Saturday, May 16, 2009

147. Shrimp in Adobo Sauce (p. 322)

I decided to make one of The Book's Mexican dishes in honor of Cinco de Mayo.

The Book says that this recipe* is from Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz, who was a frequent contributor to Gourmet. She was also the British-born wife of a Mexican UN diplomat, who along with others like Diana Kennedy, is credited with introducing many British and American cooks to Mexican and Latin American food in the 1950s and 1960s.

The foundation of this recipe is the adobo sauce made with dried ancho chiles. Before I get to the chiles, I just have to comment that the term "adobo sauce," as used in the name of this recipe and on cans of chiplote peppers "in adobo sauce," is redundant since "adobo" can mean "sauce" in Spanish. So, saying "Shrimp in Adobo Sauce" is like saying "Shrimp in Sauce Sauce." That just gets on my nerves, like saying "ATM machine" (automated teller machine machine) or "PIN number" (personal identification number number).

Now that I've got that off my chest, back to the "sauce sauce." As I was saying, the sauce is made with dried ancho chiles, which I swear I've seen at my usual grocery store. But of course when I did my shopping for this recipe, there were no anchos to be found. So, I bought some Aji Panca Seco (dried red peppers) and decided to take my chances. Just to be safe, I decided to look my peppers up on the internet, to make sure that they weren't atomiclly hot on the Scoville Scale. I found this cool website called The Cook's Thesaurus which has all kinds of helpful information about food substitutions. I'll use this site again for sure. The Cook's Thesaurus says that ancho chiles (at right) are dried poblano chiles. The Book says that they are sweeter and milder than many other dried chiles. Aji panca chiles (at left) are described as fruity and mild, so I figured that it just might work out OK.

First, I toasted the dried chiles in a hot cast iron skillet for just a couple of seconds on each side. I was really surprised what a difference this made. That little bit of heat made the brittle dried peppers pliable enough to slice open and remove the stems, seeds and veins. Then I broke the chiles up into small pieces and soaked them in some warm water for about a half an hour.

Then I drained the chile pieces and put them into the blender with some garlic, onion and oregano. The Book says that Mexican oregano is preferred for this recipe. The Book's glossary explains that Mexican oregano is not oregano at all, but rather a relative of lemon verbena. Apparently, it tastes like regular oregano without the bitterness. But, after spending $16 on cardamom pods for my Garam Masala, I had already blown my spice budget for the time being, and I decided to go with regular oregano. I blended all of these ingredients with a little bit of water until it was a thick puree.

Next I heated some olive oil in a skillet and added the sauce, cooking it for a few minutes. I added some white wine, white vinegar, sugar and salt, and cooked for a few minutes longer until it was a nice, thick sauce.

Finally, I added the shrimp, stirred to coat and cooked, covered for a few minutes until the shrimp were done.

I served the shrimp and sauce over white rice, and topped it with chopped avacado and cilantro. This was a really delicious meal. The sauce was thick, sweet, smoky and flavorful. Even though there were no tomatoes in the recipe, it reminded me of a hearty arrabiata sauce. The flavor of the white wine came through as a noticible and pleasant element. I was a little dissapointed by the lack of heat in this dish. That, of course, is probably entirely attributable to my chile substitution, and could have been corrected with a sprinke of dried red pepper flakes or a dash of tobasco. The other thing that I was dissapointed by was the underripeness of my avacado garnish. That, also, is not the fault of The Book, but rather my own poor produce selection skilz.

Date Cooked: May 2, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Easy (but this isn't a quick weeknight meal due to the extra time required to toast, seed and soak the dried chiles)
Rating: A-

*This recipe isn't online.

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