Spicy tomato zips up this traditional Mexican dish
When Americans think of Mexican food, we picture tacos, enchiladas, and refried beans. But seafood? Not so much.
Which is odd, because Mexico has a long coastline with some extremely productive fishing grounds. Mexicans eat lots of seafood, and many famous seafood dishes are well known throughout the country. It’s just that many of us gringos aren’t familiar with them.
With Cinco de Mayo on the horizon, you may be planning a festive menu. So how about a traditional shrimp dish from Veracruz? It has all the zesty flavor you expect from Mexican food, but it’s lighter and healthier than many of the dishes you may know.
Sounds like a winner. Olé!
Recipe: Shrimp in Chipotle Sauce
Just about every restaurant in Veracruz serves this dish—and they all probably have slightly different recipes. My version is fairly simple and straightforward. I adapted it from recipes in Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday and Williams-Sonoma Collection: Mexican.
This is usually a main-course dish, typically served on a bed of white or Mexican rice (I think white rice is the better choice). But you can also serve this as a sort of shrimp cocktail (I include details in the Notes). The Notes also describe a variation of this dish that uses bacon.
This dish takes about 30 minutes to prepare.
The recipe serves 3 or 4. I think it’s best eaten freshly made, but leftovers will keep for a day or two if refrigerated in an airtight container (though they do lose a little quality, IMO).
- 1 pound headless shrimp, size 21-25, shelled and deveined but with the tails unshelled (if the shrimp are frozen, you may want to thaw them in the refrigerator overnight—see Step 1; use a bit more than a pound if you have hearty appetites)
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely diced or cut into thin slices
- ½ medium onion, peeled and finely diced (I prefer yellow, but white works too)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- salt to taste (about ½ teaspoon kosher salt for me)
- 2 chipotle chilies (from a can—see Notes; or use just 1 if you prefer less spicy)
- ~1 tablespoon sauce from the chipotle can
- 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes (you can double this if you like; see Notes)
- up to 1 cup water (optional—see Step 6; may substitute chicken stock or seafood stock)
- ~¼ cup chopped cilantro for garnish
- ~3 cups cooked white rice for serving (or as much as you want; prepare the rice using your favorite recipe, or follow package directions)
- Do the prep work: If using frozen shrimp, thaw them a few hours before you begin to prepare this recipe (or cook them frozen—just double the amount of cooking time; if using fresh shrimp, see Notes). Peel and dice the garlic and onions. Assemble the remaining ingredients. (You can chop the cilantro while the tomato mixture is cooking in Step 5). Get your rice cooking, if necessary.
- Place a large (10- to 12-inch) frying pan, preferably nonstick, on medium stovetop heat. When the pan is hot, add the olive oil and heat (this takes maybe 15 seconds; the oil will shimmer when hot). Add the shrimp and cook until half done (about 2 minutes or so). Remove the shrimp and set aside.
- Add the diced garlic and onion to the frying pan, then add salt to taste. Lower the heat a tad, and cook for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, using a blender or food processor (a mini one works better), process the chipotle chilies, chipotle sauce, and canned tomatoes. Pulse a few times until the ingredients are well blended (I like the mixture to be a bit chunky, but you can blend to smooth if you prefer).
- After the garlic and onion have cooked for 5 minutes, add the tomato mixture from the blender. Bring the tomato mixture to a simmer, then adjust the heat to keep it just simmering. Cook for 5 minutes (10 if you want a thicker sauce).
- After 5 minutes, add water or stock to the tomato mixture to form a sauce. Add enough liquid to create the consistency you prefer (I like a heavier sauce, so I rarely add more than half a cup of liquid, but you may prefer something lighter). Taste the sauce and add more salt if necessary. If the sauce seems too tart, you can also add some sweetener (see Notes). Add the shrimp to the sauce, and cook until done (another 2 minutes or so).
- To serve, spoon cooked rice onto a dinner plate, then ladle some shrimp and sauce over it. Garnish with a sprinkle of chopped cilantro.
- In many parts of the country, “fresh” shrimp actually arrive at the market in a frozen state. So I usually just skip the “fresh” ones and buy frozen. Shrimp often are higher quality anyway if they’re IQF (individually quick frozen). IQF shrimp are “blast frozen” soon after they’ve been harvested, so most of their flavor remains intact. For this dish, I suggest buying frozen, deveined shrimp that have been shelled (except for the tail portion).
- If you’re using fresh shrimp, you’ll probably want to devein them (the dark line that runs along the top of each shrimp is its intestinal tract, or “vein”). If you’re buying fresh shrimp, I assume you know how to deal with them, but here’s a brief recap of the procedure (I always buy fresh shrimp in the shell, with the heads attached): First, pull off the head and legs. Then, starting at the end where the head was, pull off the outer shell (I usually leave the bit at the tail end attached). To devein, I use a small knife and cut a slit down the shrimp’s back, maybe ¼ inch deep. Then I use the knife to remove the vein.
- If at all possible, buy shrimp that were harvested from the Gulf of Mexico. They have the best flavor, IMO.
- For this recipe you want to use canned chipotle chilies. These usually come in 7-ounce cans, and most grocery stores carry them in their Mexican food sections. The chilies are packed in adobo sauce, which is a tasty vinegar-based sauce, and we use some of the sauce in the recipe. You won’t need the whole can, so store the rest in an airtight container in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for weeks (months, probably).
- If you like lots of tomato sauce (or you want to stretch this dish a bit), you can use two 15-ounce cans of tomato. In that case, I’d also suggest using more canned chipotle peppers.
- Bacon makes an outstanding addition to this dish. To add it, sauté 3 slices of bacon that have been cut into pieces of ½ inch. When the bacon pieces are brown, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon. Pour out most of the bacon fat (leaving about a tablespoon in the pan). Then proceed with the recipe, cooking the shrimp in the hot bacon fat (omit the olive oil if you go this route). Add the bacon pieces back to the dish when you add the shrimp in Step 6; or sprinkle them on top as a garnish in Step 7.
- You can adapt this dish to be served as a Mexican Shrimp Cocktail: Prepare the chipotle sauce so that it’s quite thick (don’t add extra water), then chill the sauce. Prepare the shrimp separately—either cook them your favorite way and chill them, or simply thaw cooked, frozen shrimp. For added flavor, marinate the shrimp (before or after cooking) in lime juice flavored with chopped garlic. Chill the shrimp, then serve with the chilled chipotle sauce. When serving as an appetizer, place the sauce in a largish bowl and let people dip shrimp into the bowl while you’re having drinks. To serve at table as a first course, divide the sauce among small bowls, then dangle a few shrimp from the rim of each bowl.
- Traditionally, the sauce for this dish resembles a chipotle salsa, and is often made from dried chipotle peppers. In fact, if you want, you could probably substitute a commercial jarred chipotle salsa for the sauce in this dish.
- Tomato sauce with chilies can sometimes be a bit tart. If you find that unpleasant, you might want to add some sugar when you adjust the seasoning in Step 6.
- In fact, many traditional recipes call for a bit of sweetener, usually in the form of piloncillo—an unrefined sugar that’s somewhat similar to brown sugar. In Mexico, many cooks take the shortcut of substituting a cola soda (such as Coke or Pepsi), which also adds an interesting flavor note. If you experiment with this, use cola instead of water in Step 6. You’ll want to cook the sauce a few minutes more to blend in the flavor of the cola.
- Although this dish is well known in Veracruz, it’s not the most famous food from the region. That honor goes to Huachinango a la Veracruzana, a dish that uses whole red snapper (if you substitute another fish, it becomes Pescado a la Veracruzana). With its capers and olives, this dish seems almost Mediterranean.
“I was looking at Rick Bayless’s recipe for this dish,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “He suggests a variation where you substitute scallops for shrimp.”
“Yes, but the shrimp version is a classic,” I said.
“I totally love scallops,” said Mrs K R. “As you know.”
“Right,” I said. “But for the blog . . . .”
“In fact, I’d rank scallops as one of my all-time favorite foods,” said Mrs K R. “That’s F A V O R I T E.”
“I thought shrimp would appeal to more readers . . . .”
“I really, truly adore scallops,” said Mrs K R. “Did I mention that?”
Yes, I think she did.
Scallops in Chipotle Sauce, anyone?
You may also enjoy reading about:
Jalapeño Pimento Cheese Canapés
Velveeta Tex-Mex Dip
Salsa and Picante Sauce
Quick and Easy Tacos
Classic Margarita Cocktail
Tequila Sunrise Cocktial
Or check out the index for more