I did not grow up with the New York Jewish tradition of Chinese food and a movie on Christmas Day, a popular custom that purportedly harks back to the beginning of the 20th century (well, maybe not the movie part).
As the story goes, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where immigrants of all stripes lived, Chinese restaurants were the only ones open on Christmas. Though they weren’t kosher kitchens, at least they didn’t mix milk and meat, which is forbidden to observant Jews. (Somehow, the presence of pork and shellfish on the menu was O.K., at least for a day.) Fast-forward a hundred years and the tradition is now deeply entrenched, not just in New York, but throughout the United States.
When I lived in San Francisco, I frequently joined a group of Jewish food professionals around a giant round table for an annual Chinese Christmas banquet organized by Patricia Unterman, a local restaurant critic. Well versed in Chinese cuisine, she knew exactly what to order from all the chef’s specialties at the renowned R & G Lounge. If you wanted a movie, you had to catch it late in the afternoon, because we’d be at the table for hours, dining very well indeed. I still miss that Christmas ritual.
If you feel like staying in, even if it’s not Christmas, this recipe for Chinese sizzled shrimp is rather festive, and, obviously, you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy it. You don’t even have to own a wok.
What you do need is the best shrimp available. For me, that means wild shrimp,…