Cooking like a Mexican

 Cooking like a Mexican

BY ALEJANDRA BORBOLLA

Serrano chiles are one of the most used ingredients in Mexican cooking, all chiles really, but today we’re going to focus on this special variety. Its name comes from “Sierra” or mountain range, which means this chile comes from the Mexican mountain chains, which cover pretty much all the country’s outline. Chile serrano is a tiny, cylindrical chile which is often pointy. It is considered a 6 out of 10 on the spice scale and in a range between 10,000 to 25,000 on the Scoville scale. Most of the time this chile is consumed in its early stage when it is a beautiful lime green color, but it can also be consumed when it starts to mature into a red color. 

My recipe for you for this edition is the traditional aguachile. Considered aphrodisiac for its nutritional contents, it’s a great hangover cure as well as a perfect companion for an ice-cold beer, which makes it very popular in family and friends’ gatherings. The traditional recipe comes from the state of Sinaloa, an extremely hot place, where shrimp are top quality. I think it’s hot enough now to have a go at this. 

The origins of aguachile are not very clear, but its name comes from Agua (water) and Chile (pepper). A long time ago, this water-chile preparation was used to rehydrate dried meat, transitioning later to seafood. It’s a very simple dish with three key ingredients: shrimp, chiles, and lime. This aguachile is served with cucumber and red onions. 

The most important things you have to keep in mind to make an aguachile are as follows: 

It must be a little spicy. I mean I know you guys don’t have the blessing of taking heat like we do, but there’s no point in making a soggy cold shrimp puddle. Take a little risk. The worst that can happen is a little flame coming out of your bum. A pro tip when handling serrano chiles is, if you do not want your aguachile to make you spit flames, to soak them for a couple of hours in ice salt water. 

Shrimp must be FRESH. No frozen nonsense. You live near the ocean. Come on! And I recommend a middle-sized shrimp, completely clean. The lapse between making the dish and serving it must be no longer than ten minutes. I know many people don’t quite enjoy the texture of lime “cooked” shrimp or may get a little nervous, but it’s the exact same as cooking it with heat. Watch for transparency. Once it’s not translucent, you’re good to go. The longer it sits in lime juice, the tougher it will be. 

The aguachile sauce has to be balanced. The flavors must be perceivable with the lime as much as the chile, in harmony. 

There are different kinds of aguachile, varying in colors and ingredients. Some are made with other seafood, but this time I am going to stick to the traditional recipe.

I know aguachile literally stands for water and chile, but there are a few more ingredients to the magic: 

Ingredients: 

1 lb. shrimp 

1 large cucumber 

3 serrano chiles

5 limbs of cilantro 

1 cup lime juice 

2 splashes of Maggi sauce (That’s the commercial name. I’m sorry but that’s how you’ll find it in a supermarket.) 

¼ of a red onion 

Salt and pepper to taste 

Preparation: 

Most of this will be pureed, but slice about a third of the cucumber and onions in third-inch moons for presentation. The serrano chiles are to be chopped; for less heat discard seeds and veins before chopping them. For more heat chop them whole. Chop the cilantro.  

Clean the shrimp thoroughly, as they are to be cooked in lime juice and not heat, just to be safe, then slice them lengthwise. You might wonder how lime juice will cook shrimp. Well, the acid in the lime juice breaks down raw meat. The scientific term for this breakdown is “denaturation,” which is the process in which protein loses its structure by the application of a strong acid-base, salt, alcohol or heat. Basically, the scientific process that cooks meat with heat in the oven is the same one that cooks it with acid.

In a bowl, put the shrimp and 3/4 of a cup of the lime juice together. Shrimp must be covered completely in lime juice. Let them party in there for ten minutes. If they’re not covered, stir them every 3 minutes. Then, season with salt and pepper. 

Take whatever was left of your cucumber, onion, serrano chiles and cilantro and puree them with the ¼ cup of lime juice. The consistency must be pretty runny. Add water if needed but just a little bit. 

To serve, put some of the cucumber slices around the plate as if you were making a big flower. Toss the onion and the “cooked” shrimp together and put them in the middle of the plate. Then, splash some Maggi sauce over it followed by your watery chile sauce. 

I am one of those avocado-loving Mexicans, so I also put some green gold slices on top. Serve it along with some tostadas. 

So, that’s it! Let me know what you think. My email is ale.borbolla@gringogazette.com, Emails from you are always welcome. I hope you guys like it!