Shrimp in Serrano-Lime Sauce
By Dennis Linden
Looking for something tasty to serve a large group? This month’s Associate Guest Chef recipe, submitted by Sulai Barajas of Melissa’s Procurement Team, is definitely a dish looking for a party! In fact, while I had to use store-bought shrimp from Canada to prep Sulai’s dish for this blog due to the time of the year, I will be cooking it up again as my own contribution to an annual shrimp feast with friends when we celebrate the next opening day of our local Spotted Prawn season here in the Pacific Northwest!
“The recipe itself is a traditional dish in Sinaloa, Mexico. My family is from the neighboring state of Nayarit to the south along the same coast” said Sulai, explaining. “I grew up in Santa Cruz, a very small, poor seaside town. My relatives there are fishermen so before we knew McDonald’s we knew seafood and I grew up eating this stuff all three meals at times. Back then fishing was a means of survival. Cooking, especially something as tedious as cleaning shrimp, has always been a fun family affair that includes a lot of laughs during the process!”
For Sulai’s recipe a large shrimp that can be de-veined and butterflied easily is the most practical. While not everyone can shop for this ingredient by simply dropping a shrimp pot or net in the water, there are decisions that should be made in your shrimp purchase for this or any recipe. Shrimp is one of the most harvested ocean species in the world, though not all fisheries are created equal. Please follow the shrimp recommendations of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s SEAFOOD WATCH in choosing a large, sustainably caught shrimp species from a verifiable and certified source.
As Sulai described, the cleaning of such a large amount of shrimp as well as an equally tall pile of serrano peppers and the juicing of so many limes are all rather tedious tasks. Besides being able to guarantee that the results will be well worth the effort, I can offer a few tips to make these culinary chores more pleasant. First, try to choose extra-large serrano peppers as they will be much easier to seed and scrape. BTW I find that a serrated grapefruit spoon is perfect for this job. The spicy heat of the pepper can be controlled by the efficiency of the cleaning; scraping both seeds and a little of inside walls of the peppers thoroughly will decrease the capsacian content of the pepper, which is what produces the heat. I found this recipe to have a mild kick to it as I prefer to taste the flavor of a pepper rather than measure its heat content so I tend to scrape a little deep. Also, select some favorite music and play it loud! Lastly, try a little multi-tasking -- this would be the perfect time to taste-test and decide upon what kind of beer to serve with this dish [see chef’s plating instructions] so have a few iced bottles readied to carry you though these repetitive sous chef duties! When done with the prep, this is a one-pot meal…that is, toss everything in and simmer ‘til done!
Sulai Barajas has been a member of Melissa’s team, officially, for about 15 years, though she describes herself as a “Melissa’s baby.” Her mom, Amparo, retired last September after working on Melissa’s pack line for 20 years. Sulai’s career with Melissa’s has been diverse and progressive that has included several of the company’s departments as she continues to learn the many facets of the business of fresh produce.
“I like to say that I was born in the pack line with a carrot branded on my sleeve! I’m excited and grateful for the opportunities that I have been given to be able to grow within the company. I started in shipping at Warehouse #2 before moving to the main shipping office in Warehouse #1, then I got a chance to work in sales on the replenishment desk for one of our largest retail customers and now, for the last two months, I have been in Procurement, which is the exact opposite of sales. At this moment it’s mostly all a learning process and I am enjoying the challenge of changing my mentality from a sales viewpoint to seeing things from a buyer’s perspective. My workdays are fascinating and always changing, which certainly keeps me on my toes!”
On most weekends Sulai, accompanied always by her canine daughter Miley, makes the four-hour drive to her second residence in Ensenada, Mexico. While her family used to visit there as a child, she rediscovered the place as an adult during a vacation visit.
“Ensenada was one of the ports of call on a cruise I took several years ago. I fell in love with the vibe, the people, its culture, shops and the party life too! After that cruise my sister and I started making regular visits by car every couple of months. So much so that three years ago I decided to make Ensenada my part-time, permanent home, so to speak. The attraction must be in my genes as my mom lived in Ensenada for many years when she was young before she decided to move to California.”
To unwind during the week Sulai says she enjoys reading and especially watching movies. In fact, she admits that a good movie is almost a daily ritual for her, be it going out to a theatre or staying home for a cozy night of Netflix. Obviously, another past-time is cooking – so thanks for the tasty pot of shrimp! I for one will be trying this recipe again when it’s legal…the shrimp season, that is!
"Agua Chiles" Seafood
4-lbs shrimp, de-veined & butterflied
40 limes, juiced 20 Serrano peppers, halved & seeded
2 bunches Cilantro, rough chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
1 large Red Onion, sliced into rings
2 large cucumbers, peeled and sliced into rounds
For this recipe prepare all the components mise en place.
In a blender, combine peppers, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper until a smooth sauce is created – this may have to be done in batches depending on blender size so divide blender ingredients evenly.
In a large pot, combine the pepper-lime sauce, shrimp and onion rings. Simmer for 30 minutes on low heat, then add in the cucumber slices and cook for another 5 minutes. Note: If cucumbers are added too soon they become soggy.
Garnish with cucumber rounds. Serve with a stack of warm tortillas and cold beer on the side.