By Kate Krader
This looks like a good year for fans of Cinco de Mayo.
The May 5 holiday has traditionally been a profitable one for bars and restaurants, ranking even higher than Mother’s Day. Even in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, Mexican restaurants saw a notable jump in sales; the Arkansas-based chain Tacos 4 Life reported an 87% increase in business compared with the previous week.
Cinco de Mayo, the commemoration of a victory by the Mexican army over Napoleon III in 1862, is more popular in the U.S. than it is south of the border. Since there are no official dishes that accompany the holiday — although tacos and tequila invariably loom large — as with everything else in 2021, it’s a good year to rethink traditions.
A new cookbook from virtuoso Seattle chef Renee Erickson, “Getaway: Food & Drink to Transport You” (Abrams Books; $40), offers some inspiration.
In the Baja section is Erickson’s recipe for shrimp cocktail, and it’s a great choice for anyone who wants something new for Cinco de Mayo or wants a way to transport themselves to a beach on the western edge of Mexico, or both.
It’s not the version most of America envisions when they think shrimp cocktail — instead, Erickson, a strong proponent of sustainable seafood, poaches wild sweet shrimp in a bath of Mexican lager and dried chili to give it a refreshing and contrasting bitter bite.
Then it’s all chilled back down and piled in a bowl, where brightly flavored cilantro oil, thin fresh chili slices, refreshing tomato slices, and lots of lime join the party. The unlikely finishing touch is a plate of Saltine crackers. Use them to scoop up the shrimp and the result is delightful.
The recipe calls for a couple of cans of Mexican lager for cooking. “I recommend picking up a six-pack, leaving you with a few extra beers to enjoy alongside the shrimp,” said Erickson.
SHRIMP COCKTAIL WITH TOMATO AND CILANTRO OIL
- 1 cup chopped cilantro stems and leaves
- 1 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
- 2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon seeded and roughly chopped serrano chile, plus 1 serrano, very thinly sliced
- 30 shell-on wild Gulf shrimp, size 16-20, deveined
- Two 12-ounce cans or bottles of light-bodied Mexican lager, like Tecate or Pacifico
- 1 dried ancho or guajillo chile
- 5 tablespoons lime juice, plus more to taste
- 1 medium tomato, cut into slim wedges, or 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- Saltine crackers, to serve
Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the cilantro stems and turn off the heat. After 30 seconds, drain the stems, then let cool. In a blender, combine the stems, oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the roughly chopped serrano and puree until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve.
In a medium saucepan, bring the beer, ancho, 2 tablespoons of lime juice, and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Discard the chile.
Bring the beer mixture to a boil again. Place half the shrimp in the liquid, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until the shellfish turn pink and the meat is just opaque throughout, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to a plate, and put them in the refrigerator to cool. Repeat with the remaining shrimp.
When the shrimp are cool, peel them and cut in half lengthwise. In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with the tomato, about 1/2 cup of the cilantro oil, the remaining 3 tablespoons lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Taste and adjust the seasoning with more cilantro oil, salt, or lime if desired. Sprinkle with the serrano slices and serve with Saltines.
Recipe adapted from “Getaway” by Renee Erickson with Sara Dickerman.