Heads and Tails: Salt-Baked Shrimp
Dear Mr. Gold:
Mon Kee Chinese Seafood in Chinatown closed in, I believe, 2005. I have been in deep mourning for its rock-salt shrimp ever since and have not been able to find a duplicate. It appeared that the preparation of the giant heads-on shrimp included a heavy coating in kosher salt and then a flash fry. The salt was, of course, knocked off, and the shrimp were served on a bed of rice. It was the best Chinese seafood I have ever eaten. I will drive anywhere just to taste this shrimp one more time.
—F.J. Weissman, Canyon Country
Dear Mr. Weissman:
I believe the dish you’re referring to is “salt-baked” shrimp, whole prawns dipped in a spicy salt-pepper mixture and fried, sprinkled with bits of browned garlic, sliced chiles and scallions softened in oil. The shrimp are crunched down whole — the shells are usually treated to soften them. It’s actually a pretty common preparation, a Chiuchow cuisine that’s made it onto the menu of almost every Cantonese seafood restaurant in California. My own favorite version used to be served at Yuet Lee on Stockton in San Francisco’s Chinatown (although, like you, I was introduced to the dish at Mon Kee, in the late ’70s). But there are fine renditions almost everywhere good Chinese restaurants are to be found. The salt-baked shrimp at 888 in Rosemead (8450 Valley Blvd., 626-573-1888) are good. The gentle takes on the dish at Elite in Monterey Park (700 S. Atlantic Blvd., 626-282-9998) and Sea Harbour in Rosemead (3939 Rosemead Blvd., 626-288-3939) are first rate. And Newport Seafood in San Gabriel (835 W. Las Tunas Dr., 626-289-5998) has a really good version — if I remember correctly, Newport’s version is a bit spicier than most and a decent counterpoint to the spicy house-special lobster, which is the ne plus ultra of fried Chinese crustaceans in the San Gabriel Valley.
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