Curry Challenge: Curried Sweet Potato Chowder with Gulf Shrimp

Okay, so when Erika said, “Hurry, Let’s Make Curry!” I obviously didn’t see the hurry part.  Bad Jennie!  I do love curry though…pretty much anything with curry flavors, really.  Anyone out there ever tried Vosges’ Naga Bar?  Yum!   But I digress…for my challenge entry I decided to make my favorite dish, soup, with curry as the main flavoring.  Like Erika’s dish this one is pretty much in the Thai style (red curry paste instead of green) although I did use garam masala, which is an Indian spice blend and is, incidentally, my new best friend.   Double Yum!

Curried Sweet Potato Chowder with Gulf Shrimp

Ingredients

1 stalk of lemongrass, tough outer leaves and ends removed and sliced very, very fine

1 fennel bulb, white bulb potion only, diced

1 yellow onion, diced

4 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed and diced

2 tbsp. of olive oil

2 tsp. of kosher salt

2 tsp. of garam masala

2 tsp. of cumin

zest of 1/2 of a fresh lime (we’ll be using the juice too)

3 tbsp. of red curry paste

2 tbsp. fish sauce

4 cups of chicken broth

1/2 cup of dry vermouth

2 lbs. of sweet potatoes cut into a 1/4″ dice

1 13-14 oz. can of unsweetened coconut milk

1 lb. of  approx. 31-35 raw gulf shrimp, peeled

juice from 1 lime (told you we’d use that juice)

1/2 bunch of cilantro (leaves only), roughly chopped

Method

Heat the olive oil over medium high in your favorite soup pot (I use a 5 qt. enamel coated dutch oven).  Add the lemongrass, fennel, onion, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the veggies start to soften.  Next add 1 tsp. of the salt,  the garam masala, the cumin, the lime zest, the curry paste, and the fish sauce and cook for about 5 more minutes, still stirring frequently so that the spices don’t stick and burn.  It’s okay to reduce the heat to medium and even add a little more oil if you need to.

Now add the chicken broth and the vermouth and bring the mixture to a boil.  Once the pot is boiling, add your sweet potatoes and cook until they are fork tender (probably close to 20 minutes).  When the sweet potatoes are done, stir in the coconut milk, remove the pot from the heat and puree about a cup of the mixture in a blender (or you can use an immersion blender and puree just a little).  Add the puree back to the pot and stir in the shrimp.  Let the hot soup sit with the shrimp in it for about 3-5 minutes until the shrimp are opaque.  Finish the soup with the final tsp. of kosher salt, the lime juice, and the cilantro and serve immediately.  Two of my favorite things, soup and Thai flavors, together in a happy marriage.  I’m a happy camper!!!

In case you were wondering…

What the heck is garam masala? Garam Masala is an Indian spice blend that includes cinnamon, pepper and cardamom.  I think it’s yummy on lots of different things.  Matter of fact, I put it in some homemade spaghetti sauce the other day and it was mighty fine.

Don’t you usually recommend letting soup sit for 10 or 15 minutes once it’s finished cooking to allow the flavors to blend? Yes, that’s true.  This soup is different because it contains shrimp.  Making soup with shrimp can be a little tricky because shrimp gets very tough and rubbery when you overcook it.

For this reason, there are basically two methods to use when making soup with shrimp.  The first way is the way you see here: add the shrimp at the very end and let it stay just until it’s cooked.  If you do things this way and leave the shrimp sitting for too long in the warm soup it may wind up overcooking.  That’s why I advise serving this soup immediately.  The second way is to add the shrimp early on and continue cooking it well past the tough phase until the shrimp takes on liquid from the surrounding soup and gets soft again.  You see this method in things like gumbo.  I don’t think it works as well here because it creates a kind of “flavor equilibrium” between the shrimp and the soup.  In other words the two taste the same and there is no burst of seafood flavor when you bite into a shrimp.  K?

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