12 February 2014

A Band-Aid Solution for Winter (but a solution nonetheless)

Not for the feint of heart: two of the most dangerous foods in existence* together in one dish.  Yeah, okay, the danger might be abstract for most of us, but the magic of peanut butter with shrimp is very tangible.

*peanuts and shellfish, just ask any grade-schooler...

Shrimp Tacos
Roast garlic and peppers in a dry cast iron skillet, turning
regularly for even cooking.

for the peanut salsa:

10 cloves garlic
10 dried arbol chilies
1 dried pasilla chili
4 dried morita chilies
6 black peppercorns
1 star of star anise (broken up)
1/2 c. natural peanut butter (the ingredients should read: peanuts; avoid anything with a longer list)
4 tbsp cider vinegar
salt to taste
2 tbsp water

for the shrimp:

1-2 fresh serrano peppers (optionally roasted, see instructions)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp avocado oil
2 trays** of Labrador ice shrimp*** 
1/4 fresh lemon

**$5-worth, locally. I forgot to weigh it before we ate it.  Let's just say cook enough for the number of people you are serving and adjust the peppers and garlic to taste.

***also known as coldwater shrimp, north atlantic shrimp, northern shrimp, northern prawn, or salad shrimp... they're the really little ones.  If you don't have a local salad shrimp fishery, substitute with your most sustainable shrimp or prawn option.

A note for Newfoundlanders about the dried peppers:  I have no idea where you can buy these other than ordering them through the miracle of the internet.  I buy them at Mexican groceries when I'm in Ontario visiting family (a large portion of my return luggage is always dedicated to food).  Dried peppers are very light and travel well, so keep your eyes out when you're away.  In the meantime, the whole long red dried chili peppers are a good substitute for arbol chilies.  I have heard a rumour recently that chipotle peppers in adobo sauce can now be purchased at the Dominion on Stavanger Drive in town... having never tried them, I don't know how they would do, but could work as a substitute for the other peppers which lend a subtle smoky flavour to the salsa (probably use fewer peppers, but taste as you go).

Make the peanut sauce: Roast garlic (and, optionally, fresh hot peppers for the shrimp) by putting separated cloves, leaving the paper on, in a dry cast iron skillet over med-high heat.  Turn garlic periodically to roast evenly.  It's alright to let it get singed; the garlic is done once it's soft.  If you are doing fresh peppers for your shrimp, let the pepper singe and blister before removing from the pan. 

While the garlic is roasting, toss the dried peppers, peppercorns and star anise into the pan.  Once the peppers are hot and limp, but before they burn, remove all the dried spices and put into a heat-proof bowl.  Pour boiling water over them to cover and weigh the peppers down with a plate or bowl to keep them submerged.  Let them soak for at least 20 minutes.

Pour off the liquid and reserve (this will be nicely scented with the star anise and peppercorn).  If you want a scorching hot sauce, scrape the seeds and flesh from the pepper skins with a flat knife.  If you want a less hot sauce, run the soaked pepper and spices through a food mill to separate the seeds and skin from the flesh.  I used the seeds from the pasilla and morita peppers but not from the arbol (I'm a middle kid thus prone to compromise.  Fefe would have used all the seeds.).  Squeeze the now cool roasted garlic from it's paper and mash in a mixing bowl with the pepper.  Use the reserved liquid to thin the pepper and garlic paste to an applesauce-like consistency.

Refrigerate leftover peanut sauce: you can use it on snack crackers or sandwiches (particularly good with cucumbers), or thin it a bit more and use it as a dipping sauce for raw vegetables or fried plantain.
Add the peanut butter and half the vinegar and stir to combine.  Taste the sauce and add more vinegar and salt to taste... you want an acidic and salty sauce, but not overwhelmed by either.  Thin with water (or more reserved liquid from the soaked peppers) to desired consistency.  For use in tacos you want it to be easily spreadable, but not pour-able.  The sauce will thicken if refrigerated, so cover and leave at room temperature until serving. 

Sautee the shrimp:  Heat oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high, erring on the high side.  Soften the garlic and serrano peppers (roasted or fresh) in the oil then add shrimp.  Toss frequently until just cooked.  Remove pan from heat, squeeze lemon over shrimp and toss to coat. 

Serve in hand made corn tortillas.  Spread with peanut salsa, then fill with shredded cabbage and shrimp.


February is always a difficult month, but we are in the midst of what I believe is the stupidest winter ever.  Now it's snowing so you can't see across the road.  Now it's so cold that every time someone moves outside, it sounds like rubbing stryofoam.  Now it's rainy and the snow is gone and your socks are wet.  Now there's a deep freeze.  Now it's rainy again.  Wait, no, it's ice pellets.  Snow.  Ice.  Rain.  One day, muddy footprints tracked across the kitchen floor.  The next day, half an hour of removing compacted snow balls from between the dogs' toes, just so that they'll agree to walk the final three steps to the house and come in.

And we should be so lucky if there's only 6 weeks left to it.  I know I'm a week and a half past Groundhog's Day already, but really, if winter is behind us in 6 weeks from now, I'll eat a tin of vienna sausages.

February is that weird month too, where it's too early to open the last jar of bakeapples or cook the end of the rhubarb in the freezer, but it's too late to expect cabbages to still be bright green.  Every week, more and more of the outer leaves are pulled back to trim the wilted bits and we seem, by now, to be down to pale cabbage core.  But never mind, that cabbage inside is still crunchy and sweet.

For those of us not flocking down south for a winter holiday in the sun and surf, February is a good month to pretend.  Make a pitcher of margaritas, put on a sundress under your cozy sweaters, stuff your wool-socked feet into sandals, and feast on shrimp tacos with peanut sauce****.  It's just like being in Baja*****. 

****you know, unless you have those fatal allergies

*****don't argue with me on this:  I've never been to Baja (I may have never been further south than Put-In-Bay, Ohio, actually) but I need to imagine I can recreate it in my drafty old house so I don't go completely insane this year...

Peanut Salsa on Punk Domestics


  1. No fears Caribougrrl, it's warming up! (and going to snow for 3 days between the rain showers). No worries on the Vienna sausages...

    1. ha! If I can bear to expose any skin to this cold air, I'm going to try and synthesize some vitamin D before we lose the sun... but yes, at least it has to warm up to rain and snow. Before it undoubtedly freezes again. I don't like to wish time away, but I'm looking forward to fog season.

  2. I am going to make a big bowl of that peanut sauce and am going to scoop it into my mouth with a spoon...then I might make another bowl of it for dessert ;)

  3. These look amazing! I definitely will have to try this peanut sauce. And I like the way you roasted the garlic in a skillet. Winter is still hanging on here in BC, too! I hope we all warm up soon......

    1. The trick with the garlic was a kitchen epiphany when I learned to do that. I can't remember where I read the instructions, but it's changed how I cook... it makes roasted garlic not just for special occassions anymore.

      Here's hoping your crocuses come up sooner than later!


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