I have a little gift to myself in my refrigerator!
Yesterday, after my Mazatlán Tourist Aide Volunteer shift, I stopped at Las Changueras (the Shrimp Ladies)! Un kilo (2.2 pounds) of shrimp, and I’m going to be a happy camper today!
Mazatlán says it’s the shrimp capital of the world (I think Thailand might have an edge, but since I live here I’m not going to bring that up). Surprisingly, there are a lot of places that can’t seem to cook shrimp properly. Today I’m going to give you a little lesson in the way to cook shrimp that will shock and amaze your friends and family!
First, shrimp and American cheese, no matter how assembled, or wrapped in bacon, or battered and fried, DO NOT GO TOGETHER. Don’t do it. Don’t encourage others to do it. It’s just wrong.
When buying shrimp you want to buy them with their shells on. I also buy them without the heads as they aren’t that much cheaper with them on. My sauce suffers for it, but it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make. You also want fairly large shrimp. The 16/20 would be about the smallest to use. 16/20 means that there are between 16 and 20 shrimp to a pound.
Next you want to get your equipment ready. You will need a bowl large enough to completely submerge your shrimp in water. You’ll need one chopstick – of the pointed end variety. You’ll need one pot (with lid) large enough to hold the shells, one wooden spoon, a strainer, a cast iron skillet, and a small saute pan. You will also need a colander.
At the sink, you will want to turn your cold water on so that a very slow stream is running. Grab a shrimp in your left hand (assuming you’re right handed) and hold it by the tail. Peel the first two or three segments of shell away from the body at the point where the head was removed. Placing your thumb and forefinger at the point where the last of the meat is in the tail, squeeze hard. The shrimp should come clear of the shell. If it’s being stubborn, you can loosen the shell a little more. Place the shells into the pan.
Take the shrimp meat and lay it flat in your left hand, curling your fingers a little to secure it. With your right hand, push the chopstick all the way through the cavity in the shrimp where the digestive tract and innards are. You might have to poke around the shrimp to find the opening – but it’s there! Now, lift up on the chopstick, ripping through the thin layer of flesh at the top of the shrimp. Remove the digestive tract and any innards that may be there as well. Give the shrimp a rinse and toss into the colander. Rinse your hands. Repeat until you’re done.
See, that was easy! A little time consuming, but easy!
Now, add water about 1/2 way up the shells, cover, bring to a boil and then turn down and simmer. Every once in a while, stir the shells and mash them down with a wooden spoon. About 10 minutes after the shells have turned pink, remove the lid and strain the liquid into the saute pan. Throw away the shells. Place the saute pan on the stove, turn on high, and boil until you have about 4 Tablespoons of liquid left. You are going to add this to whatever sauce you make for your shrimp!
Now you want to prepare the shrimp. Rinse the shrimp and place in the bowl. Add enough water to amply cover the shrimp, then add a couple of Tablespoons of salt. Stir things up with your hand until the salt is dissolved. Cover and refrigerate between 1 and 2 hours. Remove from the fridge, drain, and rinse the shrimp in clean water several times to remove the salt. Lay the shrimp out on a baking sheet and pat dry, then return to the refrigerator (uncovered) for a couple of hours, until the shrimp have dried completely.
Melt two tablespoons of butter in the cast iron skillet over medium. Add a clove of minced garlic at this point if you desire. Place a layer of shrimp into the pan – don’t have more than a single layer of shrimp. When the bottom of the shrimp turns pink, wait 15 seconds, then flip the shrimp. When the shrimp are totally pink on the outside, but still just a tiny bit grey when looking at the place you removed the digestive tract, take them out of the skillet. They will continue cooking a little, and you’re going to add them to something hot (noodles, rice, sauce, …) which will make them cook a little too.
That’s it! Perfectly cooked shrimp. Plus you have a shrimp reduction to add to your sauce, and don’t forget the butter (and garlic?) from the skillet. These are great with noodles, in rice, as a stuffing for shrimp chili rellenos, on top of steak, added to some steamed broccoli and cauliflower – basically anything that isn’t a slice of American cheese!
And now that your tummy is happy, have a little dance with las changueras of Mazatlán!