One of the interesting phenomenon of a language that is spoken in so many places is how the same word will take on a different meaning or interpretation throughout. Sometimes, the word dissapears from the vernacular altogether. Case in point, “Chile” is not a word we Cubans use to describe any food items we cook with, it’s used exclusively to name a country (enter your guess in the comments below).
Our word for bell peppers is “Aji” (a-hee). There really was no need to go into naming all the different types of chiles or peppers because the “Bell” is the only one used in real-deal Cuban cooking. Ironic, actually, when you consider that one of the hottest peppers is named after a city who’s cuisine rarely (and even then, in minute amounts) uses it–the Habanero. For those under the wrong impression, let me clear my throat: Cuban food is spicy but not hot.
As much as I have eaten and enjoyed this dish all my life, I never really pondered the name because “enchilado” was just another crazy Cuban name for food like “chilindron” or “bistec” or “pulpeta” was. Etymologically speaking, it’s pretty straightforward “en – chil – ado”. I mean even you non-native speakers can probably guess the dish is chile centric. Then again, you’d be wrong. This is a misnamed dish, in fact. Even though it does take some Aji, It should be called “Entomatado de Camarones” because tomatoes are the prevalent ingredient.
If you’ve read even a couple of posts here, you’re already familiar with sofrito and how integral it is to so many Cuban dishes. This recipe is no different except it’s a bit heavier on the tomato and the protein makes it’s appearance in the pot during the last 5-10 minutes. It’s also a bit sweeter. “Pink” shrimp are in season right now (March – May) but this preparation takes well to crab, lobster, sea bass, prawns, scallops also. You’ll never think of an “enchilada” at Chevy’s the same.
It’s goin down:
- 1/2 cupolive oil
- 1large green or red pepper, chopped
- 1large onion, chopped
- 5 clovesGarlic, minced
- 1/2 cupDry Sherry
- 2 TbspTomato Paste
- 7.5 oz(1/2 of a 15 oz can) tomato sauce
- 1 tspSweet paprika (non-smoked)
- 1Bay Leaf
- 1 tspSugar or 1/2 tsp honey
- 1 cupShrimp head broth
- 1.5 lbsLarge shrimp; un-peeled, uncooked. If heads are attached, then 2 lbs.
- French hard stuff (cognac, etc)
To prepare the shrimp:
After rinsing under cool water, remove the heads, carapace and leg/tail skin from the shrimp. Be careful to preserve the tail meat and not tear off along with that last bit of the tail. You can use a “shrimper” tool, but I like the hands-on feel. Reserve all this stuff you pull off in a pot. In order to preserve all it’s oceany goodness, remember not to run the shrimp under water again after the initial rinse.
Using a sharp paring knife, cut along the top of each peeled shrimp about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep, you will come upon a thin, black/grey string-like piece that extends the length of the shrimp. Congratulations, you’ve encountered the poop chute. Delicately remove this (still no rinsing!). There is no need to remove the blue artery on the shrimp underside. Keep these shrimp in the fridge while we move on.
To make the broth:
Take your shrimp heads and carapaces and put them in a small pot, add a couple of smashed garlic cloves and maybe some fresh oregano, enough water to cover (at least 2 cups) and bring to a simmer. Simmer, slightly uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Remove your vessel from the heat, que the broth is done.
Add the 1/2 cup olive oil to the medium heat casserole pan or dutch oven. Wait for the shimmer and smell and add the chopped onions and peppers. Cook, stirring every here and then until soft and turning a bit darker (about 8 minutes). Clear out some room in the middle, add a dollop of EVOO and add the minced garlic and cook it along with the onion and pepper for another 3-4 minutes. These veggies should be pretty soft now so add the 1/2 cup dry sherry, stir, deglaze and let that simmer down, uncovered until at least half the sherry has evaporated (like 2 minutes). Add the tomato paste to the 1 cup of head broth, stir and pour into pot along with the paprika, bay leaf, honey and tomato sauce. You can also add a dash of Tabasco or Sriracha (Yes, I did read the first two paragraphs of this post, but the heat cooks out with the heat). Stir some more, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes with the occasional stir. The sofrito can stick to the hot part of the pan, so stir profoundly!
You should have a thick, flavorful sofrito now. If you are happy with the consistency (cook longer if too watery), correct the seasonings by adding some salt or white pepper Once you are happy with the flavor, stir in the shrimp. Toss them about in the sauce until they start to go pink (about 3-4 minutes) and firm up just a bit. Add a splash of Cognac, Armagnac, Brandy or Calvados to the pot ( If your using a gas/open flame stove make sure to turn off the flame for this step). Stir, cover and turn off the heat. The residual heat will continue to cook the shrimp so get ready to eat just a couple of minutes later. You eat this over rice with some platanitos, a salad and Cuban bread (a soft baguette is close-ish).
P.S.: When it comes to fish and seafood, my parents generation would never dream of drinking water along with their seafood. It’s either wine (red, white, rosé) or milk or beer or whatever, just NO water. As in, “NO TV if you drink water with that enchilado”. I never have been able to wrap my head around that one but I encourage you to follow the tradition and diversify your table drinking habits as I do. Salud!