Saturday, February 1, 2014

Caldo de camarónes secos (Dried Shrimp Soup)

One of the great achievements of traditional food technology is drying various fish and meat products. This calls for a longer post which the CC promises but a highlight is "dried shrimp".

It may not be immediately obvious but shrimp come in a variety of sizes from the size of your smallest fingernail to the size of your palm. The various cookbooks frequently call Mexican dried shrimp as the "best" but the CC has found zero evidence for this culinary chauvinism. Your best bet is the Chinese markets where these babies are literally dirt cheap. A few dollars keeps the CC truckin' for a whole year. Just keep them in the fridge if you buy them packaged. (The CC buys from the bins mostly.) It's the humidity that spoils them. They are already "dried". In a fridge, they will last a year or two. In a freezer, they will last five years or more!

This recipe originally started in Mexico as a "bar recipe" whose goal is to keep you on target and "keep on truckin'". It's also insanely delicious and very nutritious so it's jumped the fence and become a regular home recipe for kids.

Yes, kids, it's so delicious that a "bar recipe" served for free with beer and booze has become a "kids' recipe". Such is the wonder of life.

The "keep on truckin'" portion comes from the absurd umami that is embedded in this recipe. You want more, more, more. The hangover recovery part comes from the fact that it is very high in protein and it's a very light broth. So you are getting rehydrated and getting a solid boost of nutrients while you are it.

The two dried peppers that go into it are not spicy at all. They have this intense complex smoky flavor which is unmistakable. Substitutions are not going to work. The tomato and the shrimp do all the heavy lifting of the umami with the synergistic effect.

The CC has a friend who hates shrimp and yet when the CC served him this he claimed that this was the best thing the CC had ever fed him. Seriously, dude?!?

And so it goes with things that you don't know about!


Salsa Roja

2 guajillo peppers
1 ancho pepper
3 small tomatoes
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic (unpeeled)

1 tsp cumin seeds

olive oil (or lard)


1 cup dried shrimp

1 small onion
6 cloves garlic (peeled)

6 cups water

1 tbsp. epazote

sea salt


2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
1 lime


First make the salsa roja. Heat a dry skillet (comal). When hot, put the peppers on it and dry roast them till they are fragrant but not burnt. Remove. Open them up when cool and remove the seeds and the veins. Don't stress. We are going to purée these babies.

Add the unpeeled garlic and the onion to the dry skillet till they are brown in spots. Put the garlic in some aluminum foil and let it sit for a bit. Peel the skin off when they are cool.

Roast the cumin seeds.

If using fresh tomatoes, put on top of the skillet and dry roast till they are burnt in places and soft. Peel the skin. If using canned tomatoes (like the CC is right now in winter), skip this step.

Add everything for the salsa to the blender and blend to a very fine sauce. Pass through a fine sieve and set aside.

Heat the lard (or olive oil) in a pan. When shimmering and very hot, add the salsa and fry. Be careful. This has a tendency to give off a lot of splatter but this step is absolutely crucial to the taste. Stop when the salsa has cooked and no longer has a raw smell. Set aside.

In a separate pot, cook the dried shrimp, onion, garlic, and epazote with the water for about 20 minutes at a low simmer. The time depends on the size of the shrimp. No less than 15 and no more than 30.

There will be a lot of nasty froth that comes to the surface. Skim, baby, skim.

Blend the mixture really fine. An immersion blender works great here. Pass the mixture through a very fine sieve retaining the liquid and tossing the solids.

Combine the two liquids and bring to a rolling boil. The idea here is to emulsify whatever fat there is left in both liquids. It is a bar food after all but it's a tiny amount. Most of it has been skimmed away and if you wish, you can skim away more by heating a lower speed which will cause the fat and the broth to separate.

Serve hot with a topping of cilantro and a big squeeze of lime. The lime is non-negotiable. It's what brings the tangy soup to life at the last moment with that "hit me!" taste.

No comments: