Monday, April 12, 2010

CSA week 18 - Zucchini caldo de camaron seco

This is a bit of an improvisation. I was shopping for a Javanese dried shrimp and zucchini dish and not finding the Mexican dried shrimp where it was supposed to be at Whole Foods when I started wondering just what Mexican dried shrimp were used for.

If you trust Google, they're used for caldo de camaron seco--dried shrimp broth--mostly. Well, if zucchini works with dried shrimp and coconut milk, it might work with dried shrimp and chilies too. [I gave in and took the trip to Lucky Asian Mart I was hoping to avoid to get the ingredients.] Seemed worth a try anyway. I didn't follow any of the caldo de camaron seco recipes exactly even before adding the zucchini and I didn't really measure anything either; here's an approximation of what I came up with.

1/2 pound dried hominy
1 medium tomato and 1 handful grape tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
2 not too hot dried peppers
1 chipotle pepper
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 ounces by weight dried shrimp
4 cups water
1/2 large zucchini, diced

0. Soak the hominy 8 hours or overnight. Or quick soak it by boiling it for 5 minutes and then soaking for 3-4 hours.

1. Soak the peppers for 10 minutes to slightly soften. Remove stems and seeds. Cut or tear into small pieces.

2. Process the shrimp into a fine powder.

3.Blend the tomato and garlic. Add peppers and blend until very smooth. Press through a strainer to make sure. Add a little salt and taste. Add chili powder and/or hot sauce if the flavor isn't quite to your liking.

4. In a large saucepan or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium high heat. When shimmery add the onion and carrot. Cook until the onion becomes translucent, then add the chili tomato mixture. Turn heat down to medium low and fry 10 minutes, scraping up the sauce if it sticks. [This is a typical Mexican technique. Interesting, no? Aren't Thai curry pastes treated similarly?]

5. Add the dried shrimp, hominy and water. Bring to a boil, turn heat to low and simmer for 50 minutes. Add zucchini and cook for 10 minutes more.

Top with diced white onion, a squeeze of lime and a drizzle of olive oil.

The ground shrimp has hydrated a bit and now has a meaty chew to it but in grainy sludgy form. It reminds of something, but I can't quite pin it down. Maybe somewhere between ground meat in chili and strands of overpicked crab in chowder. It's about as enticing as that sounds, but its not bad once you get used to it.

The broth itself is an earthy blend of the the fruitiness of the chilies and tomato and the salty minerally tang of the shrimp. That's pretty tasty. Kind of weird, but tasty.

The hominy could be softer; I should have cooked it a bit longer. And the zucchini could be firmer; I should have cooked it a bit less. [I adjusted the cooking time for the zucchini in the recipe above, but I'm not sure how to deal with the hominy. Follow the instructions on the package if you've got a package with instructions, I guess.] Still, their flavors come through nicely and do work well with the flavor of the broth.

Like the soup from a couple days ago, I think this one is going to work better tomorrow after the flavors have blended. I'll bet the textures will have improved too. ...

OK, it's tomorrow. The hominy and zucchini haven't changed so no improvement in the texture, but the flavors have melded nicely. Still, it's missing something and I'm pretty sure that something is pork. The flavor would fit in really nicely and the broth is so much like chili that I'm missing chunks of meat. I've got some pork in the freezer; maybe I'll give it a shot. I'll report in later...

Now it's the day after tomorrow. I've added some ground pork and, as long as I was at it, more zucchini and some red bell pepper. Now it tastes like a strangely shrimp-tinged chili. It was a much more interestingly distinctive dish before. Ah well; win some, lose some.

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