When I really wish I was in Northern Mexico, like on the beach, in a beach house, smelling salt water and seafood, this is what I make. The colors in these shrimp tacos remind me of everything you see there. The crunchy fried shrimp are so good and remind me of all the shrimp you can buy in Old Port, Rocky Point, MX. I like to mix up a batch of fresh tomatillo salsa which reminds me of the grocery stores down there because of all the fresh produce smells in the air like lime and cilantro. And then there’s the fresh corn tortilla smell that is so good with the crunchy cabbage, the hot crispy shrimp, and some creamy chipotle mayo dressing. I am so wanting more right now.
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ½ chipotle in adobo
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- ½ small purple cabbage, shredded (about 3 cups)
- 1 large carrot, shredded
- 36 medium shrimp
- ¼ cup mayo
- 2 cups panko bread crumbs
- 12 corn tortillas
- Lime wedges,
- ½ red onion, sliced or pickled
- ½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro
- Make the sauce by mincing up ½ a chipotle pepper in adobo and adding it to ½ cup mayo, then mixing in a little lime juice to thin it out so it can be drizzled. Refrigerate until needed.
- Shred the cabbage and carrot as finely as you can use a grater, food processor grater blade, or very sharp knife. Mix and set aside.
- Slice red onion and place in a small bowl or jar with enough vinegar to coat and a pinch of salt if you want pickled red onions. Otherwise, just slice them. Chop the cilantro. Quarter the limes and set all of these condiments aside.
- Peel and devein the shrimp. Some grocery stores with a full seafood counter will do this for you if you ask.
- Heat a frying pan of about 2 inches of oil to medium heat.
- Coat the shrimp in the mayo then roll and coat with panko bread crumbs.
- Without crowding the pan, carefully place shrimp into frying pan and brown on both sides. This shouldn't take more than 2 or 3 minutes total depending on how hot your oil is.
- Drain on paper towel.
- Lightly toast the tortillas in a hot skillet on both sides then place in a tortilla warmer or a bowl with a dish towel to keep them warm.
- Now let everyone assemble their tacos by taking a tortilla, topping it with cabbage mixture, about 3 shrimp, some onion and cilantro, then drizzle with the chipotle mayo sauce.
I love when I figure out a new trick. Who knew a garlic press would be the best thing ever to mince up the chipotle pepper? I’m sure somebody else out there knew, but I just discovered it out of pure laziness. Yep, I didn’t want to reach under the cabinet for the tiny cutting board that I use just for small messy things, and it was too small to go in the blender or food processor. So I thought, why not? Not only did it squish it out into the bowl for easy blending with the mayo, it even kept all the outer skins behind which I didn’t even realize were there! Perfect!
- 4 tomatillos
- 1 tomato, small ripe
- 1 jalapeño
- handful cilantro
- 2 garlic cloves
- ¼ tsp salt
- juice of ½ lime
- Wash everything
- Peel tomatillos
- De-seed jalapeño
- Peel garlic
- Squeeze lime juice
- Add everything to the blender and pulse until thick and chunky
- Taste and add a pinch of salt if needed
The pickled red onions are not absolutely necessary, but they can be used on everything, and they’re so easy to make. I learned about these at a cooking school in Yucatán. The salsa is also not mandatory because you have the limey flavors from the lime and cilantro, but it’s pretty darn good and easy to do. It also keeps for days and is good on your eggs in the morning.
All About Shrimp
Fresh or Frozen
So let me just say that the most important thing here is to buy the freshest ingredients you can. Especially the the shrimp. Lets talk about shrimp for a second here. I did some time behind the seafood counter of that organic grocery chain that costs your whole paycheck. So I kind of know seafood. Is it better to get fresh or frozen shrimp? Here’s the thing—the shrimp you see displayed at the seafood counter is previously frozen then defrosted so it’s ready to use. You will not find fresh, never-frozen shrimp here in Arizona. In places close to the water, I’m guessing you can. But here in the desert, and most places in the U.S., in my opinion you are way better off buying the frozen ones.
Ok, so now how do you decide which frozen shrimp to get? First you need to decide your budget. Shrimp is expensive so I say get the best one you can afford. Let me just start with what not to buy and then we can upgrade from there. If you see ice crystals all over the shrimp, that’s not good. They are old, freezer burnt, or possibly not kept at proper temperature and allowed to partially defrost then refreeze. This will affect the texture, the smell, the taste, and you’ll loose a ton of water as they defrost.
Cooked or Raw
You can buy cooked shrimp, but not if you’re going to fry or sauté it. If you’re just adding it to a cooked dish or to use cold on salad it’s fine. If you do opt for cooked, I don’t recommend the tiny ones. They are cheap, but they usually taste too fishy and the texture can be mushy because they are the most prone to freezer burn. If you buy it defrosted from the seafood counter, ask when it was defrosted and ask to smell it. It should not smell strong. In either case, I prefer to buy it frozen and defrost it when I need it. It only takes a few minutes under cold running to defrost.
Shelled, Peeled & De-veined, or Whole
The shelled, peeled & de-veined are convenient but they will cost more. It can take quite a bit of time and patience to peel & de-vein shrimp. On the other hand, you’re not paying for the extra weight of the shells. The only reason you’d need the shells is if you plan to make shrimp stock (which I’m sure you’ve been meaning to do) or if you plan to grill them or have a southern shrimp boil. There’s probably other reasons but I can’t think of any more. I opt for a compromise. I buy the 20-22/lb size, tail on, raw farm-raised from Costco.
Wild or Farm Raised
Do you want wild or farm raised? That depends on your budget and your beliefs. There is a lot of bad press about farm raised, but it can be a good choice if you buy it responsibly. Ask your seafood manager to explain their policies on sourcing their farm raised shrimp. Some grocery chains have very strict standards on what seafood they will carry. If you don’t get good answers, do some research and decide for yourself. Keep in mind that imported shrimp may not have the same standards of food safety we are used to here in the U.S. The main issue with farm-raised is cleanliness in the processing and proper handling from there to the end consumer.
Wild is a good choice, but it’s not without problems of its own. It still needs to be handled properly. It can be high in mercury and other contaminants, and not all fisheries follow sustainable guidelines which can be bad for the future of our oceans.
I had no idea I’d be rambling on so long about shrimp. There’s even more I could say but bottomline—what do you do? I’d say buy raw, frozen, tail-on, medium sized, farm-raised from a reputable source if budget is a concern. If money is no object, buy the same version, but certified sustainable wild-caught.