The relatives had come and gone and my friends and I were ready for our own little holiday celebration.
We gathered at Kathy’s house for an evening of appetizers, birthday cake and Drunk History.
For her birthday cake, Dorena had requested the coconut-chocolate cake I made for another friend, Nancy, last summer. Michele brought the champagne, Nancy provided a platter of spicy broiled shrimp with garlic and lime, Dorena made a batch of kidney bean salad and Kathy dazzled with a slew of nibbles, from a cheesy hot dip to stuffed and sliced pork tenderloin served on little rolls. As Nancy noted the next day, there was “much, much deliciousness.”
Not the least of which were her shrimp. Yeow. They tasted like a kicked-up version of New Orleans-style barbecued shrimp minus the pound of butter. When
Nancy shared the recipe, I was surprised my taste buds were off by about 600 miles. The spicy, complex flavors hail from the Yucatan region of Mexico, where garlic, citrus, cilantro and annatto are combined in the area’s most iconic spice mixtures.
Nancy used annatto seeds she bought last year at a Cleveland spice store and ground them herself, which was difficult and messy, she says. Afterwards, she ordered achiote – ground annatto seeds – from Amazon. You don’t have to go to that expense or trouble, though. Annatto seeds and ground annatto (achiote) are available at just about any Latin food store as well as Dave’s supermarkets, which cater to ethnic populations.
You’ll notice the shrimp are marinated and cooked in their shells. Diners peel and eat the shrimp at the table. Shrimp cooked in their shells are simply more flavorful than shrimp that are peeled before cooking. I tested this once with side-by-side batches of shrimp on a barbecue grill, and the difference was striking. I bet the folks at Cooks magazine tested it, too, because that’s where Nancy found the recipe.
The noshing meal was our last hurrah before I and my friends went on New Year’s diets. We ate ourselves silly that evening and laughed ourselves silly, too. If you have seen Drunk History, you know why. On the Comedy channel program, after host Derek Waters and a guest comic get roaring drunk, the guest tells Derek about a chapter in U.S. history. Famous actors and comedians act out the episode while lip syncing the drunk’s commentary. It’s hilarious.
Today I’m not laughing. It’s three days into my diet and I could eat the shellac off the dining room chairs. But I’m still dreaming about that spicy shrimp. And that cake. And those dates stuffed with pecans and boursin….
BROILED SHRIMP WITH GARLIC, LIME & CILANTRO
2 lbs. large shell-on shrimp (16 to 20 per lb. or larger)
1/4 cup salt dissolved in 1 quart of water in a large bowl
1/2 cup oil (peanut, Canola)
2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1 tsp. red pepper flakes or to taste
1 tsp. ground annatto (achiote powder)
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp. grated lime zest
6 cloves garlic, pressed or minced into fine paste
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 lime halves
Lime wedges for garnish
Chopped cilantro for garnish
Devein shrimp if needed but do not peel. Cut a deep slit through the shell and into the thickest part of each shrimp to allow the seasonings to permeate. Brine prepared shrimp in bowl of salted water for 15 minutes. Drain and dry shrimp well between two kitchen towels or plenty of paper towels.
Make a seasoning paste by combining oil with crushed coriander, red pepper flakes, ground annatto, black pepper, lime zest and garlic. Stir to combine. Place shrimp, seasoning paste and all but a handful of the cilantro in a gallon zipper-lock plastic bag. Seal and massage seasoning paste into the shrimp, working under the shells and along the tops. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Cover a cooling rack with foil and liberally pierce foil all over. With more foil, cover a rimmed baking sheet large enough to contain the cooling rack. The foil is not required but aids the cleanup. Soak bamboo skewers in warm water.
When almost ready to cook, position top oven rack 4 inches from heat source and preheat broiler set to high. Thread shrimp on skewers, nesting like a stack of spoons. Closeness buys a little more time under the broiler. Arrange skewered shrimp on the foil-covered rack. Use the lime halves to douse each with lime juice.
Broil shrimp for 2 minutes. Rotate pan and broil 2 minutes longer. Remove pan from oven and turn shrimp skewers over. Return to boiler for 2 minutes, rotate pan and cook 1 to 2 minutes longer. The goal is shrimp with a few charred spots, a browned appearance but still tender on the inside.
Slide shrimp from skewers and pile on a platter. Sprinkle with remaining chopped cilantro and another squeeze of lime juice. Garnish with small lime wedges and cilantro sprigs. Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as an appetizer.
HELP U COOK
You say “annatto,” I say “achiote.” They’re basically the same spice. “Annatto” usually refers to the reddish seeds of the annatto tree, while achiote mostly is used to describe ground annatto seeds that are combined with other seasonings in a popular Mexican spice mixture. Achiote, especially when mixed with garlic, peppercorns, onion and oregano, is the principle seasoning of meat dishes in the Yucatan. You’ve heard of suckling pig roasted in banana leaves? Achiote is what makes the famous Yucatan dish sing.
According to Southwestern chef Mark Miller, achiote “…has a strong iodine-like flavor that may take some getting used to, as it imparts a somewhat bitter note, not unlike Campari.” You probably won’t find it in regular supermarkets, but it is available at almost any Latin food market.
From Bess Brown:
You couldn’t have written a better tribute to The West Point Market. I too was in love with the store. Once a month, for years, I would make the trip from Mansfield to see what was new and to purchase favorites.
Saturday I went to the sale but like you went out empty handed. It just didn’t feel right to me to join in the picking of the bones. I had treated myself to a trip to the market just a few weeks before, allowing myself to savor it for what I thought was to be my last time.
I just wanted to thank you for your article.
Dear Bess: Judging from the number of emails I got in response to my love letter to West Point, you and I are not alone in our fondness for the store. I wouldn’t mind hearing more recollections of that special place. I think it’s fitting that we pay tribute. I’ll try to see that Russ Vernon gets copies of any email that’s sent.
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