Jan needs some soft food today and she has a desire for shrimp tacos. I looked on-line and most of the recipes seemed to be sprinkle chili powder on shrimp, grill, stick them in a taco shell, and bury them with stuff. I knew I could come up with something better than that.
Our tomato plants are starting to produce and I picked some lemon cherry tomatoes (small, yellow and flavorful). Lime and cilantro is always a good paring for Mexican food, I could use that too. Garlic in this house goes without saying. These are the ideas I am starting with, let’s see where it takes me.
Most things sold in supermarkets as “chili powder” are actually blends of dried chilies and other spices, like cumin and garlic powder. If you go to an ethnic store, chili is sold as “ground chili.” This is just the dried chili itself ground to a fine powder. Some times with the seeds, sometimes without.
Ethnic cooks know to add the other spices, if they are appropriate for the dish that they are making. Using commercial “chili powder” will make all of your dishes taste pretty much the same—generic Mexican. Read the ingredients list to know what you are buying and make your own choices on which spices to add.
I tend to use the oil appropriate to the cuisine I am making; corn for Hispanic food, olive oil for Southern European, butter for Northern European. If I could get unprocessed rape seed oil I would use it exclusively for Sichuan cooking—nothing I have made, since I came back, quite tastes “right” without it.
Note: (Alternative serving suggestion) The taco filling would also make a very good shrimp sauce. Add all of the marinade and pour the shrimp and sauce over rice.
Karl’s Lime and Cilantro Shrimp Tacos
30-40 shrimp (raw, 41/50)
1 lime, juiced
½ tsp. lime zest
1 tsp. sugar
Pinch Kosher salt
1½ tsp. chili power, separate uses
2 Tbs. corn oil
½ cup yellow onion, finely diced, separate uses
8 garlic, minced
½ tsp. cumin seeds
1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped, separate uses
12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
2-3 soft corn tortillas/person
½ cup Karl’s Cal Col Roja en Escabeche (Pickled Red Cabbage)
1. Peel and de-vein shrimp.
Tip: You could make this dish with precooked shrimp, but they might overcook too quickly and become rubbery.
2. About 30 minutes before cooking put the shrimp, lemon juice, zest, sugar, and salt into a medium bowl. Toss to coat, cover and refrigerate. Toss again every 5-10 minutes.
Tip: Do not marinate the shrimp more than 30 minutes. The lime juice “cooks” the shrimp, but if you marinate them too long the surface might get mushy and not sear well. The added sugar also aids in the searing and buffers the sourness of the lime.
3. Ten minutes before cooking, drain the shrimp well, reserving the marinade.
4. Blot the shrimp well with paper towels and let them air dry for 10 minutes.
Tip: The point here is not to squeeze out all of the lime juice; it is just to get the surface of the shrimp dry enough to sear well when it hits the hot pan.
5. Dust the shrimp with ½ tsp. of your favorite chili powder.
Tip: Put chili powder only on one side of the shrimp.
6. Add the corn oil to a skillet and heat on high until the oil just starts to smoke.
Tip: If you have a cast iron skillet this would be a good time to take it out. Cast iron will get hotter and stay hotter longer than modern pans. They are perfect for getting a good sear on your shrimp.
7. Place the shrimp in the skillet, chili powered side up, and do not touch them for 2½¬3 minutes.
Tip: Do not crowd the skillet. If necessary cook the shrimp in two batches. Add more oil and let the skillet re-heat if doing it in two batches.
8. At 2½ minutes, check one of the shrimp for searing. If they are ready, remove the shrimp to a plate. If they are still not well seared, give them another half minute. Do not overcook.
Tip: The shrimp are only half cooked at this point.
9. Do not clean the skillet; if necessary add some extra corn oil.
10. Add ¼ cup of the yellow onion to the skillet and cook until translucent, about three minutes.
11. Add the garlic, cumin and the rest of the chili powder. Cook for one minute more, until fragrant.
12. Add the cilantro stems and cook for another minute.
Tip: When you are chopping the cilantro coarsely chop and keep the top leafy parts to serve fresh on the side. Chop the lower “stem parts” more finely and cook them into your dish.
13. Add the tomatoes, shrimp and about half of the lime marinade to the skillet and cook for two minutes. Toss to coat.
Tip: You are trying to heat the tomatoes through and finish cooking the shrimp, without over-cooking either.
14. Transfer the shrimp to a serving bowl and present with warmed tortillas, diced raw onions, fresh cilantro, and Karl’s Cal Col Roja en Escabeche (Pickled Red Cabbage) on the side.
Tip: Wrap the tortillas in paper towels and microwave them for one minute. Unwrap them, peel them apart, so that they do not cool into a solid mass, and rewrap them to serve.