I made this awesome dish as my contribution to Foodalogue’s Culinary Tour as she takes us and her readers to my homeland, Panama! The criteria to participate in the tour is pretty relaxed, you can either prepare a traditional dish in a) a traditional way, b) traditional dish modernized or c) just implement local ingredients and/or techniques. This particular recipe is one of 2 I shared and it showcases local ingredients in a modern or contemporary way, the other was an almost traditional Seafood Guacho.
The recipe comes from a beautiful cookbook I picked up on my last trip to Panama. ‘Sabores de Panamá‘ (Flavors of Panama) by Jorge Jurado, one of Panama’s renown chefs who has tasked himself with bringing traditional Panamanian dishes to the next level. The recipe showcases popular local ingredients: shrimp, passion fruit, chayote squash, coconut and sugar cane, these are then elevated when combined with fish sauce and smoked paprika and a beautiful presentation.
Let’s talk about the ingredients, shall we? Panama is all about the seafood, man. So much so that it is sold door-to-door. Yep, you read right. A few years ago, my dear friend Dorothy went to Panama with me and we stayed at my parents’ home. One morning while we were starting to wake up, we heard a man’s voice over a loudspeaker saying ‘Pescao, pescao, pargo, corvina, cojinoa, PESCAO’. A wave of giggles ensued, she looked at me awestruck. I had mentioned this phenomena to her, but I think she secretly doubted my honesty. See, about 3 times a week, there’s a guy in a truck who drives around my parents’ hood selling the morning catches, it doesn’t get any fresher than that. We didn’t have the ice cream truck, we get the seafood truck.
OK, back to the components of this magical dish. Chayote is a variety of squash that is as readily available in Panamá as zucchini and yellow squash is in the US. Like zucchini, it is very light, has a great deal of water content and a very mild taste with a discernible sweetness. A tart and luscious caramel made of raspadura, unrefined sugar cane, and passion fruit works beautifully with the mild flavors of the chayote and the spiciness of the smoked paprika and habanero pepper and the creamy coconut sauce. I fell in love with this dish, I think you will too.
Langostinos con Caramelo de Maracuya, Chayote y Aire de Coco (Prawns with Passion Fruit Caramel, Chayote and Coconut Foam)
For the prawns:
20 head-on large prawns, peeled & deveined
1 tbsp Spanish paprika
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 garlic clove, crushed
Sea salt & black pepper
Mix the ingredients together and use to marinate the prawns. Allow them to marinate while you prepare the rest of the components.
For the chayote:
4 chayote squash, halved
4 rosemary sprigs
Sea salt & black pepper
The recipe suggested peeling the chayotes and cooking in the microwave with a bit of olive oil. I don’t like handling raw chayotes, they have a sticky sap that is a pain to remove from your hands. Instead, I placed them in a pot over a steam tray, added water to the bottom, sprinkled salt & pepper over them and tucked the rosemary sprigs around them. They steamed for about 10-15 minutes and I peeled them just before serving. Easy breezy.
For the passion fruit caramel:
1/2 cp raspadura, crumbled
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cp passion fruit concentrate
If you cannot find raspadura, you can substitute with dark brown sugar. Melt the raspadura in a small pan and allow it to cook until it becomes caramel. Add the butter and passion fruit concentrate and cook until it thickens again, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
For the coconut foam:
1 cp unsweetened coconut milk
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp fresh ginger, crushed
1/2 tsp habanero paste
1/4 tsp soy sauce
Combine all the ingredients into a small pan and bring to a boil. I didn’t end up with foam, he suggests using a hand blender, which I do not own, so I put mine into the blender. If you do own a hand blender, then keep this warm and use the blender to froth it just as you are finished plating. If you don’t, I suggest cooking down the sauce a bit, to reduce and thicken it, then you can spoon it right over the prawns.
Putting it together:
Heat a skillet and add a bit of olive oil and butter, saute the prawns, cooking for a couple of minutes on both sides (if you’re not a fan of foods with a face, feel free to remove the heads, but there is a lot of flavor there). Set aside, but keep warm.
On a plate, spread about 1 tbsp of the caramel, top with the chayote, then place a prawn atop the squash. Top witht he coconut foam or cream and be ready to ooooh and aaaah in enjoyment.