One of the things I love most about food is that the ingredients of any given dish can actually tell you a story. Take today’s recipe for camarones enchilados, or Cuban-style shrimp creole. The name—shrimp creole—makes many people think of Louisiana cajun food, which is heavily influenced by the African, Spanish and French cultures that settled the region. The ingredients for a classic camarones enchilados aren’t the same as those for a shrimp creole, but the idea is similar and, as it happens, is also the result of African, Spanish and French cultures coming together.
While much has been written about African and Spanish cultures on the island, fewer people realize that in the late 18th century thousands of French migrated to Cuba; most came from neighboring Saint Dominique (modern day Haiti) where an African slave uprising caused white plantation owners to flee for their lives, and from Louisiana, which the United States had just bought from France. At the time, Cuba was a sleepy Spanish colony; the French arrived with money, experience in the business of agriculture and and a desire to fire up the young island’s economy. And they did. Along the way, as usually happens when cultures come together, cooking techniques blended deliciously. And camarones enchilados was born, as was one of the island’s most popular French/African/Spanish legacies.
A lot like its cajun cousin but with decidedly Cuban flair (in Louisiana the dish is flavored with cayenne and creole seasonings, while the Cuban version uses a classic sofrito seasoned with oregano and cumin), camarones enchilados makes for a great healthy meal since it’s mostly vitamin-rich veggies (tomatoes, onions, peppers and garlic) and low-fat shrimp. A few tricks: let the sofrito cook low and slow for about 15 minutes to amp up its flavor; make a simple broth using the shrimp shells and add it to the sauce for an extra hint of shrimp in the enchilado; add the shrimp to the sauce after it’s had time to simmer to avoid overcooking them.
Camarones enchilados recipe
1 1/2 lb shrimp (21-25 per pound size), peeled, de-veined, peels reserved
1/2 tsp salt
1 T plus 1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 medium green bell pepper, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp cumin
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 8-oz can low sodium tomato sauce
1 cup jarred red pimentos, and their liquid
1/4 cup ketchup
1 T white wine vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup fresh peas
1/4 cup fresh parsely, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1. In a small saucepan, saute the the shrimp peels in heated olive oil over medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Add 3/4 cups of water, 1/2 tsp salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain the broth into a bowl and discard the shells. Set broth aside.
2. In a caldero or 4-inch deep large saute pan, heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, green bell peppers, oregano, cumin and bay leaf. Saute, stirring frequently, for 12 to 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender but not caramelized.
3. Stir in wine and let reduce for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and the shrimp shell stock, the peppers and their liquid, ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauce. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Add the peeled shrimp and fresh peas, cover and cook for another 8 to 10 minutes, until shrimp turns pink and curls slightly. (Be careful not to overcook them; they can turn rubbery if overdone.)
5. Stir in the parsley and let cook for another minute or 2. Serve over a bed of white or brown rice. Makes 4 to 6 servings.