Monday, April 27, 2009

Shrimp Tacos

The cravings for shrimp tacos hit me way back in January when my friends and I first started planning our spring vacation to Mexico.

All over the internet, people were raving about the shrimp tacos at Lucy's Kitchen, a little hole-in-the-wall taco and ice cream stand just up the beach from where we would be staying in the seaside paradise of Akumal.

The descriptions of these shrimp tacos sounded so fabulous - all hot and crispy, smothered in fresh, zesty pico de gallo and wrapped in soft, warm homemade tortillas - I just had to have them. I thought it would be fun to try making them myself before we went on vacation, just to see how my efforts compared with the real deal once we got to Mexico.

If I do say so myself, my own shrimp tacos were pretty freakin' fabulous, but alas, I'll never know how they match up with those of the great Lucy. We tried, oh, how we tried, but my date with Lucy just wasn't meant to be. The day last week when my husband and I hoofed it down the beach and followed the signs that cheerily pointed the way to Lucy's Kitchen, we were ultimately greeted by one last sign outside the taco stand that said, "We've moved!" The fine print stated that this location would still be serving homemade ice cream, but if you wanted hot stuff like shrimp tacos, those would only be served at the restaurant's new location, Lucy's Too, about a half-hour's walk into town.

"No shrimp tacos?" I asked forelornly through the takeout window to the young woman scooping up ice cream. I gather that I wasn't the first gringo to come foraging for shrimp that day because the words were barely out of my mouth before she smiled, said something in Spanish and held up a piece of paper that looked like a hand-drawn treasure-hunting map: Arrows pointed this way and that, and a big black X marked the spot where Lucy's Too and her pot of golden shrimp tacos could be found.

With a hasty Gracias and hasta luego, off we went, scuffing along the sidewalk in our sandals through the 33 C heat and sprinting over four lanes of busy highway in search of Lucy's Too. We found it all right, but unfortunately Lucy's Too didn't tell Lucy's One that their new location wouldn't have any shrimp tacos until "manana."


Across the highway and back to the beach we trudged, me vowing to try again tomorrow, my husband trying to make me see sense that "manana" doesn't necessarily translate that literally into "tomorrow," in Mexico that could be the next day or the next week, and do we really want to waste our precious vacation time searching for shimp tacos? I swear sometimes, even after 20 years together, it's like this guy doesn't know me at all.

Fortunately for both of us, we spied a mirage as we rounded the corner: There, sitting in the shade of the beach-front bar, were our friends. They were sipping beer and looking quite content after a delicious lunch of ... shrimp tacos! Like us, they too had been on the same disappointing hunt for Lucy's, and ended up here at the Lol-Ha bar. No harm, no foul; shrimp tacos were on the menu here too, and they were fantastic, served with little bowls of zippy pineapple salsa and sweet brown sauce on the side. We inhaled them, and came back two days later for more, that's how good they were. Mmmm, mmmm, mmm.

Here is my interpretation of Shrimp Tacos. They're not Lucy's, and they're not Lol Hah's, but they are definitely delicious. Buen provecho!

450 grams (1 lb) raw jumbo shrimp (Look for the jumbo-est shrimp you can find – 12 jumbo shrimp will be enough to serve 4-6 tacos)
1 package soft flour tortillas (small diameter size)

For the marinade:
30 ml (2 tbsp) freshly squeezed lime juice
30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil
15 ml (1 tbsp) gold tequila (optional)
2 ml (1/2 tsp) crushed or ground cumin
2 ml (1/2 tsp) chili powder
2 ml (1/2 tsp) green jalapeno Tabasco sauce
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
15 ml (1 tbsp) freshly chopped cilantro leaves and stems
pinch salt and freshly ground pepper

For the batter:
250 ml (1 cup) flour
250 ml (1 cup) water
10 ml (2 tsp) sugar
10 ml (2 tsp) vegetable oil
10 ml (2 tsp) baking powder
large pinch of salt

For the pico de gallo:
4 large ripe tomatoes, finely diced
1 medium red onion, finely diced
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and finely chopped (use less or leave out entirely if heat isn’t your thing)
small bunch coriander leaves, chopped
juice of half a lime
15 ml (1 tbsp) good extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

For the chipotle mayonnaise:
250 ml (1 cup) mayonnaise
1 or 2 chipotle chili peppers in adobo (sold in cans in the Mexican food section)
15 ml (1 tbsp) adobo sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed and minced
15 ml (1 tbsp) chopped fresh cilantro
squeeze fresh lime juice
pinch salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Other things you’ll need:
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Deep fryer
Heavy skillet for warming the tortillas
Cold Mexican beer
Lime wedges
Guacamole and sour cream (optional)
Napkins (and lots of them)
Mexican tunes (No Spanish cds in your collection? Tune your web browser to or and crank the computer speakers while you cook!)

First, combine all the ingredients for the pico de gallo and set aside in the fridge to chill.
Then stir together all the ingredients for the chipotle mayonnaise and put that in the fridge, too. (Be careful with the amount of chipotle peppers if you’re not a fan of spicy-hot foods. It’s best to start with a small amount if you’re not sure. You can always add more.)
Next, shell and devein the shrimp. Whisk together ingredients for the marinade and toss with the shrimp in a glass bowl. Set aside in the fridge to marinate for about 15-20 minutes.
Whisk together the ingredients for the batter.
Pour oil into deep fryer and preheat to 185 C (370 F).
Once the oil is hot, take shrimp take shrimp out of the marinade, shake off excess and dunk into the batter. Carefully lower each shrimp into the hot oil and fry. Don’t add too many shrimp to the oil at once. Give them lots of room to crisp up. Once they are golden and crispy – this will only take two to three minutes depending on the size of your shrimp - remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain.
Continue frying the rest of the shrimp.
While you are cooking the shrimp, start warming the tortillas. Heat a large heavy skillet over medium high heat, brush each tortilla with a bit of oil and place in the pan, flipping it now and then until warmed through. Don’t let the tortillas get crispy.
To serve, set out everything family style in the middle of the table and let everyone assemble their tacos this way: First smear a little chipotle mayo over the warm tortilla, then place two or three shrimp in the mayo. Top with a spoonful of pico de gallo and a squeeze of fresh lime. You can also add a small dollop of guacamole or sour cream if you wish, but it’s not necessary. Although it’s tempting, try not to overstuff the taco as it will be very messy to eat.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


So, you've mastered the art of rolling your own fresh pasta (click here to see my previous post).

Here is a simple sauce sauce recipe that will allow you to appreciate fresh pasta's exquisite flavour and delicate, springy texture.

It's called aglio olio, a simple and quick sauce of fruity, extra-virgin olive oil and garlic that is seasoned with fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley, salt, freshly cracked pepper and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.


This recipe goes together in a flash, so make sure you have the table set, your pasta rolled and cut and all of your sauce ingredients measured, chopped and ready to go before you start to cook.

What you'll need:
75 ml (1/3 cup) best quality extra-virgin olive oil
4 fat cloves of garlic, crushed and coarsely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
125 ml (1/2 cup) loosely packed and coarsely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
1 batch homemade fresh pasta, uncooked
175 ml (3/4 cup) freshly grated Parmesan cheese (please, do not use the dry powdered kind sold in the shaker cans)

What to do:
Prepare fresh pasta noodles as described here, but don't cook them just yet.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Stir in a teaspoon or so of salt amd taste the water. It should be lightly salty, but not overly so.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté it lightly, but take care that it doesn’t burn. Light, golden garlic is sweet and fragrant, brown garlic will taste strong and bitter.

While the garlic is sauteeing in the oil, gently drop the pasta into the pot boiling water and let it cook for a minute or so, then use a spaghetti ladle to scoop the pasta directly from the water into the hot garlic oil in the skillet. Gently toss the pasta in the hot oil, ladling in a splash or two of the hot pasta-cooking water to the pasta. Season well with freshly cracked pepper and scatter chopped parsley and parmesan cheese over everything. Give the skillet a final toss (you can add an extra splash of the pasta cooking water if you find the mixture too dry) and slide the noodles onto a warm platter or pasta bowl. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

You can jazz up a basic aglio olio in an infinite number of ways. Here are just a few ideas:
Olives and capers: Pit and coarsely chop 125 ml (1/2 cup) black olives. Add these and about 15 ml (1 tbsp) of chopped capers to the hot pasta and aglio olio. Finish with parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.
Sundried tomato, white beans and parmesan: Coarsely chop about 75 ml (1/3 of a cup) of sun-dried tomatoes (oil-packed). Rinse and drain 250 ml (1 cup) of white cannellini beans. Add these to the garlic and oil before tossing with pasta. Finish with grated parmesan.
Spice it up: Add a couple of pinches of crushed red pepper flakes to the oil and garlic.
Fresh herbs: Toss fresh herbs such as torn basil, oregano or thyme leaves with the hot pasta and aglio oliojust before serving.
Mushrooms, white wine, lemon and thyme: Sautee some thinly sliced mushrooms in butter until they have released all of their liquid. Set aside. Prepare the pasta and the aglio olio. Toss together the pasta and the aglio olio. Add mushrooms and add a splash of white wine. Scatter grated parmesan cheese and fresh thyme leaves over the top and finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a light grating of fresh lemon zest.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Making your own pasta

These cold, wintry weekends are the perfect time to hunker down in the kitchen, roll up the sleeves and dive into an extra-special recipe.

Home-made pasta is a wonderful stormy-day project because you don’t need to venture out into the weather to pick up anything at the store.

Everything you need to make fresh pasta – flour, eggs and little olive oil – is usually already sitting in your cupboard and fridge.

If you’ve never tried your hand at making it yourself, you’re in for a treat.
Fresh pasta’s rich flavour and delicate, springy texture is altogether different than that of its dried, store-bought cousin.

You really don’t need any special equipment.
Sure, you can buy fancy, stainless-steel pasta machines that make the job of rolling and cutting the dough faster and easier. But you can still get fantastic results with nothing more than your countertop or kitchen table, a rolling pin and a sharp knife.

To fully appreciate the exquisite taste and texture of freshly made pasta, try it first with the lightest sauce possible before advancing to heavier, more intensely flavoured concoctions.

Fresh, paper-thin fettuccine needs only a quick toss in an aglio olio (I'll post a recipe for this later this week), a fresh-tasting mixture of olive oil, garlic and chopped Italian parsley.

On the other hand, thicker, wider, more eggy-textured noodles such as pappardelle can tolerate the weight of a heavier, meat-based ragu, but again, don’t overdo it.


What you need:

500 ml (2 cups) unbleached flour, plus a little extra for rolling and dusting
5 ml (1 tsp) salt
3 eggs
30-45 ml (2-3 tbsp) olive oil

What to do:

Measure the flour and salt into a mixing bowl, or simply dump it onto a clean kitchen counter.

Make a well in the centre of the flour. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and olive oil and pour into the well. You can also break the eggs directly in the well of the flour as I've done here.

Use a fork to mix everything together as best you can, then dust your hands with flour and knead the mixture until all the dry bits have been incorporated and you have a smooth, stretchy ball of dough.

Keep kneading and resist the urge to add water until you have worked the dough for at least two-three minutes, and only add a drop or so of water if the mixture seems to really, really need it. Likewise, if the dough seems sticky, add extra flour quite sparingly as too much flour will result in tough pasta.

At first, the mixture will seem quite dry, as if it might never have enough moisture to come together......

But then, after a bit of persistent kneading, it does ....

When you’re finished kneading the dough, wrap the ball in plastic wrap and let it rest on the countertop for about a half-hour. Alternatively, you can put the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight, but remember to take it out of the fridge about an hour or so before you want to roll it so it’s not rock hard.

When you’re ready to roll, dust your countertop and rolling pin very lightly with flour. Cut the ball of dough into three or four pieces and keep the remaining pieces well-wrapped while you work with this piece.
(If you’re using a pasta-rolling machine, roll and cut the dough according to the machine’s instructions.)

Use the rolling pin to roll dough into a very thin rectangular shape, flipping the dough over now and then. If the dough sticks to your work surface, you can dust it with extra flour and use a pastry brush to brush away any excess.

Once the dough is thin enough, you are ready to cut the pasta. To cut into fettuccine, lightly dust the sheet of pasta with flour, brush away the excess and then fold the dough in half, and then in half again until you have a long, oblong shape. Dust the blade of a sharp knife with flour, and cut the pasta into strips about half a centimeter (1/4-inch) wide. Carefully tease the strips apart and set them aside on a cookie sheet that has been dusted lightly with flour.

Continue rolling and cutting the rest of the dough.

The pasta is now ready for cooking. If you want to store some in the freezer for another day, let the noodles air-dry a bit and then pack gently into plastic containers.

How to cook fresh pasta:

Bring a large pot of water to a full boil. Add 10 ml (2 tsp) of salt to the water, stir well and give it a taste. It should taste faintly salty but not overly so.
Important note: If serving your pasta with a sauce, have the sauce ready to go before you cook the pasta. Fresh pasta only takes a minute or two to cook, so everything else must be ready before you even think about dropping your noodles into the water.

Carefully drop your fresh pasta into the boiling water a bit at a time and stir gently to keep noodles from sticking together. Don’t cover the pot. After about a minute, the pasta should float to the surface. Taste a piece to see if it’s done (a little under-done is OK as it will continue to cook once mixed with the sauce). Use a spaghetti ladle to scoop the pasta directly from the pot into your skillet of sauce (I'll post some easy sauce recipes here soon.) Toss pasta gently with the sauce, ladling a splash or two of the pasta-cooking water to the skillet if the mixture seems a bit dry.
Carefully pour the dressed pasta into a warm serving platter or bowl and serve immediately with a fresh grating of parmesan cheese, chopped herbs and a final drizzle of olive oil.