Give the Blender a Break


In the Ecuadoran soup on which today’s entry is based, the broth and such are put through a blender one last time, just before service, ensuring a smooth consistency.  That’s a shame, as it also pulverizes the bits of color and the traces of texture that make Shrimp and Corn Chowder so interesting, so appealing.

Better to use a fine dice, which preserves the soup’s silky essence while leaving the contents intact, intriguing in both visuals and in taste.  And what delicious contents they are.  Chef Maricel Presilla developed the preparation in her restaurant Zafra, which brings to New Jersey splashes of color from Presilla’s native country.  Food & Wine, in turn, features the recipe in its September 2018 magazine.

Shrimp is vital, of course, befitting a soup from coastal Ecuador, just across the Andes from the jungled Amazon basin.  Advisable to select plump shrimp, whose succulence the lime-based marinade enhances.  More than a little suggestive of the ceviches so common along South America’s Pacific Coast.  Of course, in this case, the shrimp also cooks in the soup, yet the flavorful juiciness is retained.

Another key ingredient is annatto oil, which imparts a subtle yet profound crimson to the vegetables which sauté in it, and ultimately turns the soup a rich yellow.  Annatto seeds serve Latin American cooks much in the same way saffron does their Asian counterparts.  Simmering just a few seeds transforms oil to a translucent red, as seen below:Annatto Oil

Above all, though, is the corn, showcased two different ways.  First, it’s blended with milk and strained, producing a nectar with a gently sweet freshness.  This is mixed into soup as it cooks.  Then, just before the chowder is served, it’s topped with a generous serving of fresh corn salsa.  This matches nicely similar flavors already in the broth, and it adds a crunchy “pop.”

As mentioned earlier, you don’t want a blender to diminish this excellence.  Yes, the flavors will survive largely intact, but the soup will lose something.  After you’ve used the blender once, give it the rest of the evening.  Do it for taste, do it for texture, do it for Ecuador!

****

Shrimp and Corn Chowder

For the annatto oil:

  • 1 cup corn oil
  • 1/4 cup annatto seeds

For the corn salsa:

  • 1 cup corn kernels, fresh or, if frozen, thawed
  • 3 plum tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely-chopped cilantro
  • 2 and 1/2tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste

For the chowder:

  • 2 pounds shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  •  salt, to taste
  • 2 cup corn kernels, fresh of, if frozen, thawed
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped (*1)
  • 1 bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 plum tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 green plantain, peeled and coarsely grated
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

First, prepare the annatto oil.  Put the oil and the annatto seeds in a small saucepan and place it over a low flame.  When it begins to simmer, cover the pan and turn off the heat.  Keep it covered for 30 minutes, then strain the oil into a jar, discarding the seeds.  Set aside

Next, make the salsa.  Place the corn in a small saucepan and just cover it with water.  Add a dash or two of salt.  Place the pan over a medium flame and bring to a boil.  Cook for a minute if using frozen corn, three minutes if it’s fresh.  Drain and let cool.

In a small bowl, combine the corn with the other salsa ingredients.  Set aside while you prepare the chowder.

In a large bowl toss the shrimp with the scallions, lime juice, 1 teaspoon of salt and 2/3 of the minced garlic.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

In a blender puree the corn with the milk.  Pour the mixture through a coarse strainer into a medium bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.  Discard the solids.

Place a stockpot over a medium flame.  Pour in the annatto oil.  When the oil shimmers, add the onion, the bell pepper, the cumin and the remaining minced garlic.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are slightly softened, about five minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes and cook for two more minutes.

Add the corn milk, chicken stock, plantain, cilantro and cayenne and bring to a boil.  Reduce flame to medium-low and simmer for twenty minutes.

Add the shrimp and its marinade and cook for about three minutes, until the shrimp is just opaque.  Ladle into serving bowls and top with corn salsa.

NOTES:

1 – Try instead two medium shallots; you’ll be glad you did.

 

 

66 thoughts on “Give the Blender a Break

    1. Thanks, much! Coastal Peru tends to be dry (most of the rain falls on the forests on the other side of the Andes), making agriculture difficult (though not impossible). As a result, they’ve developed a cuisine that takes full advantage of all ingredients. When cooks don’t necessarily have a full pantry, they make everything they have give 100%.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is interesting!
        We are taught that man evolves around his environment, but what most aren’t aware of is that, man will twist his environment to his benefit. I am not sure I articulate it well, but like you said here, Peruvians have taken “full advantage of all the ingredients.” They have made whatever the environment gives them work.
        I enjoy learning from you.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Most definitely agree, Msdedeng! As you ask, do we change the environment, or does the environment change us?

        Yes.

        Why must it be one or the the other? As you’ve observed, both rules apply. It’s complicated, but our minds are up to the challenge.

        Oh, I appreciate your comment, though I hope one of the things you aren’t looking to learn is geography. Specifically, in my response, when describing Desert-On-One-Side-Jungle-On-the-Other I should have mentioned Ecuador, but instead typed “Peru.”

        Of course, I caught the mistake about ten seconds after hitting “Send.” Little good it did then, huh?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Keith, it’s not that I am not geographically curious, I did think you meant Atacama desert in Peru, that receives rainfall on one side of the mountain but hardly does on the other because I think it sits on the lee-ward side, correct?
        You are the kind of person I would enjoy a conversation over a cup of coffee. Stay well my friend.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Oh no, Msededeng, sorry for any offense. The comment was meant to disparage my typing skills, not your curiosity. You’re familiar with one continent, and you now live on another. If the world’s countries mean more to anyone than just spots on a globe, or in an atlas, it’s you.

        This entire exercise proves I’m no good at A) typing and B) making a joke. There has to be a C), D) and E) too. Let’s see…

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Thank you, Msededeng! For the last half-hour or so, I worried I just had made your acquaintance, and that I had answered your kindness and curiosity with an insult. Truth is, I’m grateful for everyone who takes an interest here, particularly for someone with your insights.

        By the way, how do prefer to be addressed? I figured “Msededeng” is the name you use, but I recall someone on your site calling you “Angela.” Either’s easy enough to type, but I’d like to use the best name available. Come to think of it, the same applies to food ingredients.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Haha.
        Either is fine, but now that we are acquainted, you can call me Angela. I appreciate you bringing it up though for your own sake. Imagine tormenting yourself that you have insulted someone when they are not aware at all? Maybe my text gave you that impression and if it did, then it should be me saying sorry.
        I definitely enjoy your thought-out comments, please keep it up 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      7. First, Angela, let’s start by stipulating the internet is a wonder. Would such a broad circle of acquaintances have been possible even two decades ago?

        It does have its limits, though.

        Primary of which, the internet fails to convey conversation’s nuances and subtleties. Animals aren’t the only ones whose communication depends on gestures, facial expressions and tone.

        Unlike animals, though, we’ve built this thing called “civilization,” which supplies elaboration and clarification. Meanwhile, the broad circle of acquaintances is ours to keep. I, for one, am grateful for the gift, Angela.,

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Aww.
        You are right, the access internet has provided us would be unthinkable two decades ago; it has made the globe small and connected us easily. I cannot believe that I chat with people from many different parts of the world, but more than anything, hopefully we take this opportunity the internet has allowed us, to be more human to one another than indifferent.
        It is just so refreshing to share ideas from all different perspectives the way I am doing with you right now.
        Take care my friend, looking forward to those delicious recipes you come up with 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Thanks much, Angela. Likewise, I look forward to reading what you have to say, both here and on your site. The best part is, neither of us follows a set pattern, meaning there are lots of twists, turns and other surprises ahead. These bring lots of ways to start great conversations.

        Plenty for both of us to explore, both as writers and as readers. It’s great – lots of “?”s and “!”s ahead! In fact, there’s one right there.

        Like

    1. Yes, let that be your motivation, Crystal. Ecuador is small, and its bigger neighbors like Brazil get all the attention.

      Believe me, Ecuador won’t forget your contribution.

      That’s good for now, but what happens when plantains show up in another county’s cuisine? Divided loyalties, Crystal, or will you remain true to the plantain?

      Like

  1. saffron is so expensive it’s nice to know there is an alternative!

    Dame Edna Everage would always prefer texture and colour … if we blend everything we will forget how to chew 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly, Kate. So much goes into food than mere taste. Colors and textures too.

      You don’t want to go all that trouble, just to present a bowl of blandness. What is this, gruel? No, we aim to delight the palate not to bore it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. With fresh veg, Kate, no need for a fridge. Spot it, pick it, and into the skillet it goes.

        Of course the first creation that elicits a surprised “Wow!” will need to be replicated and frozen for future lip-smacking. Well then, it looks like you will need a refrigerator/freezer after all.

        Loading $1500 into the catapult right now…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. lol difficulty is the pandemic … oz doesn’t make anything anymore, so we are dependent on imports and factories have shut and ships not allowed to dock … but life goes on!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It does, doesn’t it, Kate?

        I hear you about the appliances. There’s one US company left (Amana) that still manufactures fridges, dishwashers, etc. in-country. Even the other US companies, though, such as Whirlpool, LG and General Electric, create their appliances elsewhere.

        Honestly, Kate, I’m something of a free-trader, and although I love my country, I’m not much of a flag-waver or a “USA!”-chanter. Nonetheless, it does the heart good to find things still “Made in the USA.”

        Of course, I drive a Mazda, so that principle goes only so far. Yet, the general ideals apply all the same.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Yep, Kate, I agree.

        Except for poetry. It’s best to import that from Australia.

        Oh, and boomerangs too. Made the mistake last week of buying a local tosser, and the stupid thing clocked me in the head. For boomerangs, it’s go Oz or go home.

        One more thing. Add finger limes to the list.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Oooh, the grated plantain is a particularly intriguing addition! I don’t normally blend chowder and I don’t think I’d want to blend this one either. Something about blended seafood just does not do it for me. On the other hand, this beautiful soup with the visible pieces of shrimp and corn appears to be perfection!

    Side note, it doesn’t appear that wordpress.com is blurring images like wordpress.org has been doing. Your images still look lovely and crisp on my desktop 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I’m glad of that, Summer. Oh, and Shhhhhh! Let’s change the subject before WP notices and starts putting these images through the wringer too.

      It’s funny you mention a reticence to blend, as I shared it…until this weekend. I figured, for Ecuador, corn is a hometown hero (it being a New World crop and all), and the country is right on the ocean, so if anyone has business mixing together the two chowders…

      And…it works! Maybe it was relief at this weekend being cool(ish), with highs in the 70s, but what a relief to have a stockpot of bubbling chowder not turn the kitchen into a sauna.

      As you know, these meals are planned years in advance, and when I selected this recipe, it likely was on a snowy winter day, when thoughts of chowder made me happy, and when I had no idea it’d come at the tail end of a summer of mercury-bursters.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well that is good! It’s fun to experiment with things that you think might not work and then find out that they do.

        One summer we had a clamming permit out on Cape Cod. I tend to associate the best chowders with summer because of that. That said, I’m definitely more likely to make chowder when it is cold out. Most years I do not have a ready supply of fresh quahogs available.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. When you had the permit, were you in CT, or was that when you still were in Boston? If it was in CT days, that’s quite a trek – your family really must love quahogs! Not that I blame them.

        Even from Boston, though…

        Friends used to live on the North Shore, just past Salem, and it took them well over a couple hours to wend their way through traffic and onto the Cape. If they were headed toward the tip, tack on another hour, at least. All for the love of fresh shellfish!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It was around the time we moved, but I think we were still on the South Shore. Yes, it was a drive, but we used the permit while camping and were able to make chowder at our campsite! It would be too far to get a permit every year from where we are now.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Oh, I see, Summer. Thanks for the explanation.

        Is there much clam activity on coastal CT, or it concentrated farther north? There’s something wonderfully satisfying about harvesting your own shellfish instead of relying on what the fishmonger offers. Something akin to the pleasure of growing your own vegetables, except even better.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Oh? I had no idea the Sound is so polluted. It looks impossibly picturesque on a clear day, sunlight chattering across the surface and yachts bobbing gently, but this must be a case of “Look but Don’t Touch.”

        My, it’s minorly painful to part with a small illusion.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. It is polluted, unfortunately. Some people do eat things from the LI Sound, so it’s really a personal choice. I agree that it is beautiful, and there are many nice places along the shore to wade or spend a day at the beach. For clamming, the Cape is the place to be imvho.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Greatly appreciate the enlightenment, Summer!

        How far out onto the Cape does clamming take you? I hope you can stick to the wide part jutting out from the mainland, instead of having to drive, what?, 90 minutes more to get to Provincetown. Although, I imagine if you already have spent hours and hours on the road from CT, an extra 90 minutes isn’t a deal-breaker.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Oh, that is so cool, Summer! To think, an island just about as off-limits to the public as any would be, and all to yourselves.

        You just took the whole clamming experience up a few notches. I already though you were at the pinnacle, harvesting at one of the East Coast’s keynote areas, yet you’ve managed to surpass that.

        Sure puts to shame the dozen littlenecks I pick up at the fishmonger!

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Thank you… unrelated, I wanted to let you know that I am dealing with something pretty awful right now in my real life. I’ll be keeping quiet on comments but I’m going to try to keep positive and keep blogging… I’m very sad to say that the blog may have to go on hiatus too. I thought you’d want to know why there may be a disappearance.

        Liked by 1 person

      10. Oh no, Summer!

        Your blog is so happy an expression of maximizing all life has to offer. Naturally, you’ll take care of whatever misfortune has arisen, and if you must take a break for a while, so be it. I understand.

        If there is a hiatus, I hope you’ll return afterwards. Even if you don’t comment, maybe you’ll stop in every once in a while and will like what you see. Maybe a small smile from time-to-time

        Despite my heart going out to a friend in need, I won’t clamor for details. Privacy and support are what you need right now, and you have both. Looking forward to your return when you overcome this…whatever it is. In the meantime, may these pages provide a brief but necessary diversion and haven.

        Liked by 1 person

      11. Sure, Summer; no need to explain.

        While I already miss our conversations, I do hope they don’t disappear altogether. Plus, knowing you still will post and will stop by at times, is enough to keep me motivated. Much coming out over the next few years I think you’ll like, too. Things, I hope, that will go far beyond the current.

        Most important, I wish you the best, and that you overcome present difficulties, whatever they may be. Then, someday, I hope…

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tamara. Right on, with the corn. It was at its prime a few weeks ago, but it still is coming in strong. This most definitely is corn’s moment.

      Plus, quite a way to give a shout-out to our own hemisphere. Corn spent its first cultivated millennia in the New World, only spreading worldwide after the Spanish discovered it in the 16th century and took it global.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Annatto sounds like something I’d like to drink (amaretto, yum!) and, I hate to say it, looks a lot like the coronavirus… terrible joke I know…

    I wasn’t sure if I’ve ever had annatto until I realized its also called achiote… definitely had that… just yesterday actually… in my chicken curry… 😋

    Lots of lovely fresh ingredients! I could actually make a meal out of a good corn salsa (might add black beans and avocado) and some good tortilla chips! 😋😋

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Way to go, JoAnn! Your salsa idea tempts, definitely. I think it’ll be subject to a bootleg copy. Soon, too.

      Annatto may look all virus-like, but this time, it benefits the species. Want to get even with COVID? Make its body double into a delicious soup. Want to know what happened to your twin, COVID? Dinner. See if Hannibal Lecter doesn’t send the bug fleeing.

      Anyway, back to Topic 1 – your chips with avocado-corn salsa has to a perfect late-summer light (or late) dinner, JoAnn.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes it’s a wonderful and delightful snack side-dish type thing. And I actually have turned it into a soup before. 😋

        You might be onto something with enlisting Hannibal Lecter to help fight COVID… might be the only hope we have to get this thing licked.😯

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Wonderfully versatile, JoAnn. In developing these variations on a common theme, you’re advancing the recipe along its way. With each improvement you’re adding character and depth.

        As observed elsewhere, all recipes represent our culture’s advancement beyond what was the original – “Throw mammoth on fire.” You’re not just snacking, you’re building a civilization.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Heh. Soup is one of those unfortunate, misunderstood things that I instinctively flag as “boring” — and then am invariably proven wrong about. The story usually ends with me scarfing down two bowlfuls.

    Okay, random curiosity: how much experimentation do you do, anyway? Or, do you just go with your gut (pun unintended)?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As you know, Rachel, there is soup, and then there’s soup. It’s one thing to endure what comes from a red can, quite another to savor what comes from a stockpot.

      Good question, about experimentation. If you count minor adjustments, such as shallots instead of onions, nearly everything is revised. Consider, too, that I’m enthusiastic about the recipes that appear here. When “general” recipes cross the counter, there’s even more experimentation than what you see here.

      Of course, the more experience I acquire, the more “what if…”s pop into my mind. Once in a white, though, I do make a substitution or a change in procedure I wish I hadn’t. Not as common as it used to be, though.

      One thing you might want to consider, Rachel, is selecting the first chilly day we get this autumn, and spending the day making chicken stock, or beef stock. It’s relatively easy, it’s fun, and once you pour it into containers and freeze it, you’ll have the building blocks for all manner of soups. Plus, homemade is, like, a thousand times better than anything store-bought.

      Really, very few experiences are more sublime than is being snug and comfortable in the kitchen, with a stockpot bubbling away happily on the stovetop, as the wind howls outside.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Initially, yes, when something new appeared, I tried it first “as is,” then I tinkered from there.

        Recently, though, I imagine how each ingredient will affect the others, and will make changes – at that point, still sight-unseen – that will be beneficial. So far, luck has held.

        If you do decide to make stock, Rachel, that’s encouraging. When the time comes, and if you wouldn’t mind an idea, I have a couple recipes that have worked well.

        Actually, I need to make chicken stock and beef (actually, oxtail) stock, though I wait until the outside temperature isn’t, like, a million degrees.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I appreciate your interest, Rachel.

        What I’ll do on Sunday is, I’ll look for a “Contact Me” section in your blog, to see if there’s some means by which I can send you an email. While not complicated, the recipes for chicken stock and beef stock likely would be a little too unwieldy to include here, in the chat feature.

        Then, if you’re anything like me you’ll wait. Wait until the still-distant-yet-approaching frost exhales its first breath.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Much appreciated, Rachel!

        By the way, I did take advantage of last weekend being unusually cool to simmer up a trio of stocks – oxtail, shrimp and chicken. Now the freezer is well-provisioned, and I have ideas to send your way!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. The habanero peppers that’ll be going into an upcoming Haitian stew. Of course, they are, strictly speaking, more spicy than they are “hot.”

        As for actual heat, lift the lid an any number of cold-weather dishes over the next few months, just before they’re brought to your table. Warmth and fragrance sufficient to fill a house.

        Good cooking brings, among many other things, comfort. Until next spring, that’s going to mean all that’s warm-hot.

        Liked by 1 person

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