fryer. The loose ends of the kataifi would sprout out, making the finished product look like a star bursting into every direction. Served on remoulade, it was stunning and delicious.
But what is kataifi? In short, it is shredded phyllo dough. Think shredded wheat, and you can imagine kataifi. And why haven’t I written about this before? Simply put, before last week, I did not know where to send you locally to get it.
I was in the Mediterranean Mini-Market on South Division Street in Salisbury shopping for our Middle Eastern competency at the college when I found myself staring at the elusive kataifi. I found it hard to trust my senses, but it stared back at me from the freezer, ready to go. Words may have even passed between us. I don’t recall, as I found myself in a trance, not dissimilar to the food coma many people experience after Thanksgiving dinner.
After coming to, I was ecstatic as I had never seen it in the retail setting and now can tell people where to get it. That makes this column a cinch.
The shredded strands of the kataifi, wrapped around a product that you bake or fry, results in an incredibly crispy texture that lends itself to finger foods and special appetizers, especially when served with a creamy sauce.
There are many appropriate sauces that could be served with the kataifi shrimp: lemon-pepper aioli, Remoulade (fancy tartar sauce), mustard cream, horseradish sauce, cocktail sauce et al.
Given the right sauce, these beauties will inspire everyone to work with kataifi, and now you don’t even need to ask where to get it.
It is well worth the trip to see Mohammed at the Mini-Market. He is quite forthcoming with his knowledge on African and Middle Eastern cuisine, and his shop is testament to the variety of foods from this region of the world.
Armed with bags of hibiscus flowers (for tea) Sumac (not the poisonous type) and kataifi, it was time to get back to the lab. It is now time to play.
24 large shrimp
1 package Kataifi
1/2 cup Wondra or AP flour
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper as needed
• Peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the tail connected. This will give your guests something to grab on to as this is a great finger food
• Thaw the kataifi thoroughly so that it will unfold easily
• Make an egg wash with remaining ingredients
• Place the flour in a dry dish; this is the first part of your breading station
• Place the egg wash in a second pie pan or other pan with low rim
• Pull off a ‘tuft’ of kataifi about 1-inch wide and 6 inches long and sit on table at end of breading station
• Dip a shrimp in the Wondra/flour and shake off excess
• Place in the egg wash and allow excess to drip off
• Place the shrimp on the kataifi and roll it up
• Bread all shrimp in this fashion and then set aside until ready to cook
• Heat a fryer to 350 degrees and fry until golden and cooked through, about 4-5 minutes depending on the fryer