Sunday, May 31, 2009

give 'em what they want

i love assemble your own dinner,
i used to worry that it was rude:
i invite people over and then
make them work if they actually want
to eat. 
but time has given me 
wisdom and now i realize it's one
of the smartest ways to feed a group
(or one other person who just
happens to live with you).

this way, you've supplied options.
it's up to them to decide
if they realize want the olives
on their personal pizza, or if they'd 
prefer ham. it lets them
monitor the spice level, 
stir extra cheese into their chili 
and avoid
the coconut 
they started worrying about
when they heard you were 
serving tropical sundaes for 

my mom used to do this all the time:
for a dinner party, she'd make large
batches of multiple kinds of soups,
then keep the pots on the stove 
as guests 
ladled their pick into a bowl
and then
sprinkled on scallions,
shredded cheese,
sour cream 
crunchy croutons.
in the summer, my mom
made quesadillas,
which we would design
ourselves after she
grilled a ton of veggies,
set out bowls of 
cheddar cheese,
and more.
once assembled,
she'd add a top tortilla
and bake them 
until golden and crispy.
i love the quesadilla party
so much that i've replicated
it on several occasions.

i've also turned to fish tacos
(and coincidentally, my mom has, too),
in recent years.
i first fell in love with at-home
fish tacos when i was hosting
our (sadly, now defunct) book club
and as the date got closer, the number of
people attending got smaller
and smaller. 
two days before, it was just me,
and two friends: lauren and lauren.
we decided to hold off on the discussion
until the next meeting with everyone and 
instead, just have dinner.
we had grown up together,
gone to camp together and had
somewhat recently reunited.
both of them were married,
i was living with larry and it 
seemed like a great opportunity
to just get together.
between the three of us - 
i don't eat meat, lauren doesn't eat 
cheese, the other lauren, shrimp
or rice - i felt challenged. i also
needed something somewhat stress-free
because they were coming over
after work. 

knowing that we all love
mexican food,
i finally landed on fish tacos and 
an adaptation of this recipe.
the night before, 
i pickled the red onions,
broiled, then blended together the 
tomatillo salsa
stirred lime juice into sour cream
for a crema.
when i got home from work 
the next evening,
i pulled everything out of
the fridge,
marinated the cod,
set out chips and 
a white bean dip that i had made
and waited. 
later, while lauren and lauren
sat at our tiny kitchen table
sipping wine,
i heated up tortillas,
mashed together guacamole,
grilled the fish,
and told them that i had decided to 
go to culinary school. 
i was so not stressed, and really,
what's the point of having
people over if you're 
miserable when your guests are

since then, i've made fish tacos
many times, for many reasons,
including just simply wanting
a delicious dinner.
i've changed it up,
sometimes adding a white crumbly
cheese if i have it in the fridge,
using corn or flour tortillas,
playing with spices, 
using a fresh tomato salsa
or, like i did this time,
using shrimp instead of fish.

but the one thing that i never
leave out are the pickled onions.
because we now love them so much,
i'm embarrassed to say that i never
had a pickled slice before the first
fish taco dinner.
they're very fast and completely addicting.
at this point, i've
made them more times than i can count.
i usually set the 
rice wine vingar,
lime juice,
salt to simmer,
before slicing the bulb.
when hot and extra bubbly,
i pour the brine over the onions,
now set in a bowl,
stir a few times and walk away.
while two hours of marinating is
optimal, i've gotten away with
45 minutes. at this point,
the onions still have crunch,
but they've turned from red
to pink
the sharp onion flavor
has settled considerably.
i love to make extra to serve
over eggs,
to toss into a salad,
place on sandwich or to
nibble on when there aren't
any pickles in the fridge.
usually, i prepare the onions first,
then slide the bowl
to the back of the counter
and work on everything else.

this time, when i made the shrimp,
i was planning to saute,
but at the last minute,
i placed them into a baking dish
that i had sprinkled with
ancho chili powder,
smoked paprika,
lime juice
kosher salt. 
once the shrimp
were in place, i repeated the
sprinkling, drizzled
in a little oil and
roasted until pink, slightly
smoky and tender,
giving me time to mash
the guacamole.
by the time the shrimp came out
of the oven,
the tortillas were warm
and everything was on the table.
i watched as i started with the tomatillo
salsa, then the shrimp, onions,
guacamole and a drizzle of crema.
larry, chose
first guacamole, 
then onions, shrimp, crema, salsa.
it's up you. that's my favorite part.
either way, you're entertaining a ton
of flavors, textures and hot/cold action.
the shrimp, slightly spicy, tender
and piping hot,
play so well off the cool and tangy red onions.
the guacamole adds creaminess,
the salsa, heat, 
and the crema ties it all

yes, there are a lot of bowls,
but really, that's the most
trouble this meal will
give you.
it's so good
and very fresh
and, a winner for 
most crowds.
and look at it this way:
yes, you have to clean the bowls,
but you're otherwise done:
now it's their turn to work. 

shrimp tacos with pickled red onions
adapted from bon appetit
in the same way that guests can assemble these anyway they want, feel free to use whatever you want inside your tortilla - consider this a guideline (which is why i feel ok about not giving exact measurements, below). you can use your favorite fish and grill or saute it. leave the seasonings off the shrimp and simply saute them. forget the guacamole, use sour cream instead or add thinly sliced chopped red cabbage. and if you're in a hurry, buy the condiments, heat up your protein of choice and eat. just don't leave off the onions (unless you really, really hate onions - but, even then, you might be surprised).

tomatilla salsa blended with a bit of chicken broth or water to thin it out slightly
store-bought crema, sour cream or sour cream thinned out with a bit of lime juice

1 bottle (12 ounces) rice wine vinegar
1 large juicy lime, juiced
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 large red onion, halved and sliced

in small saucepot, bring rice wine vinegar, lime juice and kosher salt to a boil, stirring until the salt dissolves; let boil 1 minute. meanwhile, place onions in a heatproof bowl. pour boiling vinegar mixture over onions and stir a few times until onions just begin to wilt and are mostly submerged. let sit at least 45 minutes (preferably 1-2 hours). can be made up to one week ahead. cover; refrigerate.

1 juicy lime, halved
20 large shrimp, peeled and deveined (i used 21-25 count)
ancho chili powder
smoked paprika
kosher salt
olive oil

heat oven to 400˚f. squeeze the juice from half a lime into the bottom of 8 x 8 baking dish. sprinkle with chili powder, smoked paprika and a little kosher salt. lay the shrimp in the baking dish, separating slightly. squeeze with remaining lime juice and sprinkle again with the chili powder, smoked paprika and kosher salt. drizzle with a little bit of olive oil. bake 10-12 minutes or until pink, opaque and cooked through. 

corn or flour tortillas
to heat tortiallas you have some options. 
for flour tortillas, i'm very content to wet a paper, wring it out, roll a couple tortillas up inside it and then heat for 30 seconds in the microwave. you can also wrap them (flat) in foil and bake in a 350˚f oven 5-10 minutes or until warm and pliable. 
for corn tortillas, you can warm them in the microwave by using two wet paper towels and placing the tortillas in between. you can also heat them the oven or coat a pan with cooking spray and cook about 30 seconds on each side over medium-high heat.

to serve:
place pickled onions, tomatillo salsa, guacamole, crema or sour cream, lime slices and anything else that you're craving in separate small bowls. place hot shrimp and warm tortillas on the table and let everyone make their own.


The Bean said...

Ok, a few things...
1. I eat shrimp and rice. Their just not my favorites, although have recently become addicted to shrimp salad (the poor man's lobster roll), and I also make a delicious shrimp taco with a tomatillo avocado sauce. I also eat a fair amount of sushi now too!
2. I ate the pickled onions! I don't think it was that night though, but I'm not sure because I seriously have no recollection of that night. What did you put in that wine?
3. Our book club is defunct? I thought we were just on hiatus while you kids ran off and got married. Am I still allowed to read?

brooke said...

1) this was about 2 1/2 years ago, you were not very keen on shrimp. and as for rice, i've known forever not to serve you rice pudding or paella. sushi is a relatively new development.
2) i never said you didn't eat the pickled onions.
and, you really don't? it must not have been a very memorable meal, which is sad. (i served grilled bananas with coconut ice cream for dessert? jon came at the end?)
3) i've been married for 9 months. i don't think any of us can use that as an excuse anymore. yes, read away.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying those onions asap. I usually do cabbage on our fish tacos but that's not very interesting. Do you use seasoned or unseasoned rice wine vinegar?


The Bean said...

I ate tapioca!!!

brooke said...

col - i was worried someone would ask this. every recipe i've ever seen has called for unseasoned rice wine vinegar, but i often can't find it or buy the wrong one. so i usually end up using the seasoned, which works out fine.

lauren - you did eat tapicoa, you're right. and i promise to cook you shrimp and rice the next time you come over.