August 9, 2011

Tonight's DRD: Sensational Shrimp Tacos

Tonight, boys and girls, we have set out to answer an eternal question. What is a taco? 

Well, if you're a white boy from Boston like me, a taco is a lot of things. And more often than not, those things have nothing to do with ground beef, jarred salsa and pre-shredded cheese. Call me what you will, but I have thoroughly enjoyed a corn tortilla stuffed with lemon aioli, sauteed eggplant and spinach. It was delicious.

And yes, I have enjoyed tacos with carne asada and hot sauce. With chicken and salsa. They're good. Very good. I'm not trying to be unreasonable here. I'm just sayin' that traditional tacos aren't the only thing out there. There's a whole world out there.

So, what is a taco?

Playful. A taco should be playful. What you put on top should not be limited to salsa and lettuce. Bright flavors can really take your taco to new places. I like thinly shredded red cabbage mixed with a little oil and vinegar. I like pickled carrots. I like slices of fresh red bell pepper. I like grilled corn, sliced cucumber, avocado, fresh tomato salsa, cilantro, lemon juice, fresh chili peppers.

Meaty. Chill out vegetarians. There are plenty of ways to make a vegetarian taco meaty, and I don't mean with tempeh. For you meat lovers, a grilled flank steak always does the trick. Or some spicy shredded chicken. For the pescatarians out there, shrimp (see below) or seared tilapia fillets (cheap and great for tacos) will do just the trick. And for the true vegetarians, your options are numerous. Try sauteed eggplant, grilled portobello mushroom caps, sauteed potatoes (think home fries, seriously delicious in tacos), or chickpeas/other beans.

Saucy. If you put a mayonnaise-based "special sauce" at the base of your taco, it will be better. It's that simple. Try mixing with sriracha and lime juice. Or lemon zest and freshly ground black pepper. (You could use sour cream or creme fraiche here as well).

Fresh. I mean this in two ways. (1) Always use the freshest ingredients, especially because the flavor of each ingredient comes through so prominently in a taco. (2) They should have a (saucy) attitude.

There it is folks. The answer to the question you've always wanted to know, deep down in your heart. Where you take it from there is all up to you.

The other night, I made shrimp tacos using corn tortillas, sauteed shrimp, homemade mayonnaise, fresh tomato and avocado salsa with jalapenos, black beans with green onions and some fresh vegetables to throw on top. Recipe below.

Sensational Shrimp Tacos
Serves 2-3

For the mayonnaise:
-1 egg yolk
-1 cup neutral oil, like canola oil
-1 tablespoon lemon juice
-1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
-salt and pepper

For the salsa:
-3 large tomatoes, cored and diced
-1 ripe avocado, diced into cubes
-1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and white pith removed, finely chopped
-1/2 small red onion, minced
-3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
-juice of half a lemon or lime
-1 tablespoon neutral oil
-hot sauce, optional

For the tacos:
-8-10 small corn tortillas
-25-30 cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed
-1 can black beans, drained and washed
-4 scallions, sliced into medium pieces
-salt and pepper
-vegetables for topping, such as sliced cucumber, lettuce, spinach, avocado, cilantro, shredded red cabbage, carrot, etc.
-lemon or lime wedge, for serving

For the mayonnaise:
Place egg yolk in a large bowl. Whisking quickly, add the oil starting with just a few drops at a time. Still whisking, add in a slow steady stream, ensuring the mixture does not break. Mix in the lemon juice, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper.
(Note: Great Food52 video explaining how to make mayonnaise/aioli here.)

For the salsa:
Mix all ingredients in a bowl, and adjust seasoning to your tastes.

For the tacos:
First, warm the shrimp on the grill or in a saute pan coated with oil. If warming in a saute pan, simply sear for a minute on each side until browned. Mix the shrimp with about half of the prepared mayonnaise.

Mix black beans and scallions with salt and pepper, adding a touch of oil as well if you want.

Warm tortillas by wrapping them in a damp towel, placing them in a large bowl or ramekin, and microwaving for 45 seconds. 

To serve, place the tortillas, bowls of the salsa, beans and extra mayonnaise, fresh vegetables, cilantro leaves, and lime or lemon wedges on a large platter. Serve to the table and allow everyone to make their own. Enjoy!