Cooking Like A Mexican

Let’s talk about Mexican Aguachile with a kick
BY: ALEJANDRA SARACHAGA

Aguachile is a traditional dish of Sinaloa, the state due east of us across the Sea of Cortez. Remember, we’ve been telling you that Mexican cooking is very regional. Aguachille is made with shrimp, water and chili, but also with a mixture of fresh ingredients like cucumber, onion and cilantro that give a special flavor making it ideal for hot climates.

Aguachiles looks somewhat like ceviche and you may have had this thinking you had thatIf you’re a lover of fish and seafood in their near-raw state, it’s possible you’ve heard of aguachile. No? Then it’s possible you’ve eaten it under the guise of ceviche, seafood carpaccio or pickled sashimi, but the truth is, it may have been closer to aguachile. Aguachile means chili water and I think of it as the spicy, tart cousin of ceviche, the method of cooking where acid cooks seafood in place of heat. Makes you wonder if it can cook your stomach, but maybe not, that kind of cooking has been around a long time. I know I’ve cooked my tummy a few times on other stuff I was dumb enough to eat.

 In the case of aguachile the star ingredient is only barely permitted to cure in its sour soak before being served icy cold and almost entirely raw. Unlike ceviche, the purpose of aguachile is not to use the acid as a cure, but as a flavoring agent.

The acid is either infused, or in some cases, blended with chiles for a spicy bite that stands up to the ice-cold seafood. Sweet rock shrimp and diver scallops are perfect for aguachile because of their natural sweetness and soft texture. Quality and freshness of ingredients is of the utmost importance when making aguachile, since you will essentially be eating them raw.

The shrimp are typically halved lengthwise, rendering them thin and flat, while scallops can be cut into halves or thirds, and (my favorite) pounded thin, carpaccio-style, if they’re large. The main ingredient should essentially be sitting in a puddle of liquid, be it lemon, lime or yuzu, barely covering the protein.

The only other necessary ingredients are cilantro, onions and chilies, which depending on your mood or preference can be chopped finely for added crunch, or all blended together like a jalapeño pesto, spooned over the protein. I generally go for the former because I like to savor each ingredient on its own and find the flavors to be cleaner that way.

If you decide to take on aguachile I recommend you start by buying the freshest possible shrimp/scallops/fish. It should smell of the sea and not at all “fishy.” If possible, ask where it’s from, and in the case of scallops, if they’re wet or dry. Anyone who has tried searing scallops only to end up with a watery pan and no crust was using wet scallops, which are soaked in phosphates during transport to help them retain moisture and look like the plump, picture perfect scallops we’d all like to see in the market—not to mention add to their weight, and therefore what you pay for them. Always go for dry scallops and you won’t have a problem with flavor or texture.

Once you’re set with ingredients, make sure to keep your proteins refrigerated until you’ve prepped everything else so they’re nice and cold for serving. Squeeze lemons or limes into a container and also keep refrigerated while you chop the remaining ingredients. The scallops in aguachile are simply sitting in a lime juice bath that marinated on its own with red and green jalapeños, chives in place of onions and cilantro. While the spicy-sour mixture chill in the fridge, cut the scallops and pound them thin, setting each piece on a plate in one thin layer. When done, retrieve the lime mixture from the fridge and pour it over the scallops along with a few fresh sprigs of the cilantro and chives, and serve it immediately. It makes two very generous portions that can be divided into four appetizer portions for entertaining. I like mine extra tart and quite spicy (which is really what it should be) so I make use of any leftover lime mixture by pouring it over my own plate. Here’s the simple recipe, a great base to start from if you’re new to aguachile, but that can easily be expanded upon with spicier peppers, various proteins and a variety of herbs.

Shrimp, scallops in aguachile

1/2 lb dry fresh scallops, halved lengthwise

1/3 cup lime juice

1 jalapeño, finely minced (try half a red and half a green for color)

1 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro, divided

1 Tbsp finely chopped chive, divided

salt

 

1. Combine lime juice, minced jalapeño, half of the cilantro and half of the chive in a small bowl or measuring cup. Refrigerate.

2. Meanwhile, place a scallop half between two pieces of cling wrap and lightly pound flat using a mallet or heavy bottomed pan (they should be 1/8”-1/16” thick). Place on your serving platter or plate. Repeat with all pieces until they are flattened.

3. Pour an equal amount of the refrigerated mixture onto each plate and top with the remaining cilantro and chive. Season lightly with sea salt and serve immediately, or chill for up to 15 minutes before serving (any longer and the scallops will be completely cured and you’ll have ceviche). Enjoy!  ,