Based on a classic Mexican fish dish pescado en salsa poblano, or fish in poblano sauce, this recipe is a shrimp version. To make the creamy, vibrantly hued sauce that cloaks plump, gently cooked shrimp, poblano chilies, with their earthy flavor and moderate heat, are puréed with cilantro, alliums and Mexican crema, a rich cultured cream similar to, but milder than sour cream.
If crema isn’t available—and it wasn’t for us—sour cream works in its place. To make a more substantial meal, serve with warmed tortillas and rice and beans; over steamed rice; or as in our case, polenta cooked in shrimp stock.
Don’t be afraid to use the cilantro stems. Unlike parsley, cilantro has stems that are tender and will readily break down in the blender.
2 medium poblano chilies, stemmed, seeded and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1/2 medium white onion, thinly sliced, plus more to serve
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 1/2 lbs. extra-large (21/25 per pound) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tTbsp. lime juice, plus lime wedges to serve
3 cups lightly packed fresh cilantro, plus more to serve
1/3 cup Mexican crema or sour cream
In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high, heat the oil until barely smoking. Add the chilies and cook, stirring occasionally, until charred in spots, 2 to 4 minutes. Reduce to medium and add the garlic, onion, ¼ cup water and ½ teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, toss the shrimp with the lime juice, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper; set aside.
Transfer the vegetable mixture to a blender; reserve the skillet. To the blender, add the cilantro, crema and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Blend on high until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.
Pour the puree into the skillet and bring to a simmer over medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring often, until opaque throughout, about 3 minutes.
Off heat, taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with additional cilantro and sliced onion; serve with lime wedges.
According to the Washington Post article where we found the recipe, this Spicy Tamarind Fish and Herb Stew isn’t just memorable, it offers a teachable moment. Cookbook author Naz Deravian uses it for a lesson on “chashnee,” a Persian word that describes “a particular ingredient,” a spice or special something, “that brightens the dish, bringing it to life, like lemon or vinegar,” and it changes from one region to another. In the Persian Gulf region of Iran, chashnee comes from incomparably tangy tamarind and the heat of chile pepper.
In our neck of the woods, halibut is more than twice the price of cod, so that’s our preference here. Keep in mind, the sauce is bold. In fact, we, who love spicy food, didn’t bother to add any cayenne. You may also prefer to remove the chile seeds to further tame the flavor. I do feel the brown sugar (which we used instead of honey) balanced the tanginess of the tamarind.
Fenugreek seeds and powder are used in many Indian dishes for their nutritional profile and slightly sweet, nutty taste. If you’re unable to locate it at a nearby grocery store, you can check specialty markets or just order online like we did.
Beware, if you are not a cilantro lover, then this dish is not for you.
2 Tbsp. tamarind paste , dissolved in 2 cups warm water, plus more to taste
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 tsp. brown sugar or honey, plus more to taste (optional)
Cayenne pepper (optional)
2 pounds cod, halibut or other firm-fleshed fish
Freshly ground black pepper
Cooked rice, for serving
In a large pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Sprinkle with a little salt, reduce the heat to medium, and add the garlic, turmeric and chile pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the cilantro and fenugreek and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and the cilantro has considerably wilted, about 10 minutes. (This step actually only took 2 minutes for the cilantro to be completely wilted.)
Add the flour and the 2 teaspoons of salt and stir to incorporate for 1 minute. Stir in the tamarind mixture and tomato paste. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 10 minutes.
Taste as it simmers. If the sauce is too sour, add the sugar or honey to take the edge off the tang. Taste again for salt (keep in mind you will salt the fish as well), heat (add cayenne if you like), and more tang from tamarind.
Meanwhile, cut the fish into 2-inch pieces and season well with salt and black pepper. Raise the heat to medium, add the fish, and simmer, uncovered, until the fish cooks through, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir gently to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. If the stew gets too watered-down, remove the fish and raise the heat to reduce the sauce a little, if it’s too dry, add a little more water.
Garnish with more chile peppers and cilantro leaves, if you like, and serve with rice.
This recipe from Milk Street is an adaptation of one from “More Mexican Everyday” by Rick Bayless. Adding the shrimp at the end, after the rice has steamed, and allowing them to cook gently with residual heat ensures they are plump and tender and not overdone. Then layer in herbal notes by simmering minced cilantro stems with the rice, and folding in chopped cilantro leaves just before serving.
The entire bunch of cilantro goes into this one pot meal, so you’d better be committed. We happen to love the herb, but I know several folks who think it tastes like soap and/or have an issue digesting it. Parsley could be an option, but the flavor profile will be altogether different.
When looking at the ingredients, I thought why not use our homemade shellfish stock instead of chicken broth? Makes more sense when the star protein is shrimp. And speaking of the liquid component, do yourself a huge favor and read the amount necessary shown on the package of long grain rice that you are using.
The original recipe said to use two cups and that’s initially what we did. We checked the rice doneness after 15 minutes, again after 20 minutes and a final time at 25 minutes and the rice was STILL not done. Finally I checked the package which says to use 3 cups liquid per 1 1/2 cups rice, duh!
We had to remove the shrimp to a plate and cover with foil. Measure another cup of stock, heat it in the microwave, pour it back into the pan, cover and simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Then once again, remove the pan from the heat, add the shrimp back to the mixture, cover and let sit for a couple minutes more before adding the cilantro.
Just sayin’, read your rice package for the proper amount of liquid and save your self the headache… Then enjoy the feast, it was fabulous and the shrimp were tender and succulent.
Season the shrimp with ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper; set aside at room temperature.
In a large saucepan over medium, cook the oil and garlic, stirring often, until the garlic is just barely golden, 2 to 3 minutes.
Stir in the chipotle chilies, cilantro stems, rice and raisins, then add the broth and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high, then cover and reduce to low. Cook until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes.
Uncover the pan and scatter the shrimp evenly over the rice. Re-cover, remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes.
Gently fluff the rice with a fork, folding in the shrimp. Re-cover and let stand until the shrimp are opaque throughout, another 5 to 7 minutes.
Stir in the cilantro leaves, then taste and season with salt and pepper.
*TIPS: Read your rice package label for the correct amount of liquid for 1 1/2 cups. Don’t lift the lid to peek at the shrimp after they’ve been added to the pan, except to stir them into the rice. Uncovering releases the residual heat needed for gently cooking the shrimp.