Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Picante de Camarones" . . . Hot or Spicy?

If you look up on the Internet for a "Picante de Camarones", you'll mainly find it described as "shrimp in spicy sauce", "shrimp in hot sauce" or "shrimp in aji sauce".

When it comes to translating into English names of Peruvian dishes that use the words "picante" or "ají" (which means that some kind of hot or chilli peppers have been used), people often use the words "hot" and "spicy" interchangeably. However, these two words represent two different taste sensations in our palate. When we talk about a food being "hot" in taste, we really mean that it produces a burning sensation in our mouth. On the other hand, "spicy" traditionally describes savory and flavorful foods, foods that have been heavily seasoned with spices, foods that have a pungent flavor . . . but that are not necessarily hot.

So . . . is a "Picante de Camarones" hot or spicy? . . . well . . . it's both!  It's a dish prepared with shrimp (camarones), bathed in a creamy, flavorful hot and spicy sauce . . . yum!!!

Last Sunday I was checking my Facebook wall and came across a recipe for "Picante de Camarones" posted by Peruvian Chef Herbert Ackermann on his page "Perejil and Culantro" (translates as "Parsley and Cilantro").  A quick glance at the list of ingredients . . . and, yep, I had them all!  It isn't everyday that I have shrimp in my freezer (I had just bought them), so I jumped at the opportunity to prepare a Peruvian dish!  Well, I didn't exactly have the same ingredients, but it was close enough (for instance, can tomatoes instead of fresh ones), so I adapted the recipe to what I had . . . and it was a success!!!  As I started cooking, I decided to take photos, but then I got so involved in the preparation that I completely forgot about them until the very end!  I only took three or four snaps . . . you'll see what I mean!  Also, I was so hungry by the time the dish was ready, that I didn't bother taking a photo of the "Picante" on the plate . . .  and just sat to chow down! :)

I really hadn't initially thought of posting the recipe, but my friends Ylia and Margarita loved it (they both tried it at the office) and that encouraged me to do it!

Picante de Camarones (Shrimp in Hot-Spicy Sauce)

  • 1.5 lb cooked shrimp (had a 2 lb bag, 51-60 count, tail on, frozen)
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 red onions, finely chopped
  • 2 fish bouillon cubes (optional)
  • 3 teaspoons of minced roasted garlic
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1-14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano, no salt
  • 3 teaspoons of "pasta de ají amarillo" (Peruvian yellow peppers paste, found at any Latin store)
  • 3 slices of white sandwich bread
  • 6 oz of evaporated milk (half a can)

The preparation of this dish won't take more than 20 minutes, so it's better to have your "mise en place" ready before you start cooking!

  • If, like me, you happen to have a bag of frozen tail-on shrimp, start by preping them first.  The original recipe called for uncooked shrimp and making sort of a broth with the heads.  My twist on this:  Cut the tails off, put them in a small saucepan and cook them in one cup of water and 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt for 3 minutes.  Pour everything in the blender and process it for about a minute.  Strain the liquid and reserve.  Keep the tail-off shrimp in a bowl until you are ready to use them.

  • Blend the whole can of diced tomatoes to the consistency of a smooth purée and reserve
  • Soak the slices of bread in the milk for 5 minutes and then blend them to the consistency of a smooth purée and reserve
Heat the oil in a dutch oven pan and sauté onions for two or three minutes to soften them.  Add the fish bouillon cubes and stir with a wooden spoon to break them up.  Then add the garlic and sauté for one more minute.  Season with pepper to taste.  Keep cooking and stirring with the wooden spoon until you notice little brown bits forming at the bottom of the pan, which will take about a couple of minutes.  Add the tomato purée and scrape up the brown bits.  Add the "ají amarillo" paste.  Cook and stir for about 5 minutes.  If the preparation looks too thick, thin it out with a little bit of the reserved shrimp broth.  Then add the reserved bread and milk purée and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.  Adjust seasoning if needed.  Keep adding the shrimp broth as needed.  Finally, add the reserved tail-off shrimp and let them heat through in the sauce for no longer than 5 minutes.

If you want to eat this dish "Peruvian style", serve it with rice, slices of boiled potatoes and half a boiled egg.  Enjoy!!! :)


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