Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Cap'n Shrimpy's Butterflied Shrimp

There's a man at the farmer's market that we know only as "Cap'n Shrimpy," and that we only call him to each other- never to him. He sells the best shrimp in town. There's another fish market that sells shrimp, but going into that place is like entering a parallel universe similar to the one in which elves are doing photo shoots outside my back patio. It's not a place I'm entirely comfortable in.

Anyway, for 7.50 a pound, the Cap'n will sell you these guys right here:For free he'll tell you how to butterfly them and grill them. And so will I. Check it out:

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First you have to tend to the garlic butter. Get yourself two cloves of garlic.Give them a rough dice, and then throw a pinch of kosher salt on them. We're making a paste.Now take your chef's knife and spread it across the cutting board for about ten good passes- it'll go something like this:What you now have, my friends, is gold. Put that gold, along with a stick of butter (for two people, that is) in a saucepan and get it all going at medium-low. Start this part before anything else so the butter can get right for about 20 minutes, then strain the garlic out, along with the other solids from the butter, and split it in two. One part is now to be brushed on during cooking, and the other is for dipping. We also used the mango-habanero hot sauce for dipping, and it was really, really good.

Now, back to the shrimp.

When you get 'em all prepped, they should look like this:I keep them on ice until the moment they hit the grill. I get like that sometimes.

Preheat your grill to "super-hot." Add shrimp. Baste.
It only takes about 3 minutes from the moment these bad boys hit the grill until you take them off. The shell protects them for burning and adds flavor. When they turn opaque, take 'em off and stack 'em up like gold ingots in Fort Knox.
Oh yeah.One last step for this Tex-Carib feast- put on the appropriate tunes. On vinyl if you have it.

And I do.
Enjoy. And I'll see you soon.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Word on Hot Sauce

I love me some hot sauce. I've made about a dozen variations of the kind the Taco Lady behind the farmers' market in Houston always had on hand to doctor up her delicious tacos al pastor, which were my favorite. It involves a couple of varieties of dried peppers and some soaking, simmering, and blending along with some other ingredients. It's hard to mess with it too much though, when you can buy Cholula at just about any southern grocery store.

Cholula, for the uninitiated, is all you really need to know about hot sauce. It's the same color as most of the orange grease that comes with chorizo, barbacoa, and some of the other staple meats of true behind-the-farmers' market taco stands. The ingredients are simple, too: peppers, spices, vinegar. How can you go wrong?

I love you, "spices."
Nevertheless, I get my hankerin's for something a little different sometimes. And that brings us to another tasty Tex-Carib recipe experiment.

A frequent player in the Caribbean/Tex-Carib lineup of ingredients is the habanero pepper. It looks like this:
That is to say, they look like that.

Recently, Cara and I got a Bobby Flay video on Netflix (what? Is that weird?), and he made a mango-habanero hot sauce. What I present to you now is exactly that, but with my witty banter to make it different. And I had to use a different type of vinegar for half of the vinegar needs, and I'm sure that made mine far superior to Bobby's. Yeah. That's right.

Here's what you need:
In English, that's two habaneros, two mangoes, a small sweet onion of some kind, white wine vinegar (and rice wine vinegar too, I ran out of white about halfway through), two cloves of garlic, and olive oil (Flay used canola I think, so there's another difference!).

Butcher your mango. I slice the peel off all over, then carve big chunks of fruit off the oblong shaped pit. I had about this much, keeping in mind that my hand is the size of a tennis racket:Just kidding about the hand size, of course.

I coarsely chopped the onion, galic, and peppers, and threw the whole enchilada into a sauce pan with half a cup of white wine vinegar, and half a cup of rice vinegar, and a pinch of salt. I also simmered it for 15 minutes, but I'm getting tired of talking in the past tense. I'm living for the now, baby!

Put it all in a blender.Blend. If it's too thick, add some hot water or a little more vinegar. Mine was fine as it was.The cool thing is the heat hits you first with this stuff, with a sweet mango finish.

Next time I'll show you what we had with it. There is even a bonus instructional video included in the price. Can't beat that.

Oh, yeah- I typed "Tex-Carib" into Google yesterday to see if that term is already being used, and this site came up on the first page. Sweet!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Tex-Carib Lives!

I've really been thinking a lot about the culinary mindset I'm bringing back from Haiti. The ideas I'm getting, and already playing with, aren't going to get me a Nobel prize or anything, but they're fun, gosh darn it. It's kinda like the things I already like to cook and eat, but a little different. Different peppers, spices (or spice combinations), and ingredients (plantains, mangoes). But much of the technique involves things that land squarely in my arena, such as grillin', chillin', and fryin'.

Okay, so chillin' is not a technique, but it is a necessary mindset to Tex-Carib cookin'. So is ending an inordinate amount of words with apostrophes. Yo.

First up- the Haitians were selling corn, that they apparently grow in their yards or any other square foot of soil they can find, hot off the grill. A grill in Haiti, mind you, is really a grate laid across some bricks with some burning wood or charcoal underneath. Like camping, but on a sidewalk. In a city.

So how do you make sidewalk grilled corn Tex-Carib grilled corn? You experiment to make it better than the original.

Corn Three Ways- The Experiment

The corn I saw being grilled was all shucked and getting caramelized over the fire. I've always grilled my corn in the husks so they steam some too, but it's always taken a while to cook that way. So what we did was take three ears, and prepare them three different ways. One all the way shucked, one partially, and one just a wee bit. All of the shucks were rolled back and the silks removed before cooking.

The Results:
Nice picture, ain't it? You should click on it to see it full sized.

Here's the breakdown: the un-shucked ear tasted great, until we tasted the next one, and then the next one after that. The steaming action of the shuck made the corn taste "cornier," which we liked better. The solution? Grill it all with the shuck on, then remove the shuck and throw it back on the heat for a minute to get the sweet caramelized nuggets of brown.

I'm not saving the world here- I just want the grills of said world to yield tastier food. You know, in case I come over to eat. Come back soon for some Tex-Carib classics such as mango-habanero hot sauce and Cap'n Shrimpy's butterflied grilled shrimp, which make this corn look like a side dish.