For the first time in this project, I wasn’t hoping to get a particular country for the letter “E.” I’m not hugely familiar with any of the cultures and thus was game for whatever fate threw at me. So when I pulled Ecuador, I was more than ready to start researching what “typical” cuisine was. And, apparently, there isn’t one all encompassing national dish. Instead, various regions have their own local fare. While the coastal areas tend to rely on fresh and light seafood based dishes, the mountainous areas feature heartier meat and potato type dishes.
The one result my research yielded was that the people of Ecuador tend to universally enjoy a meat called cuy. Upon further investigation, I discovered that cuy is actually guinea pig. Now I don’t know about you, but I figured my local butchers would look at me like I had six heads if I asked for three fillets of guinea pig, fat trimmed off. And, much like they did when I was a young child begging for a puppy, my parents refused to take me to the pet store. I always assumed that there was a line where my parents’ adventurous natures would abate and their skeeviness would set in for this project; it turns out that line is guinea pig.
Alas, I turned to more familiar ingredients. The recipe I found for Cazuela de Camaron seemed like the perfect compromise. Although each of the components was easily accessible and rodent-free, it still featured some things I wasn’t used to. First we have the plantains. While I’ve certainly eaten them before, I had never had a reason to prepare them on my own. According to my research, you pick a plantain much like you’d pick a banana. Also, this dish combined peanut butter into the main meal, similar to my Chadian stew. I was wary once again, but reached for the Skippy and put my faith in the recipe. Again, it wasn’t overly peanut-y. Honestly, if I didn’t know there was peanut butter in the stew I wouldn’t have known.
Overall, I followed the recipe pretty closely, but I did make a few tweaks. Instead of using the ubiquitous Goya Sazon, I opted for the MSG-free option by making it on my own. Although it may not be as authentic, the flavors were great. It was saucy and delicious, but since the sauce itself was made of pureed vegetables, it was very light. It may not be guinea pig, but I have to admit I was quite pleased with the results. So here it is: Cazuela de Camaron.
Cazuela de Camaron (Shrimp in Plantain & Peanut Sauce)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp oregano
- Seasoning Mix (use about 1 tbsp)
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp galic powder
- 1 tsp dried cilantro
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp paprika
- 1 medium tomato, chopped
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 green plantains
- 3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
- 1 pound shrimp
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
- Peel and devein the shrimp, reserving the shells and putting them in a small saucepan. Cover the shells with water and cook over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes, until the stock is fishy. Discard the shells and save the liquid.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion and pepper together for a few minutes until it begins to soften. Add tomato, garlic, oregano, and seasoning, and sauté for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let to cool slightly.
- While the mixture is cooling, peel the plantains and place in a food processor. Add the vegetable mixture and about 1 ½ cups of the shrimp stock until mostly smooth.
- Using the skillet from the vegetables, melt the butter with the cilantro, and add the shrimp until they are just cooked (about 2 minutes). Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside.
- Add the plantain and vegetable mixture to the skillet, with the peanut butter. Over medium heat, bring it to a simmer and cook, stirring, for about ten minutes. If the mixture seems to be too thick, you can loosen it with the remaining shrimp stock.
- Add the cooked shrimp back into the sauce and stir together until everything is heated through.
- Serve immediately over rice.
NOTE: Plantains should not be eaten raw, so make sure you bring the sauce to a simmer so that everything is fully cooked.