Monday, September 6, 2010



Shrimp is a bit of a delicate subject here in Costa Rica. While we harvest some of the sweetest shrimp on the face of the earth, the methods used have cause an uproar in the ecological community. The vast percentage of the shrimp caught in Costa Rica and targeted for export are caught by massive drag trawlers that pull the shrimp and anything else that gets in their path into their nets.

Among the victims of the massive harvesting of Costa Rica’s shrimp are the dwindling numbers of sea turtles. The shrimp trawlers are supposed to be equipped with an “anti-turtle” device that prevents the turtles from being dragged in and destroyed, but as recently as 2009, the United States placed an embargo on Costa Rican shrimp because over 50% of the trawlers arbitrarily tested were making use of the “anti-turtle” device.

It is for this reason that at La Cusinga we will only buy fresh shrimp from fishermen that we know; from fishermen who use the old fashioned “cast net” artisan methods of gathering the shrimp. Typically, the old school fishermen gather the shrimp that we use close in to shore, by the river mouths. The shrimp lay their eggs in the relative calm of the rivers and the microscopic hatched shrimp make their way out into the ocean.

One of the shrimpers we buy from, Santos Castillo, lives south of us between Punta Malo and Coronado and ventures out just past the mangroves for his shrimp. The flavor of these shrimp, harvested from estuary waters is sweet and delicate. He calls me when he has made a particularly good catch and I drive down and buy them from him fresh off his boat.

It is essential when cooking these delicate sweet shrimp, that they not get overcooked, so often I will sear them on one side in a pan, remove them, build the sauce in the pan and then return the shrimp to the sauce just long enough to cook them through. And while I am a big fan of shrimp cooked ever so simply in olive oil and garlic with just splash of white wine and a squeeze of lemon, I also like the two recipes that follow as they employ delicious sauces that are so good when the soak into the rice, risotto or even polenta that you may have put below your shrimp.

Jungle Shrimp, “Chef Dave”

I am taking the liberty of throwing my name on this dish because I have never, ever, seen another shrimp dish like this one. This started off in a pretty traditional way, but once I decided to substitute papaya for tomato, it took on a life of its own.

1# Medium Shrimp, peeled and deveined;

1 Oz. Olive Oil (not extra virgin);

¾ Cup Diced Ripe Papaya;

1 Knob of Fresh Ginger (about 2” long), peeled and grated fine:

2 Green Onions, sliced thin, green and white parts;

2 Oz. Dry White Wine (Sauvignon Blanc is good here; do not use Chardonnay);

¼ Stick Unsalted Butter, cut into small pieces;

Juice of 1 Large Mandarina or 2 Lemons;

8-10 Basil Leaves, cut into ribbons;

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Season the shrimp well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat the olive oil to hot but not quite smoking, in a heavy bottomed sauté pan big enough to hold half the shrimp, and sear them on one side. Remove the shrimp to a plate and repeat with the second half of the shrimp.

Add the ginger and green onions to the pan and swirl; add the white wine and allow to boil rapidly. Add the papaya and toss to mix. Put the pan on the fire and allow to cook for 1 minute. Add the shrimp back to the pan and toss with the papaya. Allow to boil briefly and add the butter and toss the pan again until the butter is incorporated. Pour in whatever liquid was on the plate the shrimp were on. Turn off the heat when the butter is combined and add the mandarina juice and the basil.

Serve immediately over green rice, gingered risotto or plain steamed white rice.

Yucatan Style Shrimp

For this dish you will need to make a batch of roasted tomatoes substituting red onions for yellow and adding a jalapeno pepper.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

8-10 Ripe Tomatoes, cored and halved;

1 Large Red Onion, peeled, halved and sliced into half moon rings, ½” thick;

10 Peeled Garlic Cloves;

1-2 Fresh Jalapeno Peppers, stemmed and cut in half and then in quarters;

¼ cup Olive Oil;

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Pour half the olive oil on a sheet pan (with raised edges) and place the tomatoes on it, cut side down. Tuck the onion slices, garlic cloves and jalapeno pieces down into the tomatoes, sprinkle with sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper and pour the remaining olive oil over the top. Roast the tomatoes for 35-40 minutes or until the skins are turning a brownish gold color and even darker is fine.

Remove the tomatoes from the oven, allow to cool and rough chop, saving all liquids.

1# Medium Shrimp, peeled and deveined;

1 Ounce light cooking oil;

1 Cup Roasted Tomato Mixture with plenty of the roasting liquid;

4 Ounces Corona or comparable beer;

Juice of 2 Mandarinas or 3 Limes;

½ Cup Cilantro, rough chopped;

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Salt and pepper the shrimp well.

Heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed sauté pan until it is quite hot, but not smoking. Sear half the shrimp on one side and remove to a plate. Repeat with the other half of the shrimp. Return the pan to the heat and pour in the beer, allowing to boil and scraping the browned shrimp bits from the pan. When the beer is boiling add the tomato mixture and bring up to a low boil. Add the shrimp and cook for 3-4 minutes until just cooked through. Turn off the heat, add the citrus and cilantro, taste for salt and serve over Green Yucatan Rice.

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