This week, we took a turn for Asian with Around My French Table, incorporating some Chinese-style ingredients into an otherwise simple shrimp dish. Wood ear mushrooms, cellophane noodles, Chinese five spice, and sesame oil all came together to promise a very interesting experience.

Except: I substituted the dried wood ear mushrooms for cremini mushrooms. My regular grocery store carries wood ear mushrooms about 30% of the time, and this week was not a lucky one. And I didn’t feel like driving out to Whole Foods just for mushrooms, especially since I had mushrooms sitting in my fridge already. Not quite the same effect, but such is life.

This is a very simple dish, and it comes together really, really fast. The wood ear mushrooms and the cellophane noodles need to be soaked, but once they’re ready to go, the cooking goes quickly. As it should, when shrimp are involved.

I love shellfish. I absolutely adore it. But I’m leery of it sometimes, because it is so easy to improperly cook. Shrimp can quickly and easily turn into little bites of rubber. It needs only a couples of minutes of heat to get it to where it should be. Fortunately, this recipe is so simple that, once you have everything ready to go, you can devote all your attention to not cooking the crap out of the shrimp.

The cellophane noodles are soaked to soften them and are then tossed with some sesame oil (which I love, by the way, it smells so heavenly).

The cellophane noodles are soaked to soften them and are then tossed with some sesame oil (which I love, by the way, it smells so heavenly).

I sauteed my mushrooms, then added in the shrimp, along with spices and a little cayenne pepper. Less than a minute later, the tomato sauce went in. Two minutes later, the dish was done and ready for some noodles.

I sauteed my mushrooms, then added in the shrimp, along with spices and a little cayenne pepper. It’s a blurry picture; cooking shrimp and taking pictures are not easy to do at the same time.

Next came the most controversial step, one that was much discussed by the Doristas: the addition of a copious amount of tomato puree. For my half batch, it meant a whole cup.

I had reservations about this. First, it seemed like it would make an enormous amount of sauce. Second, I had to buy a whole 15oz can of tomato puree, and I wasn’t sure how I would deal with the remainder. Third, I had no idea what the flavor profile was supposed to be like.

I’m not an expert on Chinese dishes, especially anything beyond what you get at an American-Chinese restaurant. I’ve eaten authentic Chinese in Yokohama’s Chinatown, but both times, that was limited to dim sum. I’ve also eaten plenty of Japanese-Chinese dishes, but that’s different from both American-Chinese and authentic Chinese. And nothing I had ever eaten involved having a whole cup of tomato puree dumped into a wok (or a skillet, in my case).

I still don’t get it. In the end, I added the remainder of my marinara sauce, about two tablespoons of it. That added a nice splash of color and a little flavor without overwhelming everything else. Unfortunately for the cellophane noodles, it didn’t make much of a sauce, and I think cellophane noodles really need a sauce.

Speaking of these noodles, they’re given a quick bath in boiling water before being added to the shrimp. I either overcooked them or didn’t stir them properly, because they came out in a big gelatinous glob, which made it troublesome to both serve and eat them. And also to get them to soak up any kind of flavor.

Shrimp and cellophane noodles. What an ugly meal. I take the blame for that.

Shrimp and cellophane noodles. What an ugly meal. I take the blame for that. I would have been better off leaving the noodles out of it.

I’ll admit mea culpa on the cooking of the noodles. But I didn’t like them. They were pretty tasteless, and the consistency just wasn’t appetizing. I prefer thicker noodles, like udon or even ramen or soba. Alright, the truth is, I’m not a big fan of Chinese noodles. I love Japanese noodles, but anything thinner than soba is a turn-off. Even when it comes to ramen, I prefer the thicker noodles, not the skinny little shoestrings you got at some places. The cellophane noodles just didn’t do anything for me.

Now, the shrimp and mushrooms? We’d do that again. The shrimp was perfectly cooked (yay, me!), and the flavors worked really well together. I’d even add a bit more tomato next time, maybe a couple more tablespoons. We both agreed that the dish would be better with some brown rice – or yakisoba! Mmm, it would be really good with some yakisoba.

Several of the Doristas didn’t like this dish, and I can understand why. It’s a little weird. It’s a little confused. It really doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. Fortunately, it’s one of those dishes that can be modified and personalized – a different type of noodle, a little less tomato, a splash of mirin to brighten it a bit. Peanuts, I think, would be an interesting addition. It’s a dish you can play around with until you get it to suit your tastes. As it is, it needs the tweaking. It just doesn’t seem to have an identity yet. And if it’s supposed to be French-Asian fusion, I don’t see the French influence.

But I’m no expert on French cuisine either, so maybe that’s just me.

To see how the other cooks fared, check out the links at French Fridays with Dorie. And have a happy weekend!

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