I bought a stainless steel kitchen table in 2016 because I once read that you could throw hot pots and pans right on it. Since then, this tall, sturdy table has become a center of gravity for me. I do everything from reading the newspaper with coffee in the morning to developing recipes for work during the day. At night, I clean it for dinner. That’s where I chop the onions, whisk the vinaigrette and knead the freshly baked milk bread dough on the weekend. I only have two stools, one on each side of the table, and I like it that way. It is where my partner and I sit for our meals.
I could buy more stools, but over the years I have found that I prefer individual dinners to larger meetings or solo meals. It’s not that I don’t like a good dinner. I’m at my best when I take a perfect roast chicken out of the oven, and little makes me happier than sending my friends home full. And when I’m alone, food can be a transcendent way to heal me. A whimsical sliver of taleggio or a slab of black cod with caramelized edges will linger in my mind until I have eaten huge amounts of it or written it from my system into a recipe.
But when I cook for my boyfriend, the pleasures are different. I get out of my head and go into keeper mode, considering things that go beyond simple flavor: the comfort, the nutrition, the well-being of this other human. Will he like it? Will this keep it full? There’s also that unparalleled tranquility when it’s just the two of us sharing a meal and the day begins to fade. Food is on the table, but it’s not an occasion: it’s just a dinner. We can chat and catch up on gossip. This hum of the ordinary takes root in me and reminds me that I am alive. And when did he lick what I cooked, leaving little more than crumbs on his plate? There is no better feeling.
I tend to have the memory of a goldfish, which is why I like to photograph the dinners I prepare for us before diving in. Later, as I browse the photos on my phone, I relive those meals as if they were songs on a playlist from our relationship: the kimchi and mayonnaise sandwiches I made for our first date in the park, the kimchi juice dripping from her arms. The life-giving juk I prepared it for us one morning, sprinkled with furikake, egg yolks and baked cherry tomatoes, juicy with the promise. The giant green salad we shared for lunch between business meetings, bejeweled with thinly sliced watermelon radishes. The Paul we did one day after a full afternoon in brooklyn looking for rhubarb. The fiery shrimp stew that lit up our senses before a night spent dancing in the street like children.
I remember the first time I made that shrimp stew – it was still bubbling in its hot pot when I moved it from the stove to the table. It is a good table, but it is also a good stew. A kind of cousin of the bouillabaisse, cioppino And win comfortably feeds two, with a spicy and aromatic broth tinged with red gochugaru, a Korean red chili powder. Bitter greens and sweet radishes give the broth a vegetable texture and complexity, which you should definitely absorb with bread or rice. You can use shrimp or giant shrimp; be sure to take them with their shells (and ideally with the head too), as they are essential to flavor this simple dish.
Heads are optional because I don’t know who you are cooking for. But I highly recommend using shellfish with your head held high, if you can find them and if your diner is someone you are intimate with. This is because this is an intimate stew, the kind you will want to eat with someone you are close to, as sucking the flavor off the heads is the most enjoyable part of what is already a very pleasant experience. You can take my boyfriend’s word for it. When he took a bite of that first head of shrimp, he leaned over the table and said, “This is what makes life worth living.”
Recipe: Shrimp stew for two