Yucatán Shrimp

Yucatan ShrimpWhen I was growing up Friday was a meatless day. Today not even devout Catholics, of whom I am not one, are still bound by that rule. My father—very much a devout Catholic—was quite disappointed when meatless Fridays were eliminated because, unlike my mother, he loved seafood and those were the only days he could be sure to see it on the dinner table. I like to observe the custom for much the same reason. Sadly, as a result of overfishing and pollution, good fish is becoming hard to find and expensive, making it rather a luxury. But farm-raised shellfish, while not as good a wild-caught, are now a sustainable alternative. I usually keep a couple sizes of frozen shrimp on hand—large, 16 to 20 per pound, and medium, 21 to 26 per pound. The ones I prefer are uncooked but shelled and deveined making them very convenient to prepare. What I particularly like about shrimp is that they work very well with bold flavors. This recipe that I adapted from Rick Bayless, Mexican Everyday (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005) 251-253 is similar to camarones enchipotlados, chipotle shrimp, but because it has achiote paste in place of chipotles it is much less spicy.

If you have a well-stocked Mexican market you can probably find commercially prepared achiote paste there. If not, I have incorporated a recipe for it that I adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen (New York: Scribner, 1996) 66-67. Since I had no fish stock on hand I made a quick shrimp stock with the shrimp tails and a bit of Thai fish sauce. That recipe is also below. If you already have fish stock just use it instead.


For the achiote paste:

  • 1 Tbsp. achiote (annatto) seeds
  • 2 tsp. whole allspice or 1 tsp. ground
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorns or ½ tsp. ground
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1½ Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ½ tsp. salt (optional)
  • Water as needed, about 1 Tbsp.

For the shrimp stock:

  • Tails and shells from the shrimp below
  • 1 tsp. Thai fish sauce
  • 1½ cups water

For the Yucatán shrimp:

  • 1½ cups canned diced tomatoes or 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. achiote paste
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice
  • Vegetable oil, I use canola
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¾ cup shrimp or fish stock
  • Salt
  • 8 ounces medium (21 to 26 per pound shrimp) thawed if frozen, peeled and deveined if needed


The achiote paste:

Traditionally this paste would be made using a mortar and pestle which is still a good approach if rather time consuming. I have opted for a simpler method using the mini-chopper that came with my stick blender. Or you can split the difference; grind the spices in a spice grinder then combine with the cider and garlic in a mortar.

Put the achiote seeds, allspice, pepper, and oregano in the mini-chopper and pulverize finely. Add the vinegar, garlic, and salt if using. Pulse a few times to break down the garlic then run continually, stopping now and then to scrape down the sides of the chopper, until you have a smooth paste, adding water a bit at a time as needed. Store in a small jar or plastic container in the refrigerator for up to several months.

The shrimp stock:

Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, the simmer slowly, covered for 30 minutes or so. Strain and discard the shells.

The Yucatán Shrimp:

Puree the tomatoes and achiote paste in a food processor. Add the lime juice and pulse to blend in.

Warm the oil in a 10-inch non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant and golden brown, about 1 minute. Pour in the tomato mixture and cook, stirring often, until somewhat thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the stock a quarter cup at a time to bring the sauce to a light consistency. Season to taste with salt.

Add the shrimp to the pan and cook, stirring and turning, until done, about 4 minutes. Serve immediately over Mexican-style white rice.


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