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.

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