This recipe came to me in an amusing manner during my early period of looking for professional inspirations by sampling restaurant dishes. My mother and I went to eat in a wonderful seafood restaurant in Mexico City called Pardinos (an offshoot of Restaurant Pardinos in Boca del Rio, Veracruz, which, at the time, was a must for any traveler.) I ordered camarones al ajillo, langoustines with garlic sauce, and immediately fell in love with the exciting combination of flavors—garlic, olive oil, (much used in Veracruz cooking), both fresh and dried chiles, and something else I couldn’t identify. I begged the waiter to ask the chef to give me the secret of the recipe. The chef refused.
But the waiter was sly and eager to please. So he waited and watched while the chef made my second order of the same dish. The waiter came back and confided, “He splashed olive oil into the pan and added garlic.”
“There’s something else in there,” I insisted. “I’ll come back tomorrow and I’ll give you a hundred pesos”—of course this was way before the devaluation!—“If you find out the secret.”
Money talks, and the next day I learned the secret was powdered consomme base—much to the horror of my purist friends. (When the magazine Cuisine did a feature story on me, they refused to print the recipe with the powdered consomme base and substituted a reduction made by boiling down a tankful of chicken stock down to two tablespoons. The flavor was acceptable, but not the same.)
I happily continue to make the dish with the frowned-upon ingredient, but I vary it by using any kind of shell fish—langoustines, lobster, shrimp, soft-shelled crab, or crab claws (which make a great appetizer). I often use the same method with shiitake, portobello, or oyster mushrooms, instead of the shellfish.
5 large garlic cloves, finely minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 cube Knorr Swiss or 2 teaspoons other chicken stock base
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3-4- dried red chiles, either guajillo or Anaheim, about 3 ounces
3 fresh chiles, either Anaheim or poblano, about 4 ounces (add 1 jalapeno if you like it spicy)
1 pound medium shrimp in the shell
Salt to taste
Juice of 1 lime
In a small bowl, combine the garlic and chicken stock base with the oil and let sit, preferably overnight.
Cut off the the tops and stems of both the dried and fresh chiles and remove the seeds, being careful not to break the pods apart. Cut the chiles crosswise into ¼-inch rings. Marinate the dried chiles in the oil and garlic mixture for several hours if desired. Set aside the fresh chiles.
Devein the shrimp by splitting by slitting through the shells down the center with a small knife and removing he dark vein with the knife tip. I like to leave the shrimp in their shells, Rinse, pat dry with paper towels, and set aside.
Heat the oil, garlic, and dried chiles in a deep, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is rippling add the fresh chiles and the shrimp. Fry, turning the shrimp once, until they turn pink, about 2 minutes on each side. Taste and add salt if desired—the chicken base is very salty. Sprinkle with lime juice and serve immediately.