Where in the world is the shrimp cocktail sauce?

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The temperature is staying hot — too hot — here on the west coast of Mexico. Some days, I would rather not eat at all than have to cook. An easy — and cool — solution has been to prepare shrimp cocktail, cóctel de camarón, in the morning, and then assemble everything at dinner time with a minimum of time spent in the kitchen.

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This shrimp cocktail recipe is an adaptation of cóctel de camarón as it is served at Ocho Tostadas in Puerto Vallarta. Theirs is served hot with catsup, but we prefer it cold and catsup-less.  Maybe, without catsup, it isn’t a cocktail at all. Whatever it is, we love it, and it is perfect for warm weather. If you are already having chilly days, try the warm or hot version of cóctel de camarón. If we ever have a chilly day, I will also, but I may have to wait until January.

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It is not necessary to devein shrimp (see notes below). I’m telling you this now just to save you a lot of time and work. After years of working in a restaurant, where I had to devein twenty pounds of shrimp at a time, I am so happy to come to the conclusion that my time is better spent on other things,  like taste testing tostadas.

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The La Cruz fish market sells farmed estuary shrimp from San Blas, a coastal town north of us. Their trucks drive right by our front gate, but I find it more interesting to walk down to the fish market and check out the fishing boats and their catch.

Farmed shrimp sounds like a good idea, since shrimp from the ocean are dredged, a practice which damages the ocean floor and brings up lots of by-catch, fish brought up in the nets that are not intended for the market, and often tossed back into the ocean dead. As you most likely know, our choices in food purchases have consequences.
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A recipe is almost not needed. Cook as much shrimp as you want. Peel, then refrigerate in the broth. When cold, add chopped tomato, avocado, onion, cucumber and cilantro to shrimp and broth. Serve with wedges of lime, tostadas and bottled hot sauce. This is how Ocho Tostadas serves cóctel de camarón, but there is room for innovation if you are so inclined. Radish slices, torn baby lettuce, grated carrot, whatever is in your fridge and sounds good. Think of this as a shrimp salad swimming in flavorful broth. Here is a recipe if you like to have things spelled out like I do when making something for the first time.

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Cóctel de Camarón — Mexican Shrimp  Cocktail     Serves 2

  • 1 lb. (1/2 kilo) unpeeled, headless shrimp
  • 2 cups (1/2 liter) cold water
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • chopped cilantro
  1. Bring salted water to a boil and add shrimp. Cover and simmer for about 3 minutes, or until done. Drain, reserving broth, and peel shrimp. Refrigerate shrimp in broth until cold.
  2. To serve, divide shrimp and broth between two bowls, and top with diced vegetables.
  3. Serve with lime wedges, bottled hot sauce and tostadas.

Notes

~ Cooking the shrimp unpeeled gives a more flavorful broth, plus the peels remove more easily from cooked shrimp.

~ To devein or not to devein, that is the question. I don’t. After a bit of research, I came to the conclusion that removing the vein from shrimp is purely for aesthetic reasons. Basically, we don’t want to look at the little black line and think about what it represents. Eating the vein is not unhealthy, it is not dangerous, and because of this, many cultures do not devein shrimp. It just isn’t necessary unless you have a lot of time on your hands and have a squeamish bent.

~ For an authentic Mexican cóctel de camarón, serve warm or hot with a generous squeeze of catsup.

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Ocho Tostadas is Much More Than Eight Tostadas

Early October on the west coast of Mexico does not mean falling leaves and cooling temperatures. Venturing out of the cool of the house for an errand run to Puerto Vallarta is not an attractive prospect. Until Ocho Tostadas comes to mind. Lunch! We get to have lunch in Puerto Vallarta! Yes! I want to go to town today! I don’t care if it’s a humid 92 degrees. Now that shrimp cocktail is fixed in our thinking for today’s lunch, 92 farenheit, (“feels like 101”, says weatherdotcom) is no deterrent. Cool camarones, here we come.

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Shrimp cocktail took some getting used to when we first came to Mexico. Brothy. Warm. With catsup instead of horseradish sauce.  Some things you just have to accept as a difference in culture, and cóctel de camarón is one of them. Peeled shrimp are served in their cooking liquid, with a healthy topping of chopped tomato, onion, cucumber, avocado and squeezed lime juice. But for us, hold the catsup. And order it cold.

We sought shade in Ocho Tostadas and began with a starter of fresh, delicious ceviche on crisp tostadas, totally blanketed with perfectly ripe, sliced avocado.

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Our favorite hot sauce, Salsa Huichol, added heat and color. Ocho Tostadas, like many restaurants in Mexico, does not skimp in the bottled hot sauce department. And among the table offerings, there is invariably Maggi, a hydrolysed vegetable protein based sauce used to impart a meat flavor. Its ubiquitous presence is one cultural anomaly I haven’t got my head around yet. Nor have I ever tried it.

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As fluent as mi esposo is, when he asked for the fresh veggies on the side, our waiter thought he meant broth on the side also. So Russ was served this beautiful dish of brothless shrimp, which was nothing to complain about; we knew it would become so much more.

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A quick word to our waiter set things right for my order. Next came generous servings of cool broth for Russ, and cut-up vegetables and excellent tostadas for both of us. They will always bring more veggies, for — what has become for us — a liquidy, cool shrimp salad, full of good things. Perfect for a hot Fall day.

Cócteles can also be ordered with octopus, snail or scallops, or any combination of these, including shrimp. We have tried all the combinations, and have settled on shrimp cocktail as the favorite. But don’t let our tastes stop you from trying something new.

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Tostadas always accompany cóctel de camarón and Ocho Tostadas prides themselves in their proprietary tostadas, a new concept for us. They were so good — corny, crisp, with a light taste of salt on the surface. Russ tried, but our waiter would not divulge the maker. He did send us home with a bag full, much to mi esposo’s delight. The rest of the menu looks inviting, but so far we can’t get past the cocktails and ceviche tostadas.

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If you go to Ocho Tostadas, or have a Mexican shrimp cocktail anywhere else, I suggest you order it cold, not hot. And ask them to hold the catsup.

Mariscos 8 Tostadas (its proper name) has three locations in the Puerto Vallarta area, and has recently opened in Guadalajara. We ate at the marina location on the corner of Calle Quilla and Calle Proa. They are also at 344 Calle Niza in Colonia Versalles, and in Nuevo Vallarta at Junto al Antiguo Delfines. In Guadalajara, you can find Mariscos 8 Tostadas at 1053 Avenida Terranova. Check Trip Advisor for map locations. Open 11 am to 6 pm, seven days a week.

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Enchiladas Suizas, with a Side of Trepidation

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I could start off as though the last time you heard from me was last week, or even last month. I could ignore the issue altogether. But I’ll face it head-on and take the consequences. (Deep breath.) Here goes, my version of Truth or Dare: I haven’t posted anything new since October, 2011.

Still with me?

Since my laptop went kaput, I’m now working on a 7″ Samsung tablet, typing with my thumbs, and taking photos with the tablet. If I can get through this post on Enchiladas Suizas without wearing out my thumbs, get halfway decent photos and place them where they belong, maybe this will work. But it does have a Lilliputian quality to it, with a small screen and smaller keyboard.

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Several weeks ago,  I made a tasty dish of Enchiladas Suizas — Swiss Enchiladas for you non-Spanish speakers — and the first thing that crossed my mind was, “Gee, this would be a great recipe to share on the blog. If I were still blogging.” A few days later, while replying to a reader’s comment (yes, the comments still kept coming, and readership stayed surprisingly high during my overly long sabbatical), I read over some past comments. One reader wrote. “Thank you so much for all the information! It has fueled my passion for Mexican cooking and culture. I wish you were still writing.” That was the tipping point. I had a decent recipe, and someone wanted to hear from me again. So to Sydney, and all the others (mostly biased family members) who asked me to continue, I’m back. And here for you is a recipe added only recently to Mexican cookbooks.

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Enchiladas Suizas originated at Sanborns, a well-known department store chain in Mexico’s larger cities and towns, and known for their restaurants’ consistently good, traditional Mexican fare. The story goes that a chef at Sanborns created this recipe in 1950 when he added cream to salsa verde. His dairy-heavy enchiladas took on the name “suiza” (Swiss) as homage to the country of Alps and cows.

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I researched my cookbook shelves and could only find a recipe in a booklet by El Universal, a national newspaper in Mexico which published over a dozen recipe booklets specializing in recipes of the states of Mexico. The booklet for the state of Mexico and Distrito Federal (aka Mexico City) included Enchiladas Suizas, which is fitting, as the Sanborns in Mexico City is this dish’s birthplace. There are a number of online recipes, and Saveur’s recipe looked most appealing. Plus, I love their magazines. This is mostly Saveur’s recipe, influenced by El Universal. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

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A trip to the local tienda was first, to buy fresh crema from a rancho south of Puerto Vallarta, freshly made queso añejo — used to garnish the frijoles refritos which you may or may not choose to serve on the side, tomatillos, cilantro, and corn tortillas hot off the press. We had already brought a roasted chicken home from Costco. How we ever managed without Costco in Puerto Vallarta is hard to imagine. Did you know that the roasted chicken at Costco in the US is organic and is about as cheap as you can buy an organic chicken anywhere? Sadly, the chickens here at Mexico’s Costcos are not organic, but I am ever hopeful, as new organic items show up on their shelves almost every week.

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Enchiladas Suizas, with a filling of shredded chicken breast, encased in tender corn tortillas and smothered in creamy green sauce and melted cheese, may not go back hundreds of years in Mexico, but it is showing up on more and more menus in Mexico. I think it is worthy of my comeback recipe.


Enchiladas Suizas (Swiss Enchiladas)        Serves 4

Adapted from Saveur, July 16, 2012 issue, and El Universal recipe booklet, Cocina Estado por Estado, issue No. 10

  • 1 1/2 lbs. (680 grams) husked tomatillos
  • 2 serrano chiles
  • 1/2 medium onion, cut in half
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 large poblano chiles
  • 1 cup (1.38 oz./38 g.) chopped cilantro, including tender stems
  • 1 cup (240 g.) sour cream (or crème fraîche,  or, if in Mexico, crema)
  • Salt to taste
  • Vegetable oil as needed for skillet
  • 3 cups (12 oz./375 g.) cooked, shredded chicken
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 oz./170 g.) grated cheese (Manchego, Swiss, or mozzarella)
  • 8 corn tortillas 
  • Chopped red onion, additional sour cream and cilantro leaves for garnish 
  1. In a hot skillet, under a broiler, or on a hot grill, toast tomatillos, serrano chiles, halved onion, garlic and poblano chiles until blistered black spots start to appear. Blacken most of the poblanos.  Don’t overcook the tomatillos or they will burst and lose their juice.
  2. To make sauce, cut serrano and poblano chiles in half lengthwise and scrape out seeds with a spoon. Lay poblano and serrano halves on a cutting board skin side up and scrape off blistered skin with a serrated knife, spearing the chiles with a fork to protect your fingers from chile burn. Don’t worry if some skin doesn’t come off. Texture is good. Coarsely chop chiles, onion and garlic. Process in a blender with cilantro and sour cream until smooth. Salt to taste. Set aside.
  3. Moisten shredded chicken with one cup of sauce. Set aside.
  4. Lightly oil a hot skillet and heat tortillas, two at a time, until soft, about one minute per side. Don’t allow to become crisp. As you soften tortillas, spoon 1/4 cup of hot chicken filling down the center of each, roll up, and place in a dish. Repeat with two more tortillas, oiling skillet as necessary, until all are filled.
  5. Cover the bottom of a 9″x9″ oven-proof dish with a generous layer of sauce. Arrange enchiladas over sauce, cover with more sauce and sprinkle with grated cheese. Heat in a 350 F. (180 C.) oven until hot and the cheese has melted.
  6. Garnish with thinned sour cream (or crème fraîche or crema) and top with finely chopped red onion and a few cilantro leaves. Any remaining sauce can be served in a separate dish if more sauce is desired.

Notes

~ Tomatillos, pictured in the center of the second photo, are a member of the ground cherry family. They add a distinctive tang and tartness to dishes, and are indispensable in salsa verde. The husks are inedible.

~ When assembling, I used very hot sauce and chicken filling. This way, the enchiladas only needed to be in the oven long enough to melt the cheese. The longer the dish is in the oven, the more sauce is absorbed, which is not a bad thing.

~ Another option is to heat individual servings of two enchiladas per person on a heat-proof plate, following the same instructions above.

~ I think the best chicken enchiladas are made with breast meat.

~Left over sauce is great on potatoes, pasta, eggs and grilled meat.


The pescatarian’s dilemma: Is it possible to eat seafood and not destroy the oceans?

How to shop for seafood within the framework of sustainable development is becoming more challenging. Pollution and over-fishing, coupled with environmentally damaging fishing practices, are to blame for fish populations that are becoming ever more scarce and endangered. Some experts feel we should stop eating fish altogether. If you have not yet made that choice, here are some guidelines for being a smart seafood shopper, whether you live in Mexico or another country.

Sustainable development: a pattern of resource use that aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for future generations. (Wikipedia)

“Sustainable” is a key buzz word in today’s food market, yet not generally understood or followed. As a shopper, pushing my cart in a grocery store or checking out the offerings in a fish market, how am I to know what is a smart seafood purchase and what isn’t? How can I know which species are sustainable and which are close to being endangered? Responsible, informed organizations are working to supply us with well researched information that is as accessible as our computers. We can shop responsibly.

This and all photos taken by Tony Dobek at Jalgachi Fish Market, Busan, South Korea

Seafood Watch iPhone App: Thorough Tuna List
Image by Special*Dark via Flickr

Monterey Bay Aquarium maintains the Seafood Watch Program which details seafood recommendations in four categories: The Super Green List, Best Choices, Good Alternatives, and Avoid. Individual fish names can be entered in the search feature for specific information on that species.  Their current list recommends avoiding Atlantic flounder and sole, and Mexican grouper. Pacific halibut and farmed tilapia are recommended, as are many other species. How the fish is caught determines which list it is on. To make purchases easier while you are in a store, download and print their  Seafood Watch Pocket Guide or use their Seafood Watch Mobile Guide on your iPhone.

Greenpeace’s Supermarket Seafood Sustainability Score Card rates U.S. supermarkets according to their commitment to offering only sustainable seafood. Stores are given a Fail, Pass or Good score on a scale of one to ten. Their number one ranked store is Target, Whole Foods is number three, and Trader Joe’s, with a Fail score, ranks ninth out of twenty stores. Due in large part to the bad publicity this score has brought Trader Joe’s, they have recently stated that as of December 31, 2012, all of their seafood will come from sustainable sources. Trader Joe’s is already making the transition, as it stops selling such fish as Chilean sea bass, orange roughy and red snapper.

More guidance is available from the Marine Conservation Society Fishonline where you can read “fish ratings”. Each species is rated according to method caught, whether it is from a certified fishery, if it is over-fished or endangered, and other sustainability factors. Fish are rated on a scale from one to four, Rating One being the most sustainable.

Finally, there is Neil Banas’ Eco-Health Seafood Pocket Guide. Neil is an oceanographer, teacher and artist who has put together a pdf file, rating fish in three categories of mercury and PCB content: Bad, Medium and OK. This rating, determined by combining toxity with sustainability factors, draws upon information from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Environmental Defense Fund.

In 1994, the World Watch Institute issued a warning that more fish are being caught than nature can replenish. It’s like a bank account — the withdrawals are greater than the deposits. It sounds grim, but it doesn’t have to be. We have the ability to turn this around, and it begins in the supermarket and fish market with the choices we make and the demands we make from store management. We can speak out and let them know we will only purchase sustainable seafood. Here’s one thing you can do: Tell Costco to Stop Selling Endangered Fish (food.change.org)

Notes:

To eat small, plate-sized red snapper, one of the most popular menu items in seafood restaurants in Mexico, is unconscionable. At that size, red snapper have not reached breeding age. Without an opportunity to reproduce, they are being harvested with no chance of replenishing their species.

Shrimp purchases contribute to environmental destruction if the shrimp are harvested by dredging, a practice that can literally scrape clean the ocean floor and capture many other fish beside shrimp, known as bycatch. The bycatch can be as much as three to fifteen pounds of non-food species to every one pound of shrimp. This bycatch is thrown back into the sea, the fish already dead or dying. More modern dredging equipment is being implemented to reduce bycatch, but its use is not enforced in many countries. I will guess that Mexico, with good regulations but poor enforcement, does not practice sustainable dredging, if such a procedure is even possible.

Farmed shrimp are only a partial solution, as farming destroys thousands of acres of vital wetlands, the nurseries for juveniles of many fish species and the fishing grounds for those who live more impoverished lives and depend on estuaries and mangroves for their food and livelihood. Fish farming, if not highly regulated, can cause water pollution and higher incidence of diseased fish. Again, I suspect Mexico is not always enforcing laws designed to protect the environment and its food sources.

 

I invite all readers to comment on this article. Please tell us which stores in your area offer sustainable seafood. Which resources do you use to make your purchase decisions? I would especially like to hear from readers in other parts of the world as to what their countries are doing to support seafood sustainability and inform shoppers, and what are considered sustainable seafood species where they live. Finally, to answer the title of this article: can one eat seafood and not contribute to marine destruction?

 

More reading:

Net Loss: Fish, Jobs and the Marine Environment by World Watch Paper examines the ecological, social and economic crisis in world fisheries.

All About Global Fishing from CNN on the effects of unregulated global fishing on diminishing seafood resources.

Fresh Hope for World’s Fisheries from Optimum Population Trust on successful rebuilding of fish stock in regulated marine ecosystems.

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Pompano Fish Fillets with Tropical Fruit

Fish and tropical fruit are a wonderful combination. Whether the fish fillets are pan-fried or grilled, whether you use mango, bananas, pineapple or all three — it will be a beautiful dish that delights your eyes and taste buds.

This time of year, mangoes are still plentiful in our part of Mexico. Kents, Tommy Atkins, Ataulfo, and Criollos, the small, wild mangoes, abound. Each has its own flavor and texture, and each is incredible. The dilemma I face is how many different varieties can I eat in how many different preparations before the harvest ends. As if a surplus of mangoes is not enough, our bananas are starting to ripen. We have enough fresh fruit to feed a small army.

A newly cut bunch of platano macho bananas is hanging on our back patio. When ripe, they have a slightly acid, citrus-y flavor never found in a grocery store. While still too firm for fresh eating, the plantano macho, can be cooked like a plantain. This bunch produced particularly large bananas, as if needing to live up to their macho name, weighing three quarters of a pound apiece. I can’t eat a whole one by myself. It’s a good thing our dog Chucha likes bananas. She can eat a whole one.

Pompano with Tropical Fruit serves 4

Marinade

  • 1/4 cup (60 ml.) olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon (7 ml.) Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup ( 60 ml.) freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon (60 ml.) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 6-oz. (360 grams each) pompano fillets or any mild, white fish fillets
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml.) coconut oil or other mild oil
  • cooked rice

Tropical Fruit Sauce

  • 2 cups ( 480 ml.) sliced tropical fruit, using any combination of mangoes, banana and pineapple
  • 1 red or green Serrano chile, thinly sliced
  • 4 tablespoon (60 ml.) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon (large pinch) each ground allspice and cinnamon
  • salt to taste
  • 4 tablespoon (60 ml.) chopped cilantro for garnish

Read recipe through  completely; assemble and prepare ingredients.

Mix marinade ingredients and marinate fish fillets for 20 minutes. Shake off excess marinade and pan fry fillets in hot coconut oil over medium heat. Allow about 8 minutes per inch of thickness (measuring thickest part of fillet), turning fillets over half-way through cooking.

While fillets are cooking, sauté fruit and serrano chile in butter about 5 minutes over medium heat. Do not allow to over-cook and become mushy. Gently stir in lime juice, allspice and cinnamon. Salt to taste.

Serve over Golden Rice cooked with turmeric. Spoon fruit over fish. Garnish with cilantro.

Notes:

A responsible seafood vendor will help you make a selection that is  environmentally sustainable. Refer to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Guide (see Link at top of page) or to The Pescatarian’s Dilemma for help on making an informed choice.

Use an instant-read thermometer for perfect doneness of fish.  An internal temperature of 135 F.(57 C.) assures fish that is not over-cooked. As soon as fish is done, remove from pan to prevent further cooking by the hot pan.

For how to slice and dice a mango, and how to skin and slice a pineapple, see previous posts.

Butter is hot enough for cooking when the foamy bubbles have subsided.


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