Dried shrimp, or shrimp that have been salted and dried in the sun, are often used in Asian, African, and Cajun cuisines, as well as in Carlos Gaytan's native Mexico. He's no stranger to the ingredient, but he's not sure whether Bill Kim knew that when he chose it: "I'm assuming that he thought that we don't do anything with dried shrimp in Mexico—or probably he was just being really nice to me. One or the other."
The most common use in Mexico, according to Gaytan, is tortitas de camarones secos, or dried shrimp cakes, especially popular during Lent. The masa is made from panfried shrimp blended with cheese, eggs, and bread crumbs, formed into cakes, and deep-fried. The shrimp aren't peeled first, but the eyes do have to be removed because they're gritty, says Gaytan.
Shrimp are also typical breakfast fare in Mexico—especially as hangover food. "They say when people go partying, the next morning the best thing to have is something with shrimp. It has to be something really soupy so it gives you all the energy for the day," says Gaytan.
With that in mind, he developed a breakfast dish—"coffee and doughnuts," involving three pounds of dried shrimp (which are typically used in small amounts, as they have a strong flavor). Gaytan boiled dried shrimp with carrots, onions, celery, and bay leaves to make a shrimp consomme (the "coffee"), then blended the cooked shrimp with ground dried shrimp, potatoes, roasted garlic, Parmesan, white truffle oil, and cream for a brandade that he beer-battered and fried to make beignets (the "doughnuts"). A saffron foam topped the consomme, and tuile "spoons" made with ground dried shrimp finished things off.
The dish—like Mexique—is "modern Mexican with a French influence," Gaytan says. He formally learned to cook as an adult, staging at French restaurants in Chicago, but also picked up a lot from helping his mother, who owned a tiny restaurant in his hometown of Huitzuco (between Acapulco and Cuernavaca). She liked to get creative with her cooking, and when his friends would stop by to eat they'd complain that the food wasn't traditional, says Gaytan. "They used to complain, but they used to come back every single day to eat more."
So Gaytan isn't afraid to be creative with his own recipes. For this one, he says, because the shrimp have such a strong flavor he needed to find ingredients that would complement but not overwhelm them. He used Negra Modelo for the beer batter because it doesn't lose its flavor when cooked, and the saffron foam adds "some sweetness, some spiciness, some creaminess."
As he prepared to taste the finished dish, one of Gaytan's cooks brought him silverware. "What's that?" he said. "That's not how you eat coffee and doughnuts. Coffee and doughnuts are made to use your fingers, so . . . oh, wow." Biting into one of the beignets, he observed, "We've got the nice beautiful saltiness of the shrimp. Very soft inside, crispiness from the Negra Modelo batter, and the aromas from the truffles. Amazing." He took a sip of the "coffee" and said, "The beignets are really strong, and the consomme with the foam kind of cleans your palate. It tastes like the shrimp but it doesn't give you that strong flavor."
Doug Sohn of Hot Doug's, working with chicken feet. Gaytan says he goes to Hot Doug's "at least once a week—I like the way that he's really creative and does some amazing things." Chicken feet are a common ingredient in Mexico, especially in soups. Gaytan has fond childhood memories of them: "In my house—there's only two chicken feet that you get with the chicken, and everyone was fighting for them. They're really good."Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon
Coffee and Doughnuts
Dried Shrimp Consomme
3 lbs dried shrimp
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced onions
1 cup diced celery
4 cloves garlic
4 bay leaves
1 t chopped ginger
Water to cover
Simmer all ingredients for about 45 minutes over medium heat. Strain out vegetables and reserve the broth and shrimp.
Negra Modelo Beer Batter
2 cups flour
1 bottle Negra Modelo beer
1 t cumin
1 t chili powder
1 t confectioners' sugar
Salt to taste
Mix all ingredients in a bowl.
2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, boiled
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (plus extra for tossing)
1 T white truffle oil (plus extra for tossing)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 T ground dried shrimp
3 pounds cooked shrimp, reserved from the consomme
In a food processor, blend all ingredients to make a brandade, season to taste. Place the paste on a sheet pan and cool for 30 minutes. Shape spoonfuls of the shrimp brandade into medium-size balls and dip them into the beer batter (recipe above). Fry in oil until golden brown. Toss with truffle oil and parmesan cheese.
Small pinch saffron
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 t soy lecithin
Boil all ingredients, then blend using a hand blender.
1/4 cup flour
1 t sugar
1 t fennel pollen
1 T ground shrimp
4 oz butter
2 egg whites
Pinch of salt
Mix all ingredients together to make a paste, then spread into spoon-shaped molds placed on a baking sheet (can be made with cardboard). Remove the molds, then bake for two to three minutes at 350 degrees.
Serrano peppers, chopped fine
To finish: Pour warm consomme into small mugs; garnish with cilantro and serrano peppers, and saffron foam. Serve with shrimp beignets.