A shrimp is not just a shrimp

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 Panam√°(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 Panam√° 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.

I can’t wait to make this again. Do stop by and take in Joan’s tour. For more shrimpy shots, click here¬†and go here to see my second dish, Guacho de Mariscos¬†y Hongos.

Cookingly yours,


My yuca hopes

I hope I’ve tantalized your tastes buds with my previous posts about this lovely root.¬†#1, #2
I hope it has made you curious enough to go forth and find some in your grocery store or market.
I hope you’ve scoured the web looking for more yuca recipes.
I hope you are ecstatic to find out it works for desserts too.
Those are a few of my hopes where yuca is concerned. Well, no. I really REALLY hope you’ll give it a try. Really.

Now, let’s talk about Enyucado, or as any good Panamanian would say it ‘Enyucao’. I’m not sure I’ll be able to adequately describe the delicious piece of earthly goodness. As I mentioned, it is a dessert. It has yuca and coconut and butter. Not just butter, but buttah! It is sweet and gooey. See, yuca is very starchy. In fact, its starch is used to make tapioca, I think that starchiness¬†contributes to the gooeyness¬†of the dessert. Then the buttah and sugar make the edges caramelize and it all becomes a mess of sticky goodness.

For the Enyucado, the yuca and coconut are shredded, which means there’s a bit of effort that goes into the dessert, but that is it. Once you have that part taken care of, the rest is a zinch. I promise. And it is oh so good!

Enyucado (Yuca Cake)

2 cps yuca, shredded
2 cps fresh coconut, shredded
1-1/2 cps sugar
1/2 cp butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2/3 cp raisins
2 tbsp anise liqueur or extract (I used Galliano)

Preheat oven to 350¬į and generously butter a 9×13 baking pan; set aside. Combine all the ingredients and stir until the sugar has dissolved and everything is well incorporated. Pour into the baking pan and pop it in the oven. It will bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

Allow it to cool before slicing into squares. For more shots, check out the set here, and to figure out how to shell a coconut, click here.

Cookingly yours,

Chef School: Lesson 8

I just realized I haven’t done one of these in months! My apologies. I like sharing the tips and tricks I’ve picked up along my cooking journey. We’ve covered how to pick and prep tubers like yuca and otoe, we’ve made plantains less daunting, Latin cooking basics, even some of the fancy sounding cooking methods such as coulis. This time will be all about the mighty coconut.

Earlier this week, one of my friends commented, or lamented,¬†on Facebook about how difficult it was to find fellow coconut lovers. Her status generated a great deal of comments listing the pros and cons of this fruit. Here’s what I had to say on the subject.

As foods seem to break across more and more borders, ‘exotic items’ become more readily available. That’s wonderful, but it also means we may not utilize them simply because we don’t understand them. So let me introduce you to Mr. Coconut or Se√Īor Coco as it is known in my world.

This fruit goes through a few different stages and is edible throughout most of them. Once it grows to a decent size, the young/green coconut can be harvested, cracked open and the water in it can be consumed. The water is slightly sweet and incredibly refreshing. In Panama and many other Central American countries, you’ll find them chilled and sold at corner stores.

As the fruit matures, the meat will become more and more dense. First you will find a gelatinous meat that has to be eaten with a spoon. At this stage, the meat tastes much like the coconut water, only sweeter.

The more mature the coconut, the more dense the meat, until you arrive at the very thick and milky meat that is usually shredded into foods.

So how do you crack it? Let’s get to that.

I like using a hammer to crack the outer shell enough to drain the water out.

Once drained and the water has been reserved, I continue hitting it with the hammer to break into manageable pieces.

Then begins the ‘peeling’. Use the tip of¬†a knife to separate the meat from the hard shell. Gently push the knife through, and the meat will pop right out of the shell.

That really is all there is to it. Discard the shell, rinse the coconut pieces and use them at will! Check out the step-by-step shots here.

Cookingly yours,