Campechana: A Shrimp and Crab Cocktail

Campechana4

Every Mexican, Text-Mex, Taqueria or gulf coast seafood joint in Houston has a version of a seafood “cocktail”. The cheap versions are little more than boiled shrimp with some onions, spices in a Tabasco-spiced ketchup sauce. They can be ok. However, one of the best versions in town is at Goode Co. Seafood. It’s something Diana and I order everytime we go there for lunch. They call it a Campechana after the Mexican coastal city of Campeche where presumably you find such seafood dishes.

Campechana

When we had a craving for Goode Co. Campechana recently, instead of going out, I decided to make a batch at home. It is just as good and certainly more economical. I knew The Homesick Texan Cookbook by Lisa Fain had a recipe that she based on Goode Co.’s. Lisa is a fan as well it seems.  I picked up some good large gulf coast shrimp and a package of lump crab meat (no way was i going to boil and pick a half pound of crab meat) and put the dish together in less than 30 minutes.

Campechana2

I used good quality canned fire roasted tomatoes for the sauce and pureed them with a couple of chipotle in adobo peppers. That got tossed with the chunks of seafood, onions, cilantro, lime juice, cumin, minced garlic and minced serrano pepper. I let the mixture sit in the fridge for half an hour or so to chill it well and allow the flavors to meld.

Campechana3

Meanwhile, I toasted a few corn tortillas, chopped up some more peppers and prepared cubes of avocado. To serve it, I tossed in the avocado cubes, adjusted the seasoning and dished out generous portions garnished with the chiles. It was fantastic with perfect balance of fresh seafood, tart sauce and just the right amount of heat.

Campechana5

Corn-Ricotta Soup, Shrimp and Brown Butter Mushrooms

Corn Soup-Shrimp-Mushroom

Corn and seafood is a classic and fantastic combination. We see a lot of shrimp and corn, corn bisque with crab, lobster tortellini with corn and off course corn chowder with cod or other seafood. This dish adapted from Sean Brock’s book Heritage is an instant classic in my home. It’s simple to make, is deliciously familiar and new at the same time.

To make the soup I sautéed chopped onions in butter with a bit of fresh thyme and then added freshly shucked corn kernels to the pot. In the meantime I prepared vegetable corn stock which is just vegetable stock with the shucked corn cobs simmered in it for 20 minutes or so. I added the stock to the corn mixtures and allowed it to simmer very briefly just until the corn is tender.

Poached Shrimp2 Shrimp

Shrimp cooks fast and Brock’s method takes advantage of that to ensure it is perfectly tender and moist. Tough and chewy shrimp is a sad thing. I prepared the cooking liquid with vegetable stock, white wine lemons and some herbs and peppercorns. When this comes to a simmer I dropped in the shrimp and turned the heat off. After 20 minutes or so the shrimp was just cooked through. I took them out, allowed them to cool and sliced them into small pieces. Just before serving I tossed the shrimp with creme fraiche, lemon juice, fresh basil and seasoned them. This makes a lovely light and delicious shrimp salad. The leftover shrimp salad worked great in sandwiches for a couple of days afterwards.

Mushrooms

The mushrooms are cooked in sizzling brown butter with thyme sprigs. Nothing more than that. In hindsight I should not have used brown mushrooms. Brock’s original recipe asks for chanterelles. They are light in color but I can never find them. The brown mushrooms got a bit too dark and look like snails! They still tasted awesome but aesthetically they bugged me in an otherwise beautiful dish.

Corn Soup-Shrimp-Mushroom1

When ready to serve, I pureed the corn soup and strained it through a sieve. I then put it back in the blender with a few ounces of homemade ricotta cheese and made a luxurious smooth mixture. I laid our the shrimp mixture and a few pieces of mushrooms in the bowls and gently poured the corn soup “table-side”. Earthy mushrooms, savory and fresh cool seafood and the warm sweet corn soup made for a great dish.

Corn Soup-Shrimp-Mushroom3

Corn Soup-Shrimp-Mushroom6

65-Hour Beef Short Ribs, Vegetable Fried Rice and Glazed Ginger Carrots

In the Momofuku cookbook, the source for this recipe (or most of it at least), David Chang calls it 48-Hour Short Ribs referring to the time he keeps the beef in the water cooking sous vide. He serves it with the reduced marinade/braising liquid from the sous vide bags that the beef is cooked in, braised daikon and scallions. Well, due to some timing issues and because I like the 72-hour short ribs (as recommended by Modernist Cuisine) I ended up cooking the meat for around 65 hours. Sous vide, if you know what you are doing, is very forgiving and this made a fantastic weeknight dinner.

The marinade which doubles as a braising liquid is made by simmering together a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, scallions, carrots, garlic, fruit juices and sesame oil. The marinade is cooled and divided up in the bags with the trimmed beef short ribs. The beef is then cooked for 48 to 72 hours at 60 C (140F) until most of the collagen is melted and the beef has the texture of a tender aged steak. At serving time, I shallow fried the beef in grape seed oil to crisp and brown the exterior. I decided to forgo the braised daikon and opted for a more substantial carb-heavy side for the ribs. I made fresh fried rice loaded with vegetables and eggs. I also cooked carrots sous vide with ginger and then sliced them and glazed them with butter before serving. The rice worked perfectly to complement the ribs and sop up all the sauce. As a garnish, I topped the meat with a few dollops of pickled mustard seeds. They don’t just look really neat but they also add a lovely pop and their tart bitterness rounds out all the rich flavors very nicely.

Sancocho de Pescado: Colombian Seafood and Coconut Stew

 

Fish and shellfish stews or soups are a feature in almost every culture that has access to water critters. You can find them in Europe, the Middle East, Far East, North America and of course South America. Many of those are very popular, like French Bouillabaisse but others are much less known. Take this Colombian version of the seafood stew called Sancocho de Pescado. It is common in coastal regions of Colombia and is fantastic and different. It’s made from a base of guiso and a seafood stock. It’s enriched with coconut milk and made very substantial with yuca (cassava) root, yam and plantains. If all that starch is not enough, it is of course served with rice and a good dose of aji (a mix of cilantro, chillies, green onions and lime).

The choice of seafood can vary of course. The basic recipe I used for this one is from a Colombian cookbook and it uses bone in fish steaks. If the Spanish to English translation in the book is semi-accurate, the recipe actually asks for shad fish steaks. I used thick grouper fillets instead and shrimp. The first base to this soup is to make the fish stock using fried shrimp shells and if possible fried fish bones. This makes a very flavorful and rich stock. The other key to success is to make a good Colombian guiso which is a mixture of slowly cooked red onions, green onions, tomatoes, garlic and is spiced with chillies and annatto powder, This stuff makes everything taste better.



Chiringuito Paella a la Marinera

A perfect paella is a wonderful dish. I love the process of cooking it to perfection almost as much as I enjoy eating the result. Like many “traditional” dished tied to locales, it inspires arguments and controversy as to what constitutes the proper “Paella”. Supposedly the original dish was cooked over an open fire by the men, while women attended Sunday service at church. It’s also a dish created by shepherds and farmers with no access to the ocean. So, the true Paella Valenciana included nothing more than what the cooks could hunt, gather and grow. The ingredient list was limited to rice, snails, rabbit and some beans. Unlike most current incarnations, including this one here, the original dish certainly used no saffron. As the popularity of the dish spread, cooks incorporated more and more local ingredients like chicken, chorizo and seafood.

As far as I am concerned a Paella has to be cooked in the pan that gives the dish its name, a Paella. The shallow flat carbon steel pan reacts quickly to heat fluctuation and aids in the quick evaporation of liquid. The pan also helps maximize the surface area that comes in contact with the rice. The contact, while the rice is left unstirred as it cooks, produces another Paella must-have, a crispy tasty crust that sticks to the pan and is known as Socarrat. The layers of rice in a proper Paella has to be thin, ideally no more than an inch thick. One can make a very good rice dish in a regular pot, but that’s more like a pilaf than a Paella. The type of rice to use is a good short grain one like Spanish Bomba or even Italian risotto rice like Violone Nano.

This particular recipe here is adapted from Anya Von Bremzen’s book “The New Spanish Table“. Chiringuitos in the title refers to humble seaside shops that are the Spanish coast’s equivalent to New England’s clam shacks. The dish includes clams, shrimp, squid and red snapper. I also added quartered artichoke hearts to the mix. It is flavored with onions, tomatoes, garlic and saffron. Von Bremzen recommends the cook not to skip the Allioli that is traditionally served with Paella, and I took her advice. Allioli is a type of mayonnaise made with a good bit of raw garlic and olive oil. A spoonful on top of a serving of the rice adds tons of flavor, some kick and a wonderful creamy mouthfeel.

Super bowl XLIV: Gumbo and Sweet Potato Pie

I was pretty happy that the Saints made it to the Super Bowl this year, but I honestly did not think they would actually win! That was a fantastic game. Either way I knew I’d be making some good food to match the Saint’s home state. The main course was gumbo. This one is shrimp, sausage and chicken. I used a recipe from “Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of  New Orleans” for the gumbo and changed it up a bit. I used a bit less oil and added half a pound of okra in there. For the roux I used Alton Brown’s method of making it in the oven. Sure it takes more time but is very convenient and almost guarantees a perfect, dark but not burned roux.

For dessert I wanted to make a sweet potato pie, also based on a recipe from the same book. I made the dough with the standard 3-2-1 pastry dough recipe, the perfect ratio of flour-butter-water for a flaky and delicious pie dough. The filling recipe only made enough to fill half the pie, so I quickly decided that the sweet potato pie is now a sweet potato-pecan pie. Good and very tasty decision that was.

Sizzling Garlic Shrimp

Sizzling Garlic Shrimp 

This is my favorite way to cook shrimp. When I do this I make sure I have at least a pound to eat per person since it is so addictively good. My mom prepares it more or less the same way and that’s how I first tasted this. I add a bit more of a Spanish spin on it and eat it with some good crusty bread or in this case homebaked Focaccia.

Just gently cook 8 or 9 cloves of finely chopped garlic and half of a chopped bell pepper together in plenty of olive oil (like 1/3 cup of the good Extra Virgin olive oil) for 10 minutes or until they are very soft. They key here is GENTLE. You want the oil to be flavored with the garlic/pepper, but do not let the garlic burn or even get brown. Now add a tablespoon of smoked paprika and a couple of crumbled dried hot chiles (Those thin long ones called Chile De Arbol are best). Stir the mxiture for a few seconds and add about a pound of peeled (with the tail left intact) and deveined (that ‘vein’ in case you do not know contains shit, literally, and it is pure laziness not to remove it since it taste like crap and has the texture of sand) large shrimp. Cook the shrimp slowly for about 10 minutes stirring all the time to get them coated until they are cooked through and still juicy. Last but not least, turn the heat off and stir in a 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro. Serve piping hot.

This recipe makes enough for one person, or two I guess if you stretch it with some rice or potatoes. I like to eat those with my hands and mop up the amazing oil with the bread.