No Need Skimping on the Shrimp--Not in Mexico or Your Fridge

Forty tons of shrimp.

That's how many of the curvy crustaceans are processed and shipped from Mazatlan every year deservedly earning this jewel city of the Mexican Riviera its designation as "Shrimp Capital of the World". (In fact, I've read estimates as high as 40,000 tons. In any case, that's a lot of camarones.)

The Mexican Riviera is a series of pretty Pacific towns that stretches from Ensenada in the North to Acapulco in the South and, needless to say, shrimp can be found on the menus of virtually all the restaurants up and down the coast. But since Mazatlan, a term that means "place of the deer" in Nahuatl, is Mexico's largest commercial port, it is ground zero for shrimp.

Camarones al Mojo de Ajo, or Garlic Shrimp if you will, is one of the preparations that most likely originated in Mazatlan. It is easy to make and according to Rick Bayless, is handy to have in the fridge so you should
make a lot.

"The Mojo de Ajo keeps for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator (the oil will become solid but will liquify at room temperature), so I never recommend making a small amount. Mojo in the refrigerator represents great potential for a wonderful quick meal. Warm cold mojo slowly before using. For the best texture, cook the shrimp immediately before serving. Or cook them an hour or so ahead, douse them with the garlic mojo, and serve it all at room temperature."

Needless to say, using garlic bulbs will usually yield a better dish of camarones than using garlic salt or powder. In The Book of Spanish Cooking, Hilaire Walden reminds us that garlic is an important component of the cuisine of Spain as well, and offers tips:

"Use the freshest possible--if there is any sign of a green shoot in a clove, remove it as it imparts a bitter taste to the dish. Buy garlic bulbs that are plump and firm and store them in a cool dry place. Raw garlic has a pungent flavor, but when it is cooked, the taste mellows to give a subtle background flavor, and whole cloves can be eaten. Chopping garlic gives a more pronounced flavor than crushing it."

Luckily, few ingredients are required to make garlic shrimp, and most likely you have the majority of them in your fridge and pantry right now. Molly O'Neill's recipe from The New York Times calls for unsalted butter, olive oil, two pounds of shrimp, eight cloves of garlic, lime juice, Tabasco sauce, and salt to taste. That's it. After preheating the skillet and cooking the garlic, the preparation time once the shrimp are added is a mere three to four minutes. She recommends serving with French bread.

At Tierra Caliente, your waitress will do even better than that by bringing out slices of delicious Mexican bread along with your shrimp, avocado slices, salad, and spicy chile sauce so you can build your own torta.

Here, the restaurant is so small that you can hear the chef sizzling your camarones to order, so you know they will be good and hot. A nice touch on a cold, rainy day, although not as nice as a trip to the Mexican Riviera.

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Chris Meesey