I’ve made tons of mistakes on this site with regards to cultural appropriation, but I’m hoping that this shrimp aguachile recipe, adapted from Hispanic Kitchen’s site, can be a positive step in the right direction.
As I’ve mentioned on social media, like many white food writers, I am grappling with my own role in suppressing much-needed voices from other cultures. That suppression happens both actively and passively. Actively, by borrowing ingredients and cooking techniques from various parts of the world without properly explaining their origins, and often times, worse, by bastardizing and whitewashing them. Passively, by playing the SEO game and pushing out authentic recipes written by actual members of that culture.
I’m sure other food media folks can relate, but I feel some pressure on this site to put “my own spin” on a recipe, sometimes adding ingredients that have no place in the authentic version, sometimes “healthifying” it in a way that is, frankly, insulting to the original. If you want to see one of my biggest missteps, you can check out this pozole post, where I was rightfully crucified in the comments section. I didn’t delete the backlash, but I also can’t say I’ve fully rectified the original post. I will slowly be updating my most egregious mistakes in this department, but in the meantime, I would rather not pave over my shameful actions and instead use them as a reminder to myself why all this work is overdue.
I am committed to doing better going forward.
Which brings us to today’s recipe: Camarones en Aguachile. You can find an authentic version, from which I’ve adapted my dish, on Hispanic Kitchen’s site. I mostly stuck to their version and avoided my worst white narcissistic instincts to make it my own. But there were a few tweaks (using jalapeno instead of serrano in the dressing, since my husband is sensitive to heat) that deserve a call out.
Aguachile is from the Sinaloa region of Mexico which is on the Pacific coast. The literal translation is “chile water.” Some versions use thinly sliced white fish, scallops or octopus, but the most common main character is shrimp. Similar to the technique used in Peruvian ceviche, the shrimp first get thinly sliced and marinated in a combination of acid (in this case, lime juice) and salt. This tenderizes the seafood and slowly cooks it the longer it sits. After just 10 minutes, you’ll start to notice your shrimp turning a light pink.
The seafood is then dressed in more lime juice pureed with chiles. Since this is a green (or verde) version, it uses jalapeno or serrano chile peppers and a hint of cilantro. The toppings vary as well, but often include thinly sliced red onion and cucumber. I served mine as a tostada on top of a crispy tortilla with some sliced avocado, but it also tastes wonderful plain if you’re looking for a light (and paleo) summer appetizer. The presentation in a shallow bowl with all the toppings is stunning!
From my limited travels in Mexico, I can say it’s not a dish that’s too hard to find in the bigger cities. I tried aguachile in Mexico City and in Guadalajara and can say that it is delicious any way you slice or top it. As the shrimp sits and softens, it releases some liquid and mellows both the heat, salt and lime juice. If you think to yourself that it sounds too tart or spicy, don’t be dissuaded. And also, make sure that you’re salting more heavily than you ordinarily might.
If you’re looking for more authentic Mexican recipes, I can’t recommend anything produced by Enrique Olvera enough, including his cookbook. And Gabriela Camara is the owner of my favorite restaurant in Mexico City Contramar, which incidentally makes a mean aguachile. You can get her book here.
Read on for this shrimp aguachile tostada recipe. I hope it broadens your palette and horizons, and is a gateway recipe to all the other gifts Mexican cuisine has to offer.
With health and hedonism,
Shrimp Aguachile Tostadas (Camarones en Aguachile)
- 1 pound extra-large shrimp peeled and deveined
- 1 cup fresh lime juice from about 8 limes
- Sea salt
- 2 jalapeno peppers seeds removed if you’re sensitive to heat
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro plus more for garnish
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed or olive oil plus more for brushing
- 1 serrano pepper thinly sliced
- ¼ medium red onion thinly sliced
- 1 medium cucumber thinly sliced
- 4 corn tortillas
- 1 avocado thinly sliced
- Using a sharp knife, slice the shrimp in half lengthwise through the back divot so you have two thin shrimp fillets. Place the butterflied shrimp in a flat shallow dish or bowl. Pour ½ cup of the lime juice over the shrimp. If it doesn’t cover the shrimp, toss them around so that at least every piece has been coated in the acid. Arrange in an even layer and season generously with salt.
- Cover and chill in the refrigerator while you prep the rest of ingredients.
- In a blender or food processor, puree the jalapenos, cilantro, grapeseed oil, ½ teaspoon salt and the remaining ½ cup of lime juice until you have a smooth dressing. Taste for seasoning and adding more salt as necessary. Since the shrimp will release some moisture, it’s best to air on the side of too salty (it will get diluted later).
- Remove the shrimp from the fridge – they should be beginning to turn light pink. Toss them again if there are pieces not submerged. Return to an even layer and pour half the jalapeno chile mixture over the shrimp. Layer the serrano, cucumbers and onions over the top. Cover and return to the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a sheet pan arrange the tortillas and brush them on both sides with olive oil. Bake in the oven until browned and crispy, about 10 minutes. Season with salt.
- Garnish the aguachile with the cilantro. Arrange the crispy tortillas and avocado on a platter. To assemble, top each crispy tortilla with ¼ of the avocado slices and some of the aguachile. Use a slotted spoon so that the tortilla doesn’t get too soggy and serve the remaining dressing on the side for additional heat.