Pulling Toast out of the Toaster 

Recipe: Shrimp and Water Chestnut Toasts

I don't own a toaster, apparently a thorn in my companion's side. Instead, I put bread in a 350-degree oven and let it warm up and crunchify. All these years of living solo, it never occurred to me that an electric fire hazard -- I mean, a toaster -- was necessary to make toast. After all, isn't the toaster a relatively new invention (1909) compared to the open hearth, which dates to Roman times?

So, tell me this: If the word "toast" comes from the Latin word "tostum," which means "to burn or scorch," can I confidently call my oven-heated bread T-O-A-S-T?

What about tartine -- the sort-of toasty slab of baguette often served with butter and jam for breakfast in France? That's not going into the Toastmaster, mes amis.

And then there's the matter of the Italian bruschetta (plural is bruschette), a simple preparation of oven-crisped bread slices dressed with any number of toppings, from white bean puree to chopped tomatoes and basil. That's toast, right?

Let's face it: Toast was toast long before that little contraption came along, and if I have anything to do with it, it's gonna stay that way. Toast is one of the easiest things to make and screw up. According to Nigel Slater, author of several cookbooks, including a culinary memoir called Toast, one of the all-important things aspiring cooks must remember is that "you can live on homemade soup and toast."

As I'm being coaxed into buying an electric toaster, I find myself rebelling, seeking out newfangled ways of preparing slabs of oven-toasted bread -- like the recipe here. Shrimp-laced bread slices are dipped in sesame seeds, which work as an armor when they are quickly fried in a skillet.

Served over a bed of watercress or soft butter lettuce, this is a lady's lunch dream come true, a party treat par excellence, and best of all, a marvelous way to simply enjoy toast.

Shrimp and Water Chestnut Toasts

From the March 2006 issue of Food and Wine magazine

3/4 pound medium shrimp -- shelled, deveined and coarsely chopped

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

6 canned whole water chestnuts, drained and cut into 1/8-inch dice

2 large scallions, sliced crosswise

1/4 cup Shao-Hsing cooking wine or dry sherry

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 baguette, sliced 1/3-inch thick on the diagonal (24 slices)

Vegetable oil, for frying

1/4 cup sesame seeds

• Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a food processor, combine half of the shrimp with the butter and process until pureed.

• In a large bowl, toss the rest of the shrimp with the water chestnuts, scallions, wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and sugar. Blend in the shrimp butter. Spread about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the shrimp mixture on each baguette slice.

• In a large skillet, heat 1/8 inch of vegetable oil until shimmering. Put the sesame seeds in a small bowl. Dip each slice in the sesame seeds to coat the shrimp mixture. Fry about 8 toasts at a time over moderately high heat, shrimp side down, until the shrimp mixture turns pink, about 25 seconds. Using tongs, transfer the toasts to a large rimmed baking sheet, shrimp side up. Repeat with the remaining toasts, adding more vegetable oil to the pan as needed. Bake the toasts for about 5 minutes, or until the shrimp mixture is cooked through. Serve immediately. Makes enough for 6.

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