aguachiles

Aguachiles

In Correspondents Around the World by José C. MarmolejoLeave a Comment

Editor’s Note: The term Aguachiles refers to a dish, and should not be confused with Chile de Agua, a Oaxacan chile variety meaning “irrigated chile.”

aguachile

Few dishes are as delicious and easier to make than Aguachiles. I was introduced to them by my daughter Natalia while on a winter vacation in Nayarit. After eating the perfect balanced dish I wanted to know everything about it. The recipe for it—below—called for fresh shrimp, tomatillo salsa, sliced cucumbers,onions and chiltepín chiles—that’s it, no more. The dish had color, texture, and extraordinary flavor. As it turned out, my daughter had learned about this Sinaloa dish in Mexico City! But taking advantage of our stay on the Mexican pacific coast, fresh shrimp of the best quality was available, so she decided to prepare it. The “secret” for what I considered a perfect dish was using the best quality ingredients and intuition about the amount of ingredients in the mix. That day everything was in synchrony.

Strange as it may seem, nobody disputes that aguachile originated in Sinaloa. Therefore a discussion on authorship is nonexistent. But one of the things that I couldn’t understand was how come I haven’t heard about this dish before, considering that during my childhood, going to the beach meant going to Mazatlán! And here I was learning about it more than fifty years later from one of my daughters who had discovered it in a Mexico City restaurant!

It’s true that you can find almost anything in Mexico City. It’s a place that for hundreds of years has attracted immigrants from every corner of the country—me included―and from abroad. Immigrants that have brought along their customs, food ingredients, and regional dishes. The State of Sinaloa was no exception and has sent many people to live in Mexico´s capital. Highways and planes suplanted railroads, transportation got faster and made possible the availability of those valuable and perishable ingredients in Mexico City that make miracles in a kitchen. Today, if your Sinaloa food restaurant in Mexico City doesn’t fly in its fresh ingredients it isn’t going to make it…

Shrimp aguachiles tostada

Most interesting is to find out that originally, aguachile was—as its name implies—only water and chile. Chiltepín to be precise, that small round chile that grows wild in the northern Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico. It started as an humble intent of a soup where dried meat—beef or deer—was infused in hot water, a medium needed to soften the meat and release its flavor with chiltepines added as the only condiment. And soup it became, because up there, high in the mountains it gets cold in the winter and this concoction came up very handy. But what I experienced in Nayarit was not a soup, it was a cold dish made with cold shrimp, cold fiery salsa and cold cucumbers, all this resembling more ceviche than a hot and fiery meat soup from the mountains.

Most dishes evolve and aguachile is one of them. It descended from the mountains to reach the sea where shrimp was abundant and substituted meat (Sinaloa produces more than one third of the shrimp in México). The climate on the coast was hot, so no need for a hot soup, and lemon juice took the place of water while Chiltepines remained intact.

Honoring its name, aguachile must be fiery and chiltepines must be included to honor its geographical origin, which in Sinaloa are available fresh year round. This wonderful dish is now found all over the northern pacific coast of Mexico and Baja California and it’s considered a regional dish.

Since Sinaloa cuisine is not limited to shrimp or aguachile, it has become one of the most pervasive in Mexico. Sinaloa food restaurants are to be found in most northern Mexico cities and in Mexico City as well.

The basic recipe of contemporary aguachile is the freshest shrimp available swimming in a cold salsa de tomatillo and sliced cucumbers, sprinkled with onions and red chiltepines. Since Chefs’ creativity is inevitable, you may find oysters, conch, scallops, crab, among other crustaceans in avant garde aguachiles. Clam juice and fish are not excluded either. To all this variety of ingredients, add mango, bell peppers, and the omnipresent avocado and Tequila—I’m getting hungry and thirsty now! But before I go for a cerveza Pacífico to chase my Mezcal to accompany my cooking, I have to tell you that recently, I ran into a ribeye aguachile, which made me question if we are going back full circle to the mountains… Buen provecho!

Aguachiles Recipes

Natalia´s Aguachile de Camarón

aguachiles

Once you gut the shrimp, the rest is a breeze. Use the freezer to chill the plate and the ingredients. Ice cold beer is a must to accompany the dish! Remember: fresh never frozen seafood is the key for aguachiles! Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 24 big headless, shelless, gutted  shrimp completely open in two lengthwise to properly expose them to the lemon juice. Keep the tail for grabbing them while eating.
  • The juice of 8 to 10 lemons
  • 1 cucumber sliced and chilled
  • ½ onion thinly sliced
  • Chile Chiltepín or piquín whole to sprinkle

For the salsa:

  • 8 to 10 Tomatillos
  • ¼ Onion
  • 2 Chiles serranos
  • 1 Sprig of cilantro
  • Salt to taste

Instructions

  1. In a blender grind the salsa ingredients and chill it. Prepare the shrimp and marinate in the lemon juice between 3 and 5 minutes in the freezer.
  2. On chilled plates add cold salsa and assemble the cucumbers and six shrimp per plate, sprinkled with onions, chiles and cilantro. Enjoy!

Yield: 4 servings

Heat level: hot

Aguachile de Pescado

Aguachile de pescado

An easy variant of traditional aguachile, can be served on a cold dish or in tostadas.

Ingredients

  • 4 white fish filets cut in bite size pieces
  • The juice of 8 to 10 lemons
  • 1 cucumber sliced and chilled
  • ½ red onion thinly sliced
  • 2 avocados sliced
  • chiltepín or piquín whole to sprinkle. It may be substituted by slices of Chile Serrano

For the salsa:

  • 8 to 10 tomatillos
  • ¼ white onion
  • 2 chiles serranos
  • 1 sprig of cilantro
  • salt to taste

Instructions

  1. In a blender grind the salsa ingredients and chill it. Marinate the fish in the lemon juice between 3 and 5 minutes in the freezer.
  2. On chilled plates add cold salsa and assemble the cucumbers and the fish pieces, add the avocado slices and sprinkle the plate with the red onions, chiles and cilantro. Enjoy!

Yield: 4 servings

Heat level: hot

 

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